New York’s artistic community is mourning the death of dancer O’Shae Sibley, who was stabbed outside of a gas station in Midwood, Brooklyn on Saturday night. Police responded to a 911 call around 11:15pm on July 29. Sibley, a 28-year-old Black gay man, was taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The New York Police Department told Hyperallergic that it is investigating the death as a “possible biased incident.”
Sibley and four friends were dancing and vogueing (a form of dance born out of Harlem’s queer ballroom scene in the 1980s and characterized by catwalk-style poses and stylized arm gestures) to the music of Beyoncé near the gas pumps of the Coney Island Avenue and Avenue P Mobil Station. A customer exited the store and confronted the dancing group of friends before being joined by several other men leaving the store. Gas station shop worker Summy Ullah told Gothamist that the provoking group said the dancing offended them as Muslims.
The crime was caught on security footage. After a verbal altercation, Sibley and his friends began walking back to their car when one of the men in the attacking group started filming. Sibley and his friends made their way back toward the men outside the storefront and the two groups walked around the corner of the building, where one of the men stabbed Sibley in the torso. Sibley collapsed on the sidewalk outside of the gas station.
Ullah said he recognized the attackers as a smoke shop worker and his friends, who frequently used the gas station shop’s bathroom. Police are reportedly searching for a 17-year-old suspect. No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.
Sibley’s friend Otis Pena, who was with him at the gas station, posted a Facebook Live video on Sunday, July 30. He said the group of friends had gone to the beach to celebrate his birthday and stopped at the gas station on the way back to his home two blocks away. He stated that the attackers had launched homophobic slurs and that Sibley had responded with, “Yeah, we’re gay, but we’re just celebrating my brother’s birthday.”
“They murdered him because he was gay, because he stood up for his friends,” Pena says in the video, his eyes red as he fights back tears. “And they stabbed him, right in the heart. They took the one thing I always fought for. They killed my brother right in front of me. I’m covered in his blood.” He describes holding Sibley and putting his hand on the stab wound.
Sibley moved from Philadelphia to New York City in 2019 and lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He was a member of the prestigious Philadelphia dance troupe Philadanco and performed in artist Jacolby Satterwhite’s “An Eclectic Dance to the Music of Time” (2022) at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center last year, a commissioned video work that incorporates archival footage, modern dance, and digital illustration to explore the history of the New York Philharmonic.
“The shoot with O’Shae and other queer black performers blew my mind,” Satterwhite said in a statement he shared with Hyperallergic and posted to his Instagram account today, August 1. “Because they fused classical, modern, and voguing dance styles, exuding confidence and evidence of social progress, and a desire for a world stage they truly deserved. Their artistry transcended mere survival and coping, breaking free from the struggles of queer generations before them.”
“Anyone who ever met O’Shae was very blessed to know him,” Jewel, who met Sibley in Philadelphia and considered him a nephew, wrote on Instagram. “He was funny, unique, charismatic and always knew how to have a good time. Most importantly, he loved HARD!!! He went above and beyond for his loved ones and made sure no one was ever sad around him.”
Hate crimes in the United States have been on the rise since 2014, and in 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported the highest number since it began collecting data in the 1990s. Underreporting and differences in state policing laws mean the real numbers are likely much higher, but the FBI’s data can still illuminate alarming trends. Hate crimes against Black people constituted the highest proportion overall at a little over 31%; anti-Asian attacks rose by 167%; attacks against gay men rose by 41%; and hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in general rose by 70% from 2020 to 2021.
The incident comes amid a wave of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community and drag performances across the country. According to a 2022 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ people are nine times more likely to be victims of violent hate crimes.