Murder of Sakia Gunn

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Sakia Gunn
Born (1987-05-26)May 26, 1987
Died May 11, 2003(2003-05-11) (aged 15)
Newark, New Jersey
Cause of death
Murder by stabbing

Sakia Gunn (May 26, 1987 – May 11, 2003) was a 15-year old African American lesbian who was murdered in a hate crime in Newark, New Jersey. Richard McCullough, an African American man, was charged with her death and sentenced to 20 years in prison.[1]

The murder[edit]

On the night of May 11, 2003, Gunn was returning from a night out in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, with her friends. While waiting for the #1 New Jersey Transit bus at the corner of Broad and Market Streets in downtown Newark, Gunn and her friends were propositioned by two African American men. When the girls rejected their advances, by declaring themselves to be lesbians, the men attacked them. Gunn fought back, and one of the men, Richard McCullough, stabbed her in the chest. Both men immediately fled the scene in their vehicle. After one of Gunn's friends flagged down a passing driver, she was taken to nearby University Hospital, where she died.[2]

At the corner of Broad and Market Streets, where Gunn and her friends waited for the bus, stands a police booth that is to be manned 24 hours a day, as was promised by Sharpe James in his 2002 campaign. As there was no police officer in the booth at that time, a number of questions were raised among Gunn's family and friends, as well as the Newark community as a whole.


McCullough, who turned himself in to authorities several days later, was arrested in connection with the crime on May 16, 2003.[3] In a plea bargain, the murder charges were dropped and, on March 3, 2005, McCullough pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, and bias intimidation, claiming, at one point, that Gunn died after she "ran into his knife".[4] On April 21, 2005, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.[1]


The murder set off several protests in working-class Newark, and more than 2,500 people were reported to have attended Gunn's funeral.

In comparison to the 1998 gay-bias murder of Matthew Shepard, Sakia Gunn's murder drew limited media coverage. Using the LexisNexis database, Kim Pearson, a professor at The College of New Jersey found that there were 659 stories in major newspapers about Shepard's murder, compared to only 21 articles about Gunn's murder in the seven-month period after their attacks. Pearson also notes that not only were Shepard's attackers tried and convicted during this period, but that it took nearly that long for Gunn's attacker to even be indicted.[5] Gunn's attacker was African American; Shepard's attacker was white. Some people believe that the limited media coverage in Gunn's case was due to the media's reluctance to address homophobia among African Americans.

Editors of a popular internet journal, The Gully, argued that there were "fundamental errors in the way most journalists reported the brutal May 11 murder of Sakia Gunn." They cite the tendency for reporters to highlight the "scuffle" that occurred between Gunn and her murderer, with the implication being that if Gunn and her friends had not announced their sexual orientation, the men would have left them alone. The authors of the journal argue that it is "far more likely that the men only propositioned Gunn and her friends because they knew the girls were dykes, and a sexual advance would provoke some kind of exchange." [6]

Gunn's death sparked outrage from the city's gay and lesbian community. The community, in conjunction with GLAAD, rallied the mayor's office. Among the requests of the mayor included the establishment of a gay and lesbian community center, police officers to patrol the Newark Penn Station/Broad Street corridor 24-hours a day, the creation of a LGBT advisory council to the mayor, and that the school board be held accountable for the lack of concern and compassion when dealing with students at Westside High School (which Gunn attended) immediately following the murder. To date, the city has not honored its commitment, which has created some resentment among Newark's gay and lesbian community. The Newark Pride Alliance, an LGBT advocacy group, was founded in the wake of Gunn's murder, and continues to lobby the city administration.


The 2011 musical, This One Girl's Story, which debuted as part of Gayfest NYC, was inspired by the Sakia Gunn story.


  1. ^ a b Kleinknecht, William. "Lesbian Teen's Family Confronts Killer." The Star-Ledger, April 22, 2005.
  2. ^ Meenan, Mick. "Newark Schools Drop the Ball." Gay City News, May 30-June 5, 2003.
  3. ^ Carter, Barry. "Suspect In Teen's Stabbing Surrenders." The Star-Ledger, May 16, 2003.
  4. ^ Kleinknecht, William. "Man Admits to Reduced Charge in Death of Lesbian Teen." The Star-Ledger, March 4, 2005.
  5. ^ Neal, Mark Anthony. 2003-12-15). Remembering Sakia. Black Voices. Retrieved on 2007-04-05.
  6. ^ Cogswell, Kelly and Ana Simo. "Erasing Sakia." The Gully, June 6, 2003.

External links[edit]