Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
On Monday, police arrested a ninth suspect in a set of alleged, violent anti-gay attacks earlier this month. Twenty-two-year-old Rudy Vargas Perez is allegedly a member of the Latin Kings Goonies, a group police say is a loosely-organized street gang accused of kidnapping and torturing a 30-year-old man and two teenagers in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.
The allegations have upset many in the neighborhood. Juan Rosa says he's been living there for years, and thinks of it as a very open place.
"There's a lot of gays -- guys that are gay and a lot of lesbians walking around. They walk around hand in hand. I see them all the time," says Rosa. "I think it's safe. I think it was random because you don't usually see it happen in this neighbourhood.
But others say they don't think the area is quite so tolerant. Elizabeth Rivera is very protective of her gay son -- and discourages him from socializing openly in his own neighborhood.
"My son doesn't really hang out like that. He picks and chooses, and I pick and choose," she says. "I'm not going to have anybody discriminate my son. [That would be] be disrespectful to me also."
It's difficult to know whether Rivera is typical -- or whether Rosa Fernandez, another long-time resident, is. She tells her daughter that God intended for women to be with men.
"If you have a bad issue, I do not want to see you with a girl," Fernandez says. "I do not accept that. Why? Because I do not -- If you want to be with a girl you go out there with your girl but not next to me."
Like others in the area, Fernandez is appalled by the story that's emerging from police charges. Prosecutors say gang members lured a well-known local gay man into an abandoned building and sadistically tortured him and two teen-age boys -- allegedly because one of the teenagers was a gang recruit, and he was been seen with the older gay man. Christine Stewart isn't sure what anyone could say to change the attitudes of people that violent -- other than trying to mold them when they're very young.
"The neighborhood is good, it's just that some of the children are not being disciplined correctly. Or not being spoken to correctly," says Stewart.
Over the weekend, several political leaders marched near the abandoned house, where the assault allegedly took place, to call for greater tolerance. And last night, Mayor Bloomberg said he would do everything he could to make sure the perpretrators of the crimes will be shown no mercy.