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It was a cold day for warm memories as family, friends, local leaders and activists converged on Plumb Beach to memorialize the life – and brutal death – of Michael Sandy.
The Friday morning event came shortly after the four year anniversary of Michael Sandy’s killing, and celebrated the dedication of a bench and plaque for Sandy and all victims of violence and hate crimes, placed near the parking lot where he was attacked.
“We dedicate this bench because we want to say something to one another. We want to say how important it is that we remember this story and the full breadth of it,” Congressman Anthony Weiner told the crowd at the dedication. “We should recognize that the violence that took Michael from us is not something that should be ignored and not something that should be swept under the rug. This has reached the point of epidemic.”
Sandy was killed after a botched robbery-turned-hate crime in October 2006. Four men reportedly used websites to lure Michael Sandy to Plumb Beach, supposedly for anonymous sex. But when Sandy arrived the thugs attempted to rob him and began hitting him. When Sandy tried to escape, he ran onto the Belt Parkway and was struck by a car. Sandy remained in a vegetative state for five days before his family removed life support. He died on October 13, 2006. [Read more about the case]
Friends of Sandy formed the Michael Sandy Foundation, which along with the his parents began seeking a tribute to victims of hate crimes everywhere. After fundraising, they received the community board’s support for a memorial this February.
For those that gathered on Friday morning, though, the event went beyond the death of one man. Speakers at the event focused on the recent spate of killings and suicides around the nation.
“In the wake of the recent suicides of Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clemente … they join my friend Michael Sandy as martyrs for change,” said Tony Bruce, the director of the Michael Sandy Foundation and a former roommate of Sandy’s.
“It is entirely clear that [physical and emotional violence against homosexuals] is not something in our past” said Councilman Fidler, who helped the family and foundation find approval for the memorial. “So I hope that whenever someone comes here and looks at that plaque … the plaque will inspire people to continue to talk about these issues, to make sure that things like cyberbullying stop, to make sure that we aren’t driving young gay men and women out of their homes and onto the street.”
As chairman of the Youth Services Committee, Fidler is frequently faced with the concerns of runaway homeless youth, many of whom have experienced LGBTQ discrimination and have been brutalized in their home environment. He told the crowd that 40 percent of the city’s 3,800 youths that sleep on the city’s streets without their families are LGBTQ.
In addition to honoring Sandy, members of the foundation and local leaders said the time is now to begin teaching tolerance to children. That education needs to come first and foremost from parents, said Bruce.
“I hope you’re asking, ‘What can I do to help?’” Bruce said. “Get prepared for your son and daughter to come home and say, ‘Mom, Dad, I saw two boys kissing today at school.’ How are you going to react? Because within your reaction you have the opportunity to stop the hate.”
Videos of the speakers at the Michael Sandy Memorial Dedication:
A photo gallery of the event: