Police have released sketches of two men suspected of assaulting a gay couple walking through Chelsea after midnight on August 14 as they headed home from a movie. The victims said they were attacked by six youths shouting anti-gay slurs as they rounded the corner from Ninth Avenue onto 24th Street walking west, arm in arm.
“What are you looking at, faggot?,” one of the assailants was said to have shouted before attacking the two men. The survivors of the attack, Michael Felenchak, 27, and Peter Notman, 53, suffered lacerations to their faces, with the younger man requiring eight stitches just below his lip. Notman, a 20-year resident of the London Terrace apartments that span the block from Ninth to 10th Avenues, underwent an MRI and said it is not yet clear if he suffered a concussion.
The NYPD described the two suspects as between 16 and 20, one a black man wearing a white T-shirt; the other, a black Latino man who was shirtless and had tattoos on his chest and arms. Both were said to have black hair and brown eyes.
Leafleting about the attack outside London Terrace on the morning of August 15, Notman –– explaining the incident began when he was cold-cocked on the side of his head by one of six men he described as no older than 18 –– said he feels as though his head “is in a vise.”
Felenchak said that the force of the blows he received suggested his attacker might have been wearing brass knuckles.
He said there were initially two attackers, who were soon joined by another four young men. Recognizing they were outnumbered, the two victims said, they focused on defending themselves from serious injury. Notman said at one point, hoping to defuse the situation, he tried to pull Felenchak into one of the London Terrace entryways.
A witness, London Terrace resident Laurie Leonard, said she did not see the attack itself but heard the “screaming” and saw “two black guys, very young — they could have been kids” running from the scene.
Notman and Felenchak said the youths were a mix of races.
State Senator Brad Hoylman and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, both out gay or lesbian officials, called a press conference on the evening of August 14 to decry the attacks and urge a community response. The victims were at the press event, but did not speak.
Quinn, who lived on the block for 20 years and now resides several blocks away, said, “It shouldn’t happen in any neighborhood, but for this to happen in Chelsea is shocking.”
She and Hoylman urged any witnesses to contact the police, anonymously if they choose, at 212-577-TIPS (8477). The 10th precinct has stepped up patrols in the area and reviewed surveillance video taken nearby in producing the sketches they circulated.
Alicia Mehl, another resident of London Terrace, said she has noticed that the block of West 24thStreet where the attacks occurred has increasingly become the scene of drug deals. No less than 30 minutes before the press conference took place, she said, she witnessed one such deal go down nearby.
Felenchak warned that the type of attack he and Notman suffered is unfortunately unsurprising given the “toxic environment” in which city youth grow up in today, where education about diversity and the dangers of violence is lacking.
“All they know is struggle,” he said.
Late in the spring, the city saw a surge in anti-gay violence, with assaults near Madison Square Garden and in the East Village and Soho. On May 18, Mark Carson, 32, was shot to death point blank in a homophobic assault in the West Village.
“We need to make sure that this summer doesn’t end the way it began,” Quinn said. –– Additional reporting by Paul Schindler