When the LOCAL and the GLOBAL are too close for comfort

In the early morning of August 15, 2001, Edgar Garzon, a 35-year-old Latino gay man better know as
“Eddie,” was viciously attacked with a “blunt instrument” by an unidentified assailant who jumped out of
a red car. This occured in Jackson Heights, Queens, an extremely diverse neighborhood with large
concentrations of Latin Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Koreans and a sizeable gay
population. Garzon suffered three fractures in his cranium and was in a coma until September 4, when he
passed away at Elmhurst Medical Center. His family, who reside mostly in Colombia and Florida, as well as
his close friends, were by his side at the moment of his death; local Latino and Latina gay activists, as well as
New York City politicians and concerned community members, held a silent candlelight vigil on September
6 and have cooperated extensively with the police in trying to solve the attack and murder, which has been
referred to the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force for investigation as a possible bias attack.
Eddie’s death occurred barely a week before the hijacking of four planes and the attack on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon that has so shaken the entire world. The magnitude of the events
of September 11 and their devastating consequences have understandably made front-cover news ever
since, and seem to hold people’s undivided attention. One of the most unfortunate responses to this crisis
has been the increasing numbers of unwarranted attacks in the US against people of color, particularly
those who are perceived as being of Arab descent. As we have learned, this has included the murder of
several Sikh men, confused with Arabs because they wear turbans. In many places, generalized
xenophobia has received a carte blanche in the “interest” of “hands-on” national security, often
accompanied by uncritical flag waving, a gesture associated with unconditional patriotism.
What does Eddie’s death have to do with the World Trade Center? Why does it interest me to talk
about them in tandem? First of all, I must share the enormous discomfort that I have felt since September
11: my concern that Eddie’s death will be forgotten in the light of the subsequent events — eclipsed,
shall we say, amid discussions of “innocent” victims and nationalistic repercussions. How do we balance a
single incident such as this one in the wake of a cataclysmic occurrence? Yet to neglect one for the other
is inherently wrong; they are both tragic events which warrant our attention. Eddie was attacked for
being a gay man, just like Julio Rivera, a gay bartender stabbed and killed by three men in Jackson
Heights in 1990. When Matthew Sheppard, a young white college student, was killed in Montana a few
years back, the whole country went up in arms. Where is the national outrage for the murder of this
talented and hard-working Colombian immigrant gay man?
It is not clear to me that most people will even hear about this incident, and who knows how much
attention the police will be able to give to solving this crime. What is clear to me is that there is a
generalized disregard for the worth of human life, and particularly for those who are perceived as
“different.” The terrorists who attacked the United States felt justified in killing thousands of people for the
sake of their cause. Self-proclaimed “patriots” in the US have taken it upon themselves to exact vengeance
on Arab individuals in this country; we also anxiously await to hear if the US government will indiscriminately
attack Afghanistan, threatening the lives of countless civilians. The individual who attacked Eddie
Garzon felt an inherent moral superiority and justification to commit violence against someone who was
deemed inferior. None of these forms of violence should be condoned, especially not those which single
out sexual minorities and people of color. It is in moments of crisis such as these, where there is the loss
of life, that we are most acutely aware of the inherent dynamics within this country, of all the work we
have left to do in order to attain social justice.

[For more information on the Edgar Garzon case and to make donations to his family, please contact
Andres Duque at the Latino Commision on AIDS, 212-675-3288 x 212.]

Lawrence M. La Fountain-Stokes is Assistant Professor of Puerto Rican Studies and Hispanic Carribean Studies
at Rutgers University.