Monday, April 26, 2010

When will the violence stop?

Ashley Santiago Ocasio owned a beauty salon. She had a “flair for fashion”. She was only 31, and she was found murdered in her home on the island of Puerto Rico. Could this have just been a random attack and attempt to rob her? Possibly. Her car was stolen, but nothing else was missing. Authorities, and myself, think this crime was not just a robbery gone wrong. Ashley was a transgender woman and her killer(s) used such an excessive amount of violence in the attack, police believe that whoever did this targeted Ashley because of her gender expression.

Unfortunately, Ashley's story is not the first example of the evil and gross violence that has taken place in Puerto Rico. It was only months ago when the story came out that the body of gay teenager Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was found decapitated and partially burned in another small town. His murderer was captured, confessed to stabbing Jorge, and his explanation for why he did it was because “he found out that Jorge was really a man”.

It's nearly impossible to decipher human nature, but what I can't understand is why this violence against the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico seems to be happening more frequently now. From what I've read online, Puerto Rico is one of the more friendly destinations for LGBTQ people in the Caribbean. You can find gay-friendly resorts, and gay travelers in Puerto Rico have the benefit of protection by U.S. antidiscrimination laws. An Anti-hate crime bill was even written into law: a hate crime conviction results in the automatic imposition of the maximum sentence for the underlying offense. For murder aggravated by a hate crime charge, that’s life in prison.

Sadly, Puerto Rico has never invoked the 2002 hate crime law covering crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the last five months alone, there have been five instances where the statute could have been used, said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

So what is it going to take for the Puerto Rico to prevent hate crimes? In North America we have a tendency, in my own opinion, to let the harassment, assault, abuse, and violence continue until someone gets murdered; and then we act. There have already been numerous murders against LGBTQ people in Puerto Rico; when are they going to act?

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