A young, queer Black man has tragically lost his life after being stabbed in the head and chest in a suspected Labour Day hate crime.
20-year-old Massiah Berkley died moments after sitting next to James Williams, 51, on a park bench in Far Rockaway, Queens on September 7. Williams allegedly called Berkley a “faggot,” prompting a confrontation that ended with a knife being plunged into Berkley’s chest.
While it’s not clear what triggered Williams to start using anti-gay slurs, prosecutors argued that it was a clear indication that his motivation was based in homophobia.
“The defendant’s own words allegedly reveal that his bigoted perceptions sparked this deadly attack,” Queens district attorney Melinda Katz said in a written statement.
“Violence is never an acceptable option, but violence spurred by hate and prejudice is uniquely abhorrent and will always be prosecuted by this office to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to the New York Daily News, Williams told authorities that he knew Berkley and had “had multiple altercations” with him in the past.
“I pulled out a fishing knife and I (swung) it at Massiah a few times and hit him one time,” Williams allegedly told police.
Berkley is remembered as a talented artist who worked with Groundswell, a nonprofit that organises local young people to create colourful murals to beautify neighbourhoods and inspire social change.
On the day of his death, he had made the trek to Queens to help take care of his cousin’s sick mother.
“Massiah was a sweetheart,” Berkley’s mother, Kim Berkley, said in a written statement provided by AVP.
“He helped everybody. That’s why he was in Far Rockaway, so he could help [his cousin] take care of her mother, because her mother was in a nursing home. That’s what he [did], he help[ed] everybody. But nobody was there to help him.”
Williams was charged with murder in the second degree as a hate crime and other charges. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.