Outside Brookdale Hospital, Brooklyn residents joined Valerie Prinez, inset, at a June 28 vigil for her gay son, Dwan Prince, who lies in a comatose state.
Members of a community-based organization in Brooklyn held a vigil outside Brookdale Hospital on Tuesday evening for Dwan Prince, the 27-year-old building porter beaten on June 9 in a bias-related incident that has left the gay man in a comatose state.
About 50 members of Make the Road by Walking, a tenants organization, joined Valerie Prinez, the victim’s mother, to pray for Mr. Prince’s recovery and denounce the crime, the second brutal attack against a gay Brooklyn man this year.
“I am choking on tears. I’m speechless,” said Ms. Prinez, a New Jersey resident, as community members presented her with a large get-well card for her son. Many of the vigil participants were young children accompanied by their mothers and holding aloft handmade signs, one of which read, “Homophobia Equals Racism.”
Speaking for television news cameras and reporters, Ms. Prinez describer her son’s medical condition as grave and blasted hospital officials for not allowing her to transfer Mr. Prince closer to her home into a specialized medical facility that rehabilitates brain-damaged patients.
Tuesday’s vigil came on the same day that the Brooklyn district attorney, Joe Hynes, announced the indictment of Steven Pomie, a suspect with an arrest record apprehended on June 17 in New Jersey, where he fled following the dissemination of his photograph in the news media and on wanted posters.
Pleading for the apprehension of two other suspects, Ms. Prinez told the gathering, “It took them 50 years to bring to justice a KKK member. Please not here,” an apparent reference to last week’s 60-year prison sentence for Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. “Please spread your love to each other as Jesus Christ would have done,” Ms. Prinez told the crowd of residents who spread into a large circle that spilled off the sidewalk into the street. Joining hands, the group stood for a moment of silence for Mr. Prince’s recovery.
Near the end of the vigil, Desire Brazell, the mother of Rashawn Brazell, a 19-year-old gay man whose dismembered body parts were discovered in two Brooklyn locations in February, joined Ms. Prinez. The two mothers, who had never met, hugged and Ms. Prinez said, “I can see the pain in her eyes.”
Ms. Brazell responded, “I know how she feels. She’s on the verge of losing her son.”
The investigation of the murder, which has not been classified a bias-related crime, appears stalled and Ms. Brazell, who in previous interviews praised police efforts, voiced frustration on Tuesday evening. “They haven’t called me and I shouldn’t have to call them,” she said about investigators. “It’s almost like this case is getting to be out of sight, out of mind.”
In a later interview with reporters, Ms. Prinez spoke of Pomie.
“I feel sadness, I feel pain for him,” she said. “He’s almost as much a victim as my son.” Ms. Prinez added, “If he had a long record, he should not be on the streets.”
Pomie, described by police as a Crips gang member with “Stone Cold” tattooed across his back, apparently confronted Mr. Prince on the night of June 9 as the porter placed out his East 94 Street building’s garbage bags. Witnesses told police that Pomie, clad in a pink t-shirt, said to Prince, “What are you looking at? You want a piece of me?” and became enraged at the gay man’s response. Pomie left and returned with two other men. The three, according to police, jumped from a dark sedan and, yelling anti-gay epithets, pummeled Prince to the ground where Pomie delivered a kick that knocked Prince unconscious.
The intervention of neighbors likely saved Prince from death, with one man offering to fight in the victim’s stead to spare him further bloodshed.
On Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the district attorney said that the grand jury refused to hand down a charge of attempted murder and settled for four counts of first and second-degree assault, both with a hate crime charge, which allows for an increased prison sentence if Pomie is convicted of assault and prosecutors prove he acted out of anti-gay bias.
On Wednesday, a police spokesman said that police are still searching for two other suspects, described as black men in their early 20s.
Citing confidentiality regulations, hospital officials have refused to release information on Mr. Prince’s condition, and no spokesperson emerged from the hospital on Tuesday to address the crowd of supporters who arrived in a yellow school bus and assembled outside the building’s main entrance on Linden Boulevard.
Ms. Prinez said her son is suffering from a blood infection and a host of complications, including renal failure, following the reinsertion of a breathing tube. On June 15, when she had planned to transfer him to Hackensack Hospital, officials there declined to accept him, citing the nature of the crime and their inability to guarantee Mr. Prince’s safety, Ms. Prinez explained.
Officials at Hackensack were not reached for comment.
“I have to be my son’s brain. I have to be my son’s voice,” said Ms. Prinez, an articulate, forceful speaker who is a paralegal assistant at a New Jersey law firm, as a circle of supporters surrounded her. “Even upstairs in a coma, he is helping people.” She added, “I have never been an activist before” but said the bias attack has motivated her to speak out against homophobia.
“I am not going away,” said Ms. Prinez. “You are going to see my face.”
Led by Dee Perez, a community leader, the Brownville and Bushwick residents assembled for the vigil under banners for Making the Road by Walking and its affiliate, GLOBE, or Gays and Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered, an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
At one point, group members chanted to Ms. Prinez in Spanish, “The people—united—are with you.” She responded, “Gracias.”
Manuel Rodriguez, a 39-year-old GLOBE member, told the gathering, “As a gay man, I am here so that we let the community know this crime is unacceptable,” adding, “We are here, because Dwan cannot speak for himself.”
Zulma Rodriquez, a bespectacled 45-year-old mother of three grown children, said that she attended the vigil to express her solidarity with gay people. “People are people,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “We all bleed red.
Mr. Rodriguez said that the misperception among the public that gays and lesbians only reside in the city’s more traditional gay neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village, makes it more difficult for men to be open about their sexuality in neighborhoods like Brownsville. He said that the lack of “big media coverage” and the lack of involvement of the city’s major gay groups—without specifying particular organizations—“failed to bring focus” to the issue of anti-gay bias and rendered anonymous the many gay and lesbian people living in the outer boroughs.
One citywide advocacy group that is clearly an exception to that charge is the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, which routinely responds across the city to bias incidents, including handing out wanted posters of Pomie before his arrest and assisting Ms. Prinez with a myriad of medical and legal contingencies that have arisen as a result of the attack. Basil Lucas, an official with the Anti-Violence Project, stood at Ms. Prinez’s side as she spoke to reporters.
Lucas has visited Prince in the intensive care unit and described the victim as badly bruised, partially paralyzed and with a large head bandage covering stitches running across the top of his head.
Perez, who is a transgendered woman, said that when she visited Mr. Prince on Tuesday, a fecal stench, from a soiled pillow at Mr. Prince’s feet, filled the four-bed unit and that when she brought it to the attention of nurses they asked Mr. Prince’s visitors to leave so they could clean him.