NEW YORK (CBS 2) — It was a call for justice in a borough that has been wrestling with a hate crime epidemic – and it was led by one of the victims.
A group of Staten Island residents took to the streets for a marathon of demonstrating, from early Saturday morning until late Saturday night.
On Staten Island, there were three separate rallies in one 24-hour period, and they all carried the same message: “hate is not tolerated here.”
“To see these things happening, we are not going to stand for that,” resident Angel Figueroa said.
The one-mile march, from Staten Island Borough Hall to a fast food restaurant in Stapleton, was a show of support for victims of the recent wave of hate crimes.
Demonstrators estimate that there have been at least 11 bias attacks in the borough since April.
“You never really imagine it happening to yourself,” beating victim Richard Viera said.
With his shoulder torn and his arm in a sling, Vieira attended the protest to talk about the beating at a White Castle that left him and his partner, Luis, injured. The July 7 crime was captured on grainy surveillance video.
“We ordered our food, we sat down to have dinner, and the three individuals came in,” Vieira said. “They walked up to our table and used a slur, and inappropriate slur. The individual walked away, and walked back and punched my partner in the head for no reason.”
The beating continued outside. The suspects are on the loose.
“These crimes are being committed by a very, very small population of fearful, barbaric monsters,” State Assemblyman Matthew Titone said.
While gays were the victims in the one case, the other bias crimes were described as unprovoked assaults on Mexican immigrants.
“It’s not a gay issue, a Latino issue – it’s a human issue,” Vieira said.
The NYPD has boosted patrols, but concerned citizens say it’s also up to the community to be visible and vocal.
“Thank God no one has been killed yet, but we are not going to wait for that point to happen,” Figueroa said.
More events are planned to speak out against the hate crimes – some on the streets, and others in classrooms and workplaces.
Outside the White Castle, demonstrators planted what they call a “healing garden” to signify a fresh start.