NYC Gay Activist Murder Spurs Charges of Hate Crime
A gay man is dead after a brutal attack in New York City in what the New York Police Department has yet to classify as a hate crime. Two men attacked longtime Sunnyside resident Lou Rispoli, a 62-year-old gay man, with a blunt object at 2 a.m. on Oct. 20 outside of 41-00 43rd Ave. Rispoli was taken off life support on Oct. 25, and died in Elmhurst Hospital.
"That such a man, whose life has touched so many so deeply, should be struck down so violently is incomprehensible to us. And as Lou lays dying surrounded by those who love him, we find ourselves speechless with grief and disbelief," Rispoli's family said in a statement the day before he died.
Rispoli was seen walking sometime after 2 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20 on 43rd Ave. between 41st and 42nd St. in the neighborhood, a largely Irish working-class enclave in Queens, one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. Suddenly, two men came upon him and struck him on the head with an unidentified blunt object.
"Neighbors said that when his head hit the ground, people thought it was a gunshot, that's how loud it was," said Queens City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who represents nearby Jackson Heights/Woodside. "I didn't really know Lou all that well; he was more involved in Jimmy's district, but the crime does bring back memories of the terrible hate crime against Julio Rivera."
A beloved, well-known figure among Sunnyside residents, Rispoli's late-night walks drew little attention, as he was known to have trouble sleeping, and was often seen roaming the neighborhood at night to cure his insomnia.
"I'm just so sorry for Danyal [Rispoli's partner] and everyone in Lou's family, for Jimmy and Dan, and everyone in the community," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told EDGE. "This is a terrible, terrible tragedy and I just urge anybody who saw anything, who thinks they saw anything, thinks they heard anything, to come forward and help the police make sure the family gets the justice they deserve." Quinn, the second-highest elected official in the city, is the front-runner to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg next year. If elected, she will be the city's first out-gay mayor.
The city is offering a reward of $22,000 for information leading to the arrest of Rispoli's attackers. "He will not survive, and this will be a homicide," New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside, said at a press conference. He called the attack "a tragedy for our neighborhood and our city."
Rispoli lived in Sunnyside for 30 years and was a fixture in the city’s gay life. He cooked and delivered meals to people with AIDS, and had been active in the gay rights movement since the ’70s. He served as secretary to the famous out-gay composer Virgil Thomson.
"Much of Lou’s love and generosity was expressed at the dinner table, through the amazing multi-course meals that almost magically flew out of his kitchen," said Rispoli’s family in a statement. "And at these events he was able to engage people in conversations that would enable us all to laugh with love at our own humanity."
Although Rispoli’s family has requested that the press not publicize his partners’ name, the men married in August 2011, on their 31st anniversary. They had raised two daughters together.
"Lou was a proud gay man," Van Bramer said. "He fought for full equality for our community. But I don’t know if he was attacked because he was a gay man. This is a good and safe neighborhood where gay men and lesbians can walk the streets and be who they are."
Van Bramer said that he continues to work with the 108th Police Precinct to bring the perpetrators to justice. He pointed out that, although Rispoli’s attackers did not rob him, the NYPD has yet to classify the attack as a bias crime. No surveillance footage has been found, but police are continuing to check cameras in the area in an attempt to track the assailants’ movements.
"They haven’t labeled it as a hate crime yet, but just by the nature of the crime, and that there’s no robbery motive, it seems like there was another reason for it," said Dromm.
Sunnyside has become known as a gay-friendly enclave. But high-profile bias crimes continue to plague Queens.
In March 2011, a group of teens beat 18-year-old Anthony Collao to death at a party while screaming anti-gay slurs. In October 2009, 26-year-old Daniel Aleman and 21-year-old Daniel Rodriguez were arrested for the savage beating of 49-year-old gay man Jack Price in College Point, an industrial neighborhood. The crime had been caught on videotape (see below).
In a case that galvanized Queens’ LGBT community, 21-year-old Erik Brown and 19-year-old Esat Bici were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after the July 2, 1990, murder of a 29-year-old gay bartender. Julio Rivera was attacked and killed in the schoolyard of P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood that has become the city’s nexus for its booming Latino gay population and the largest gay enclave outside of Manhattan.
The volume of anti-gay sentiment expressed during the trial was a watershed moment for LGBT rights in the legal system. It became the first time murderers were convicted as gay-related hate crime murder in New York State.
There is no indication as of yet whether Rispoli knew his assailants. A lone eyewitness said that the men were in their 20s, while a tall man stood lookout during the attack. Prior to the attack, the men -- possibly including Rispoli -- may have exited a car that has been described as either an SUV or a white two-door sedan.
"When people talk about society being ’post-gay,’ I don’t get it," said Dromm. "I don’t know if they’ve been beyond the borders of Manhattan, but there is so much more work to do in terms of changing people’s attitudes, and that is evident for us every day."
"This type of heinous attack has no place in our community," added Van Bramer. "This incident has struck home for all of us and we need the public to come forward with any information regarding this crime. What happened to Lou should never happen to anyone. Whoever committed this horrific act of violence must be arrested and brought to justice."
Anyone with information about this crime should contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com, or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.