Community leaders planted a garden Saturday at the site of an attack on a Staten Island gay couple, in hopes of bringing tolerance to a borough that has experienced a wave of bias crimes since April.
In the wake of 10 bias attacks since April, residents gathered outside a White Castle in Stapleton, where one month ago Richard and Luis Vieira, a gay married couple, were beaten.
"The importance of this rally is to show unity and togetherness," said Richard Vieira. "And we don't have a place for hate here."
Organizers from the Staten Island Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center ate at the fast food restaurant in a sign of solidarity before planting the garden to honor the Vieiras, who were attacked there last month.
"Well I think that the attacks that happened here a month ago are indicative of some of the ignorance that is rampant on Staten Island," said one participant. "Since it was young people that were involved, we really need to help the young people understand that everybody has a right to live in their community, and maybe getting to know people will help get rid of some of the animosity that people seem to feel."
"What can come out of this is a very strong, positive, good thing, although it started with something truly horrific and sad," said another participant.
Richard says he's still wearing the scars from that beating.
"In short, I couldn't believed it happened to me because I don't look to hurt anyone," he said. "I don't look to cheat anybody. I am just a good person."
The most recent bias crime in the borough occurred last weekend, when police say Derrian Williams, 17, and a group of teens beat and robbed Christian Vasquez, and shouted anti-Mexican comments at him. Williams was arrested and is the first suspect in any of these cases to be charged with a hate crime.
“There's too many hate crimes, too much indifference, too much apathy,” said one local resident.
Police have beefed up their presence in recent weeks and city leaders have released plans to bring peace and calm back to Staten Island. It's exactly what Richard Vieira says he wants.
“The hate should stop and diversity shall be welcomed,” Vieira said. “Because we're all Staten Island.”
No arrests have been made in connection with the Vieiras' attack. Anyone with information on the case should contact the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS, or text CRIMES and then enter TIP577, or visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.