BY TRONE DOWD
A vicious assault on a churchgoer in Jamaica last Tuesday left a community shaken to the core and chomping at the bit for justice.
After 10 p.m., a 50-year-old parishioner from the Celestial Church of Christ on Liberty Avenue had just left the congregation after a night of prayer. Just a block away from the church at 150th Street and Beaver Road, the victim was approached by two men. The men brandished a handgun, insisting that the victim hand over her money. The two men then led the victim to a desolate parking lot, where two other perpetrators joined in on the stick-up.
The four men demanded that the victim remove her clothing, threatening to shoot her if she did not comply. The four men then forced the woman to perform sexual acts on them.
Just two days after the assault, police made three arrests. The suspects have been identified as 19-year-old Julisses Ginel, 20-year-old Brandon Walker and 17-year-old Justin Williams. Five days later, after identifying a fourth suspect, police arrested 20-year-old Isaiah Shorter. All four suspects face charges for robbery, criminal sexual acts, criminal use of a firearm and sex abuse.
On Thursday, in response to the attack, several Southeast Queens community members held a rally alongside faith leaders and elected leaders. Headed by Jamaica’s Kevin Livingston, the activists stood united behind two messages: protecting women in communities of color against violent criminals and ensuring that a similar attack never occurs again.
“It really sickens my stomach that we have to stand here because a young woman was violated in our community,” Livingston said. “We will walk these streets, we will beat on these doors, we will not stop until you are locked up. It is our responsibility to protect our women and children in our community. Your time on these streets is numbered.”
State Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-South Ozone Park), who was in attendance for the rally, ensured the congregation of Celestial Church of Christ that justice would be served.
“We do not shelter criminals,” he said. “You don’t stand alone. You have church family that stands with you and a community that stands with you. We are going to help this woman go from victim to victor.”
During a press conference in Rosedale held by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner James O’Neill, NYPD officials confirmed the reports and addressed concerns that one of the four suspects arrested came from a nearby “halfway house.”
“Yes, [Shorter] was a resident of the shelter,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. “And again, it’s not a shelter. It’s a halfway house. So, we have a small amount of beds in there, where these individuals will stay in there.
And I will tell you this – we put out images of the assault and it’s the shelter—someone inside the shelter—who called the police alerting us to this.”
According to Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams and District Manager Yvonne Reddick, the board had no knowledge of the shelter’s existence until the assault.
Although the mayor said that he did not want to comment on the crime as he had not been fully briefed on the details, he clarified that the shelter was for youths.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, the suspects face 25 years in prison if convicted.