A 51-year-old Queens man who allegedly hurled homophobic slurs at another man before stabbing him to death on Labor Day was charged with murder as a hate crime, among other charges, on September 24, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced.
The fatal stabbing originated when the alleged assailant, James Williams, was sitting next to 20-year-old Massiah Berkley on a bench located on a pathway near Beach 20th Street in the Far Rockaway section of Queens on September 7, according to prosecutors. Williams allegedly called Berkley a “faggot,” prompting a confrontation between the two individuals.
At that point, Williams pulled out a knife and stabbed Berkley in the chest and the back of his head, prosecutors said. Police arrived at the scene just before 4 p.m. and found Berkley on the ground, where he was bleeding from his chest. He was transported to a nearby hospital and subsequently succumbed to his wounds.
Cops arrested Williams near the scene shortly after the attack.
While it is not clear what prompted Williams to start voicing anti-LGBTQ slurs at Berkley, the New York City Anti-Violence Project described the late 20-year-old as a queer Black man and the New York Daily News reported that Williams told authorities he knew Berkley and “had multiple altercations” with him in the past.
The Daily News also reported that Williams told authorities that he “pulled out a fishing knife and I [swung] it at Massiah a few times and hit him one time.”
Katz believes Williams’ apparent use of the slurs evidenced his motivation behind the fatal stabbing.
“The defendant’s own words allegedly reveal that his bigoted perceptions sparked this deadly attack,” 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.”
Williams was charged with two counts of second-degree murder — including one as a hate crime — as well as criminal possession of a weapon in the third and fourth degrees and tampering with evidence. The tampering charge came after Williams allegedly concealed his knife and shirt after the attack. The Daily News reported that Williams told detectives he tossed the knife across a fence into a construction site.
The tragic incident unfolded when Berkley was in Far Rockaway 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.”
Berkley was remembered as a mural artist, and one mural he helped create remains on display on the wall of a vacant building located at the corner of Pitkin Avenue and Strauss Street in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Berkley is listed online as a participant on that project, which was led by Groundswell, an NYC-based organization that unites artists, youth, and community organizations to create art for social change.
Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted to the news on Twitter after the indictment was announced.
“This horrific crime deserves severe justice,” de Blasio wrote. “I commend @QueensDAKatz and her team for calling this what it is, and sending the clear message that hate has no home in our city.”
Williams is slated to be arraigned on September 29 before Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges.
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