Not long ago I joined hundreds of New Yorkers to celebrate O’Shae Sibley’s life. We surrounded the Brooklyn Mobil Gas Station at the intersection of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue P, where O’Shae Sibley’s murder occurred when he was stabbed to death. With trans leader and activist Queen Jean on the megaphone, we repeated O’Shae Sibley’s name over and over. It was a powerful memorial organized by my Black queer and trans siblings, not too far from Kensington, the neighborhood I was raised in, and where I continue to use my role to defend democracy and fight against the efforts that embolden hate.
O’Shae was a 28-year-old queer Black dancer. He lived a life of unbounded joy and freedom. His murder was a hate crime. He was killed because he was gay and he was murdered by Dmitriy Popov, a 17 year old boy.
For at least a week after O’Shae was murdered, the suspect was misidentified across major media outlets as a Muslim boy. The Mayor even hosted a press conference this past weekend with leaders from the Muslim community, further insinuating that the perpetrator was Muslim. Before I go into what O’Shae’s murder means for the Muslim community, I must ask: Why did the NYPD Commissioner, our Mayor, and outlets like The New York Times put out misleading information about the suspect’s identity? The carelessness of this accusation is Islamophobic and violently pits the Muslim community against our queer siblings.
For at least a week, the Muslim community was uncomfortably and quietly grappling with the perception that O’Shae Sibley was killed by a Muslim. Among activist and organizer circles, we believed it because we have seen firsthand the virulent homophobia across our community in NYC. Across platforms, I read from many Muslim New Yorkers, including my constituents, asking when Muslim leaders would speak out against this heinous murder and finally address the deep-rooted anti-Blackness and homophobia in our community. The truth is, Muslim communities across the US, and broadly, the Western world, are being mobilized around anti-LGBTQ hate campaigns spearheaded by white Christian nationalists. Many of us seem to have forgotten, they came for us too not so long ago.
O’Shae’s murder should shock the Muslim community. As the first Muslim woman in the City Council, my politicization is connected to the hate and Islamophobia the Muslim community experienced in the aftermath of 9/11. Even though our civil liberties were actively curtailed, whether through the Patriot Act, the NYPD Demographics Unit, or the formation of ICE, we did not stand idle. We resisted, and continue to fight for full representation and dignity no matter where we live.
This wasn’t just the struggle of one community. This was a collective struggle against the forces of white supremacy which actively worked to otherize us. We organized together with Black Lives Matter activists, our Jewish neighbors, immigrant rights groups in the AAPI and Latinx communities, and our LGBTQ siblings to build a coalition that many Islamophobes did not want to see. Just as it does now, our strength came through our solidarity with marginalized people across our communities and the country.
O’Shae’s murder is a win for the Right – they want to see our communities divided. The 17-year-old boy’s incarceration cannot be celebrated as justice. For O’Shae and the young boy who murdered him, the Muslim community cannot sit idle and must respond to this moment. We must extend proactive solidarity with the LGBTQ community as they’ve done to us over and over in our fight toward creating caring and safer communities so that we too can pray and practice as we choose.
There was no reason for O’Shae to be killed. There is no justification to murder someone simply for existing. As many have said over the last few days, by vogueing in his full glory, O’Shae chose happiness over his own safety. We must join LGBTQ communities to dismantle Islamophobia, homophobia, and racism for our collective survival and safety. Muslim communities across NYC must reject white supremacy which creates and defends murderers. We must uproot the hate and violence against Black and queer people, as has been demonstrated in our faith by our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH.)
Bio: Council Member Shahana Hanif represents the 39th Council District in Brooklyn, which includes parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and the Columbia Waterfront. She is the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council.