Few of the people who arrived for the vigil outside a Brooklyn gas station on Friday seemed to notice the blood stains on the pavement, which had darkened in the six days since the proudly gay and prodigiously talented dancer O’Shae Sibley was fatally stabbed there.
Sibley died in what police are investigating as a possible bias attack on a street that has seen more than a few of them. But most of the earlier hate crime victims on Coney Island Avenue were Muslims targeted for abuse in the days after 9/11. The atmosphere of hate caused thousands of Muslims to flee what had come to be called Little Pakistan.
At least two witnesses to Sibley’s killing on Saturday night heard the 17-year-old prime suspect say he is Muslim. The suspect—who has since turned himself in to police—is said to have objected on religious grounds when Sibley and several friends jumped out and began vogueing to a tune from Beyonce’s Renaissance album while they fueled their car. The Black, joyously gay men were shirtless, having spent the day at a New Jersey beach.
“Oh, we’re Muslim, so don’t do this in front of me,” the suspect said, as reported by The New York Daily News.
The suspect and several friends are also said to have uttered homophobic slurs. Surveillance footage shows the suspect filming Sibley with a cellphone as if it were something disgraceful. He then had what police believe was a knife in his hand.
After Sibley went down, his close friend Otis Pena ran over and tried to staunch the bleeding with his hand.
“They hated us cause we are gay!” Pena wrote on Facebook. “Screaming we Muslim and we don’t like gays!!!!! As we are innocently pumping gas and y’all decided to stab one of us!!!”
Pena posted a photo of his bloody hand and of stains—then bright red—on the sidewalk where Friday’s vigil was later held. He and others who were close to Sibley decided they would instead attend a memorial gathering Saturday in Manhattan. But at least one longtime friend was there. Nico Smith and Sibley had been part of a group as close as siblings for 15 years. He began to address the crowd, but was so overcome he had to pause.
“You got it,” somebody told him. “Breathe baby. Don’t worry. Okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”
Smith collected himself and said, “We’re more than just a group of individuals… We were the family that he chose… He was a person who was loved, who was cared for, who loved others with all in his heart… And I just want to thank you guys for coming out to celebrate O’Shea.”
Rev. Yunus Coldman was there and gave an invocation from a street corner murder scene, saying Sibley had joined the “risen ancestors in the cloud of witnesses among the heavenly hosts.”
“We invoke your name and honor you today O’Shea Sibley, family, friend, someone to someone. Watch over us O’Shea Sibley in your place among your creator.”
Coldman spoke to The Daily Beast as a man of faith about the killing.
“No religion justifies killing anybody,” he said
He was asked about the many bias attacks on Muslims in previous years.
“Then they turn around and do the same thing,” he said.
Coldman suggested that this attack may have been triggered by Sibley’s vibrant display of his joy in being Sibley. That Saturday was the same night Beyonce was performing in New Jersey and Sibley and his friends were vogueing to Renaissance as if they themselves were on stage.
“What they want is the freedom to be themselves and they allow their religion to tell them that they can’t be that,” Coldman said.
Back in 2021, the NYPD reported an anti-Muslim bias incident three blocks up Coney Island Avenue, in which somebody spray painted hate messages on the front door of the Tayba Islamic Center. The two men who were in the mosque on Friday said they were unaware of the incident two years ago. One of them, who wore an NYPD traffic officers’ uniform, was very clear about Islam and homosexuality.
“It’s against our religion,” he said.
He was asked about the killing just down the street. The teenage suspect was being charged with murder as a juvenile.
“We have no control over anybody, “ he said. “Everybody’s on their own.”
Down at the gas station, a pride flag was flying. Maybe 100 people had joined the vigil. People had placed flowers and a wreath and a sign reading STOP HATE beneath the MOBIL sign. A chant went up.
“Say his name! O’Shea! Say his name! O’Shea Sibley!”
Somebody scattered rose petals on the sidewalk. And then people began to dance.