Ever since the February 4th murder of cab driver Haroon Paryani, allegedly by Michael L. Jackson, a man prominent in the Chicago gay community and previously employed in the politically-connected City Health Department, there has loomed the possibility of the gay and South Asian communities being pitted against each other in a dispute that would hurt both.
According to press accounts, several witnesses say that following a dispute, Jackson ran over Paryani three times using the cabdriver's vehicle and hit several other vehicles as he fled the scene. Following Jackson's arrest, a handful of white gays launched an aggressive campaign to attempt to shift blame for the tragedy from Jackson to the deceased Paryani. Below we reprint an article which ran as the lead article on the front page of the current issue of Chicago Dispatcher, a newspaper dedicated to "serving Chicago's taxi drivers, public chauffeurs, and the riding public."
GLN's Bob Schwartz is among those quoted in the article. Bob and Equality Illinois's Rick Garcia will be interviewed on "Are You Talkin' to Me?," Chicago's taxi driver talk show, from 10:30 to 11 pm tonight (Friday, 9/9) on WSBC, 1240 AM and WCFJ, 1470 AM.
"We Stand With Paryani"
Gay Community Activists React to Website Soliciting Negative Information About Murdered Cabdriver Haroon Paryani
By Jonathan Bullington
There's a game played in grade school classrooms called the "telephone game" and for those who aren't familiar with it, it goes like this: everyone in the class sits in a big circle and one person whispers a statement to the "person sitting next to him or her. That person, in turn, whispers the same statement to the next person and so on until the statement makes its way back to its creator. At that time, the "game" is to see how close the original statement was to the one that was passed around through each person in the class. Kids tend to get a kick out of this game but, as they progress in the academic world, their studies trump games like this.
The point or "lesson" of this game is to show how quickly a story can get changed and a rumor can get started. Of course, one would think that games like this are only applicable to children and teenagers because adults are above the pettiness of spreading rumors. Unfortunately, as one progresses from academic life to the "real world," one quickly realizes how applicable the "telephone game" is to the "real world."
Take, for example, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Chicago cabdriver Haroon Paryani and the flood of information that has come to light from other publications about both Paryani and his accused killer, former city employee Michael L. Jackson. Stories have surfaced claiming that Paryani had a history of violence and that Jackson killed him only after instigated a fight with Jackson, thus forcing Jackson to kill Paryani in self-defense - a "kill-or-be-killed scenario. On the other hand, stories have surfaced claiming that Jackson was a drug addict and heavy drinker whose life was spiraling out of control when he crossed paths with Paryani - a "loose cannon on edge" scenario. Throw into the pot two Web sites soliciting information on each man's past [in]discretions and you get a volatile mix.
First, there was www.endcabviolence.com, a Web site that asked people if they "had a memorable, unusual or bad experience with this cab driver (Paryani)." Under the pretense of helping to stop the violence of cabdrivers, this site asked if Paryani had "a history of violent & aggressive behavior?" A phone number and e-mail address were given for the public to share any information with the proprietors of the site who wish to be known only as "friends of Michael Jackson."
This Web site was closely followed By the site www.stopkillingchicagocabdrivers.com. Started by the Chicago Dispatcher at the request of numerous cabdrivers, this site solicited information on Jackson's past, asking the public if they had ever seen Jackson "using illegal drugs or otherwise behaving violently or erratically?" The site went on to list the names and circumstances surrounding the deaths of all Chicago cabdrivers murdered since 1988.
Although the first site, www.endcabviolence.com, has since been take down, both sites have stirred up controversy. In fact, the entire series of events following Paryani's murder have seemed to polarize two diverse communities.
Paryani was a cabdriver; Jackson is gay. Hence, the perceived division lies between the cab community and the gay community. However, the various interpretations of information have left many in both communities wondering -- who in the "telephone circle" changed the statement and why?
"Not all gay people are standing with Jackson. We stand with Paryani," said Bob Schwartz of the Gay Liberation Network. "It's unfortunate the way some in the community have been taken in."
Schwartz, an activist since the civil rights movement of the 1960's, said that the dirt being dredged up on both Jackson and Paryani is nothing more than the irrational fears that people play upon.
"If this isn't a racist, class based 'blame the victim' defense then nothing fits this description," Schwartz said referring to the Web site soliciting information about Paryani's past. "[People] should not be making a case based on alleged pasts, [they] should just be looking at the pure facts of the case."
"Let's be honest. Attorney's try to dig up dirt about their opponents but there's a way to do it,"., said Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activist organization. "I was disgusted with that sleazy Web site," (referring to www.endcabviolence.com).
According to Garcia, the rumors of Jackson's alleged wild lifestyle could have come from Jackson's former association, the Hearts Foundation, and its association with "gay circuit parties." Garcia said these ."circuit parties," which happen across the country, are infamous in the gay community for being places of drug use.
"There's always been a cloud surrounding circuit parties and drugs," Garcia said.
Reporter Louis Weisberg of the Chicago Free Press thinks that the rumors of Jackson's drug use are merely the cause of displaced anger. In his mind, the notion that Jackson could have been a drug user has caused everyone in the gay community who has a problem with drug users to lash out at Jackson, as if he represents all gay drug users.
"It bothers me that people of [Jackson's] community would jump on him like that," Weisberg said. "He's been vilified in the gay community. They act like he's guilty when he hasn't been convicted and they act like he's a serial killer. He obviously wasn't going out with the intent to kill someone in front of his house."
Weisberg has heard the rumors about Paryani and is equally disappointed in them. "People need to know the truth before they jump to conclusions," he said.
Weisberg was also critical of the Web site done by the "friends of Michael Jackson."
"In retrospect, the Web site was the wrong way to go. They should have stated what their purpose was and who was behind it," he said, the later comment referring to the fact that the "friends of Michael Jackson" had been vehement in protecting their anonymity.
"[Some people] are trying to make cabdrivers out to be all evil. Cabdrivers work in difficult situations and perhaps are on edge but it's not fair to say that all cabdrivers are evil," Weisberg said.
"We'll never know what happened that night," Weisberg said. "To me, it was two troubled people colliding at the wrong moment with tragic consequences. A life taken away is horrible."
The things being said about his good friend, Paryani, particularly troubled Ifti Nasim, editor and chief of Chicago's Weekly Pakistan News, host of talk radio show Sargam and co- founder of Sangat, a South Asian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization.
"It's very common to put all the blame on the cabdriver," Nasim said. "In passenger/driver disputes, the passenger's side is usually taken."
"[We're all] innocent until proven guilty. My heart goes out to Jackson, but that doesn't give him the right to kill anyone," Nasim said.
"His (Jackson's) friends have a right to defend him, but don't be blind," he said'; "I'm not going to get blinded that, because he's (Jackson) gay, what he did was justified."
As Louis Weisberg put it, no one but Paryani and Jackson knew exactly what transpired in Paryani's cab in the early hours of Friday, Feb. 6,2004. One thing is for certain though - many people will be clinging to Jackson's case as it unfolds in court. Perhaps in the future, we can all get our statements to match up.