Murder of Sakia Gunn

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Sakia Gunn (May 26, 1987 – May 11, 2003) was a 15-year-old African American lesbian who was murdered in what has been deemed 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] In 2008 a documentary was released about Gunn's murder, titled Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project.[2]

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. The women rejected their advances and declared themselves to be lesbians. The men attacked; 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.[3]


McCullough, who turned himself in to authorities several days later, was arrested in connection with the crime on May 16, 2003.[4] 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".[5] 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 noted 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 be indicted.[6] Editors of The Gully claimed there were "fundamental errors in the way most journalists reported Gunn's murder, citing the tendency to highlight the "scuffle" that occurred between Gunn and her murderer. The journalists claim 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."[7]

Gunn's death sparked outrage from the city's gay and lesbian community. The community, in conjunction with GLAAD, rallied the mayor's office, requesting, among other things, the establishment of a gay and lesbian community center, that 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. The Newark Pride Alliance, an LGBT advocacy group, was founded in the wake of Gunn's murder, and continues to lobby the city administration.[8]


  1. ^ a b Kleinknecht, William. "Lesbian Teen's Family Confronts Killer", The Star-Ledger, April 22, 2005.
  2. ^ Chan, Sewell. "Film Examines a Newark Hate Crime". Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Meenan, Mick. "Newark Schools Drop the Ball", Gay City News, May 30-June 5, 2003.
  4. ^ Carter, Barry. "Suspect In Teen's Stabbing Surrenders." The Star-Ledger, May 16, 2003.
  5. ^ Kleinknecht, William. "Man Admits to Reduced Charge in Death of Lesbian Teen", The Star-Ledger, March 4, 2005.
  6. ^ Neal, Mark Anthony. 2003-12-15). "Remembering Sakia",; retrieved 2007-04-05.
  7. ^ Cogswell, Kelly and Ana Simo. "Erasing Sakia" (archived via,, June 6, 2003.
  8. ^ * Newark Pride Alliance (archived via,; accessed November 21, 2014.

External links[edit]