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New York City LGBT bar owner’s ‘relief’ as rainbow flag burning suspect is caught

The Daily Beast

July 10, 2019

Alexi Minko of Harlem’s Alibi Lounge said the arrest ‘serves as a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of targeting anyone for their gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.’

Alexi Minko, the owner of the Alibi Lounge, New York City’s only black-owned LGBTQ bar, said it was “a huge relief” that the NYPD had arrested a suspect Tuesday night for the burning of the bar’s rainbow flags.

The NYPD’s arrest in the much-publicized case followed the burning of three of the Alibi Lounge’s rainbow flags outside its Harlem entrance—two on May 31 at the beginning of Pride month and one sometime between Sunday night and early Monday morning.

Police arrested Tyresse Singleton, 20, of Manhattan, in connection with both incidents. He is charged with two counts each of criminal mischief as a hate crime and arson. It was not clear if an attorney had been assigned to his case. He was awaiting arraignment in Manhattan criminal court Tuesday night.

“It brings a sense of resolution,” Minko told The Daily Beast of the arrest, “and serves as a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of doing something similar not only to us, but to anyone who thinks of targeting anyone else for reasons of gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. It is also a reminder that we live in a civilized world and more often than not you get the resolution you deserve. We’re really relieved to put this behind us and just move forward.”

Dermot Shea, the NYPD’s chief of detectives, announced via Twitter late Tuesday afternoon that cops had apprehended a suspect.

The suspect had been apprehended thanks to a Crimestoppers tip. The NYPD had released footage of both incidents to encourage witnesses to come forward.

On Monday evening, when The Daily Beast visited the Alibi Lounge, Minko had kept a beady eye on who was outside, and who was coming in past the rainbow flag flanking its entrance.

Minko opened the bar just over three years ago (on June 24, 2016), and said he had experienced no homophobia during that time. The flag burnings shocked him—and made him determined to stay open “and stay proud.”

The incidents attracted considerable media coverage: on Monday night, news crews from NBC and ABC’s New York stations stopped by for interviews. Governor Andrew Cuomo had directed the state police hate crimes unit to assist the NYPD in its investigation.

Inside the bar on Monday night, Nina Kennedy and April Gibson, who just produced an ‘It’s World Pride’ Club Mix, had come to the bar from the East Village to show their support. Kennedy told The Daily Beast, “I’m outraged. It’s really shocking that this happened in Harlem, where black people are supposed to feel safe. We shouldn’t have to deal with this crap up here.”

Gibson added: “We came to be bodies-in-the-chairs tonight, to show our support, and say, ‘Yes, we are here.’ It is important that there are LGBTQ spaces in all areas of the city, because we are everywhere and we need to be able to feel supported, loved, and welcome no matter where we are.”

Alibi Lounge’s title of the only black-owned LGBTQ bar in New York City, “is one we unfortunately inherited after Club Langston closed last year,” said Minko. Like the latter, Alibi serves a predominantly black LGBTQ clientele, although Minko emphasizes: “We are all inclusive. You can be purple as long as your credit card goes through.”

Other customers, who asked not to be named as they sipped their drinks, said they had been disgusted to hear about the flag burnings, and also wanted to come and show their support.

Minko was at the bar when the first incident happened, and heard about the second from staff on duty on Sunday night.

“The first time it happened, my first feelings were around how surreal it looked,” Minko told The Daily Beast. “It was raining that night. I first saw only one flag burning and thought it must be an accident involving lighting a cigarette. Then I saw the second flag burning, and the flames were crazy.

“The flags are a symbol of Pride, and for the first few minutes I wondered, was this for real? Was it an accident? Was it supposed to be a joke that someone found funny? Then I saw the footage the next day, and saw how malicious it was, how calculated. The person took his time to light both flags on fire. I got angry obviously, and a bit disappointed in humanity.”

The May 31 incident happened close to the anniversary of the Pulse mass shooting, Minko added. The act of seeing the arson had been traumatizing, and made Minko ask himself what would have stopped the perpetrator from coming into the bar itself.

However, his anger lessened with the “level of support and love” he had received from the community. The NYPD had been “brilliant” too, and checked on the bar every night afterwards.

Then it happened again. Barman Lucca Martini was shocked to see the flames. “I don’t know why anyone would do such a thing,” he said.

“It’s absolutely surreal,” said Minko. ‘I just thought, ‘Not again.’ And so we have put another rainbow flag out there, to say ‘We will not be intimidated, we will not give in.’ Of course you start to worry. This has happened twice in five weeks. You have no idea what lies behind such things. Is it the same person or different people? Are they trying to send a message to you? Are they coming back? I feel responsible for every person who walks through that door. I feel a lot of emotions, and they’re not good ones.”

Cole Knapper, LGBTQ chairperson for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, was also at the bar Monday night and “absolutely shocked” by the attacks. “This is such a great neighborhood—so warm and accepting. Alibi has been here, without incident, for three years. We need to send the message, ‘This is not Harlem. This is not who we are, and it will absolutely not to be tolerated.’

“Harlem keeps getting more diverse and better. If this turns out to be an act of homophobia, it would shock me, but would point to areas where we need improvement in the neighborhood and our cultural competency as a neighborhood. We’ll learn and grow from this.”

“This sort of terrorism, because that is what it is, has to stop,” Carmen Neely, president of Harlem Pride, and co-chair of the Black and Latino LGBTQ Coalition, told The Daily Beast. “Burning the flag itself is one thing, and it what it represents. For it to have happened a second time is absolutely untenable and egregious.”

The two incidents had bookended a successful Pride month, Neely noted, “and for this to happen in our neighborhood is absolutely ridiculous. We don’t usually have any problems. I’m sure where this is coming from or who it could be or why. It’s very much out of the blue.”

Harlem Pride and the Black and Latino LGBTQ Coalition plan to present Minko with new rainbow flags to put up.

Minko said he was determined to focus his energy positively, rather than on the offender. “Whatever his problem is, it’s between him or them and the justice system. People are coming to the bar to show support. The positive impact this nonsense has had is that it’s woken up the community. It reminds people we are still vulnerable, and the way to be less vulnerable is to band together.

“It’s a heinous act, a criminal act, and it is not to be tolerated or excused. It has to be called out for what it is—a hate crime. I gave birth to this bar, it’s like someone harming my child. I’m very defensive and protective of this place.”

A lawyer in his earlier professional life, it had been Minko’s dream to own his own business. A bar seemed a good idea, “because I don’t have many skills apart from getting people drunk and making sure people have a good time.”

The warm and witty Minko was determined to keep this philosophy uppermost.

“You’ve got to get back on the horse and keep going. We can’t give into our fears, otherwise we LGBTQ people wouldn’t be where we are today. We’ve got to move forward. Here at Alibi we stand proud, we stand tall, and we’re not going anywhere. This bar is staying open.”

He laughed. “The rent needs to be paid before the end of the week. Right now there’s no other option! Over the last few weeks I’ve seen the pride, happiness, joy, and love that we are receiving from the community, and I hope that we are sending it back into the community.”

Asked what he wanted to let the public know following the arrest of the suspect, Minko laughed again. “That we’re open seven days a week from 5pm to 4am.”

The recommended cocktail at Alibi Lounge, he added, was the “Elegance Is an Attitude.”