Men stabbed for throwing gang signs that were actually just ASL

On Saturday night at a bar near Miami, Florida, 45-year-old Barbara Lee became angry at what she thought were several men throwing gang signs at her. She returned with a male friend who stabbed two of the men. Turns out, the men were deaf and using sign language. Lee and her friend were charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The story was reported in an NBC Miami article that, incidentally, refers to one of the men as "mute" which I always understood to be an obsolete term and offensive to many. Seems like these men, while perhaps not using their voices, could communicate just fine. Lee and her other brilliant friends were just too stupid to realize they were using a different, and rather common, language. From NBC Miami:
 Cedir Kidsweb Chart (Lee) confronted (Alfred) Stewart and his friends and made gang signs to them. Witnesses say they motioned for the "aggressive" woman to leave them alone.

Instead, Lee left and then shortly returned to the bar with a juvenile and 19-year-old Marco Ibanez, who is accused of pulling out a knife and stabbing the men.

In the ensuing melee, the deaf men suffered stab wounds to the torso and back while the intervening bouncer whas struck on the head with a bottle.

"Deaf Men Stabbed At Hallandale Beach Bar"


  1. Assault with a deadly women? She certainly sounds pretty deadly, if they got stabbed just for signing!

  2. People might be offended by this line as well. “Lee and her friend were charged with assault with a deadly women.”

  3. “Lee and her friend were charged with assault with a deadly women.”

    A typo i assume, but a highly amusing one :D

  4. Frickin’ unbelievable.

    So, gang signs, huh? Did she KNOW what any of them meant? Were they actually paying any attention to her at all? What a knucklehead.

  5. “Assault with a deadly women”?

    Hahahaha. Best Freudian slip so far this year. :-)

    (Please please please don’t fix it!)

      1. > I’d say it more like a spoonerism than a Freudian slip.

        Actually, this one could go either way.

        1. I think that’s the point of spoonerisms, they’re all Freudian slips. Just a specific kind of Freudian slip.

    1. One is deaf or blind, or both. Technically speaking, based on typical medical definitions, “mute” is one who is unable to speak due to a speech impairment (including hereditary deafness), however it is very rude, and implies that speaking is the only way to communicate, or needs to be their primary method of communicating.

    2. Deaf and mute, or deaf-mute, is indeed obsolete and offensive. But it seems to sit very hard, quite a lot of news articles seem to alway stick in the “mute” part when talking about deaf people.

      Just deaf, or hard of hearing. Deaf people speak, some even with their voice, so they are not mute.

    3. It’s the lazy use of mute that’s offensive, i.e. describing someone as deaf-mute or deaf and mute when they are (like most deaf people) capable of speech (even if they prefer not to vocalise some of the time). It used to be so prevalent that it was pretty safe to assume that anyone who didn’t explicitly justify their use of the word probably hadn’t bothered to verify that the person was, in fact, mute.

      In the UK (and maybe in North America too), the phrase used to be “deaf and dumb”, which was equally wrong and even more annoying because of the dual meaning of “dumb”.

      Also, even if the article is correct that the guy is “deaf and mute”, did it need mentioning? The muteness is pretty irrelevant; deaf people sign regardless of whether they are also happy to speak / lip-read.

    4. Deaf or hard of hearing are really the only acceptable terms. Hearing impaired or mute are not acceptable.

      1. What is it with this constant repetition that “deaf” is the acceptable replacement for “mute”? The two words have different meanings.

        I get that calling someone who is able to speak but not hear “mute” is inaccurate and stupid, you may stop repeating it. But calling someone who is able to hear but not speak “deaf” is just as inaccurate and stupid.

        Here is the question: How would you have us express the fact that a person is unable to speak? No, “deaf” is not the correct answer.

  6. Maybe I’m not familiar with the right gangs, but don’t you just throw the signs once? Not over and over again in a conversational style with all different signs? Unless it’s the longest-named gang in the world…

  7. We are talking about Florida here…

    Apparently the woman started throwing real gang signs back, then she returned with a “19 year old and a juvenile” and assaulted them.

    And IIRC, that’s the sign alphabet, not ASL. ASL is more ideogrammatic then alphabetic.

    1. Ummm I’m Deaf.. ASL Stands FOr American Sign Language.. To Clarify Your Lack of Knowledge In The Deaf World, and everywhere i go it seems to me the hard gangster would walk up to you and will get aggressive until you gesture im deaf i cant hear.. never fail. every single time they go all distance cousin on you and let you go and say everything is good and dog on sumone else.. Thats why i watch my back in a world like today… stuff happens like that cuz u cant hear? A year ago a crazed guy ran down a deaf mother and a deaf 15 year old girl who i knew in Indiana.. driving over 65 mph n the girl passed away and mother survived..

  8. There was actually a joke on Everybody Loves Raymond about Robert (a policeman) arresting some people for throwing gang signs and being embarassed when it turns out that they were only signaling ASL. Life imitating art to the extreme, I suppose.

    Everybody has their talents. Mine is recognizing old sitcom jokes when I see them in real life.

  9. I thought it was just the term ‘deaf-mute’ that was considered a bit rude when applied indiscriminately (most deaf people are not actually mute). I never heard ‘mute’ when used accurately was offensive. It would be another example of euphemism creep, or ‘the euphemism treadmill’. It seems no handicap can be called something indefinitely without the term becoming offensive.

    1. “It seems no handicap can be called something indefinitely without the term becoming offensive.”

      I suppose it’s because a descriptor for a minority group/position can only be used so many times before it gets used as an insult by some asshole (my apologies to any sphincters reading this).

  10. I thought “dumb” was the obsolete and offensive term for “unable to speak” and that “mute” was perfectly acceptable.

  11. Thanks for the explanation regarding the offensiveness (or not) of deaf-mute, which wasn’t far from what I thought was expected in polite society.

    However, I think the guy being mute — that is, that he cannot speak — is fairly relevant to the story since it would make it much harder for him to communicate with this crazy ass woman and her violent friend (which is why I read it as something that should be included)

  12. “31-year-old Alfred Stewart, who is deaf and mute, and three others including a bouncer are recovering in hospital from non-fatal wounds…”

    Wow. That’s some seriously sloppy writing, there, Jamie Campbell. Was the “non-fatal” added to reassure the readership that none of the parties involved were, in fact, supernatural beings?

    1. > Wow. That’s some seriously sloppy writing, there, Jamie Campbell. Was the “non-fatal” added to reassure the readership that none of the parties involved were, in fact, supernatural beings?

      Really? You’re offended by the term non-fatal?

      1. I’m not *offended*, but it is sloppy writing. “Non-fatal” is completely redundant in this context. The very fact that the parties involved are recovering tells us that the wounds weren’t fatal.

        1. Ah, my stupid mistake.I guess I have what it takes to write for NBC. Probably with all the comments flying around about what terms are in and out of fashion I jumped to unwarranted conclusions. My bad.

  13. Wasn’t someone checking IDs at the door? The stabber and the juvenile shouldn’t have even been allowed inside the bar since they’re both under 21.

  14. OK, so if “deaf” or “mute” is bad mojo (if someone would like to explain why, I am curious), what term is? Please don’t tell me its 5 words and 15 syllables long.

      1. Deaf is fine, (they particularly like if you capitalize it.)

        Not exactly. “Deaf” with a capital D means culturally Deaf, “deaf” with a lower-case d means unable to hear. It’s possible to be deaf but not Deaf; I have a friend who’s been completely unable to hear since an early bout of meningitis, who was raised by hearing parents, went to mainstream schools, and is skilled at lipreading but not fluent in sign language. She considers herself deaf but not Deaf.

  15. In addition to serving time for assault w/ a deadly weapon, the criminals should be forced to address the parole board only in ASL.

  16. The phrase “woman thinks universe is all about her” comes to mind.

    What is the role of a 45 year-old in a gang anyway? It can’t be good.

    1. What is the role of a 45 year-old in a gang anyway? It can’t be good.

      It worked out quite well on many episodes of MST3K.

  17. If only we could generate electricity from stupidity we would be energy independent. I bet certain states (the enumeration of I will leave as an exercise for the reader) would become the OPEC of the NEW Energy Paradigm.

  18. I got a hand sign for her, one she definitely won’t mistake.

    And punishment for all the guilty should include having to learn ASL.

  19. Yes, “mute” is offensive, but that’s because it is the name of a gang, the “West Side Mutes” who are notoriously tight lipped about their organization.

  20. Can we just throw these people in a trash compacter and be done with them? This level of stupidity is inexcusable. If you can’t do any better than that, just kill yourself for the benefit of the species.

    1. The fact that you used the words “Trash compacter” and “level” when talking about out outcomes and not “detention” I find funny…

  21. Assault because somebody misunderstood your non-verbal communications? Welcome to my world. During my childhood I lost track of the number of times my face was planted in the sidewalk due to this.

    Perhaps someone will suggest therapy for the ASL-using people so that they don’t annoy (at least some) people so much with their non-perfect gestures. Or is that only appropriate when the assaulters are the majority of the population?

  22. Mute means unable to speak. As far as I know, there’s nothing wrong with the term used that way – it seems to have managed to avoid the euphemism treadmill.

    It’s relevant to the story, since it emphasizes the fact that he was *unable* to speak in his own defense, even if he knew what her problem was. He couldn’t say “I’m deaf and unable to speak, this is the only way I can communicate”.

    If I’m wrong, and “mute” has become an epithet in some parts of some country, then it would be really cool to know, and to know what the alternative term is, in order to avoid upset if I’m ever there.

  23. The article does not seem to use “mute” in an offensive way, even given the problems with the term “deaf-mute”. The news report refers to 2 deaf victims, along with other deaf people in their party. Only one of these, one of the victims, is described as deaf AND mute. This means the reporters is saying that the victim is physically unable to hear or talk, in contrast to the other deaf victim (and perhaps the other people in his party) who are only unable to hear.

  24. Anyone stupid enough to bring in her partner in stupidity to attack a total stranger probably can’t be expected to know ASL. They probably aren’t even potty trained.

  25. Mute means “can not or chooses not to communicate vocally”. How is that offensive? It’s just descriptive of the reality of the situation.

  26. About the deaf-mute thing: just because someone’s hearing is offline doesn’t mean their vocal apparatus is also down. Casually slapping labels on people devalues them. It says that you don’t see them as being as good as you, because you can’t be bothered to pay attention enough to figure out what’s actually happening. Which, incidentally, makes you look like a squealing asshole and devalues your own life in the eyes of others.

    The morons attacking those men in the bar would probably be happier if they were neutered, then put through a rigorous retraining program. I hear neutering really improves the disposition of aggressive dogs and makes them easier to train to a useful state.

    1. Casually slapping labels on people devalues them.

      No it doesn’t. Accurately describing someone honors them.

      It says that you don’t see them as being as good as you

      That is situational and specific to the person who is choosing to be insulting. It is the person who is being insulting, not the word. Focusing on the word rather than the person actually performing the injustice does not solve the problem. Your issue is with the person, not the word.

      because you can’t be bothered to pay attention enough to figure out what’s actually happening.

      And then we describe what is happening and assign a word for it. The word for those who do not or cannot speak is mute. There is no replacement.

      Deaf or hard of hearing are really the only acceptable terms.”

      No, not really. Hard of hearing or deaf fails to describe those who cannot or chose not to speak verbally. We need a word for that and that word is mute. It is purely descriptive and is not demeaning. It it really is unacceptable then we need a word that can functionally replace mute.

  27. Every television remote since the 1990s has a MUTE button. Very insensitive. We should require everyone to bring all remote controls to an approved collection depot so that they can be burned.

  28. So if the men had really been “throwing gang signs”, it would have been OK to stab them??

  29. He should have put one hand up and made the F sign with the other. That’s the sign for the Van Buren Boys, and they never hurt one of their own.

  30. I’m really intrigued by this deaf/mute thing. I guess I’ve just lived a sheltered life but I’ve only recently seen people talking in sign language social relatively recently (I spent an embarrassingly long second thinking what are they…ahh, ooh I hope I wasn’t staring).

    Anyhow, in my head, deafness and muteness/dumbness(?) are seperate if somewhat related conditions. I can see it is rude to assume that someone is mute if they happen to be deaf, but is that as far as it goes. I mean there are people who are both, and people who are one but not the other. Is either mute or dumb rude to use if it is an accurate description of the condition. What about if a person can speak but an average listener would find it very difficult to understand them.

    This is one of those odd situations where to those concerned it is an everyday irritation, but people come off rude because they have no idea what the etiquette is, and there main terms of reference is probably a song by The Who.

    It reminds me of an advert that was on the underground for a while for a charity for people with facial deformity. It was something along the lines of “we’re real people”. But speaking for the polite but uninformed, I just want rules. Where should I look, what is it polite to ask about, do I pretend like there’s nothing unusual or the opposite. Argh, just give me some how to be a good person when in a new situation rules!

    1. Check out:

      Re: mute- The problem with “mute” is that some deaf or hard-of-hearing are mute, most aren’t. I know some who use their voice for emphasis (similar to hand gesture usage in vocal languages.) On the other hand, I had a college professor who was 100% deaf but had a quite clear speaking voice. Neither of these examples are “mute,” and particularly, calling my professor “mute” would have been insulting since she’d worked so hard in training her voice to not be mute.

      I don’t know the individuals in the story, and perhaps mute is fair, but “deaf” is the more accurate term. Lexica #36 got the distinction between deaf and Deaf well, though I expect that since this was a group of deaf, they’re likely Deaf too.

  31. I grew up in a neighborhood where every block has its own gang and every kid, while not belonging to a gang knew someone who was. Any who, teachers constantly told us about incidents of Deaf children being beaten or killed because they accidentally threw down a gang sign and warned us not to jump to conclusions when noticing hand gestures.

    If this really is a common occurrence, does the Deaf community or ASL teachers do anything about it? Not saying the ASL system needs to be changed, just wondering if they advise signers on precautions etc.

    The real issue here is the ignorance of those who mistake ASL for gang signs.

    I also wonder if this could be treated as a hate crime.

  32. The Miami city council is presently discussing a ban on ASL within the city limits. By banning such communication they feel it will make it easier for persons to actually correctly identify gang signs and act accordingly.

  33. I think this whole conversation is offensive to those without hearing. It’s like everyone is assuming that because the guy was using ASL, that he can’t have been in a gang, and using gang signs. Heck, he could be in a gang of entirely deaf people. or Deaf. or Def. Whatever.

  34. I’m calling B.S. on this whole “Mute is a bad word” thing. “Dumb” used to be the standard American English word for unwilling or unable to speak. It is still used and understood in that way today. The other meaning of dumb – lacking intelligence – made dumb a potentially insulting way to describe this condition.

    “Mute” is the modern American English replacement for “dumb” – in the “no speach” sense. It has no negative or insulting connotations, it just means not speaking. Probably 99% of the population knows and uses this word, and probably 99% of the population considers it a simple factual description with no connotations of good or bad. English does grow and evolve, so there could be a tiny minority somewhere that wants to lump in value judgements to something that has never had them before.

    There is no existing common alternative to this word. People who don’t like this word need to either come up with a clever euphemism and convince 300,000,000+ native speakers to adopt it, or suck it up and use English the way it really is, without letting their fantasies get in the way.

    1. From the National Association of the Deaf:

      Question — What is wrong with the use of these terms “deaf-mute,” “deaf and dumb,” or “hearing-impaired”?

      Deaf-Mute – Another offensive term from the 18th-19th century, “mute” also means silent and without voice. This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords. The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute. True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.

      1. That all makes perfect sense except that some minority of deaf people do NOT have functioning vocal cords and it’s therefore quite possible that the man mentioned in the article was, in fact, both deaf and mute. (It’s worth noting that the article used the “deaf and mute” instead of the hyphenated “deaf-mute.”)

        So while in all likelihood the reporter was being lazy and insensitive, there’s also a slim chance that she was being more diligent and respectful than we give her credit for and a bunch of people are getting upset over a factual statement.

        1. You may be right, but I was addressing kenmce’s assertion that this mute “bad word thing” is, in his thoughtful estimation, “BS”.

          1. Right but the context once again, is, “Deaf people aren’t mute!” and that’s why it’s considered an offensive term — to DEAF PEOPLE. We get it – DEAF PEOPLE ARE NOT MUTE (unless they are, in which case we have no good word for it)

            Now someone answer the question that has been posed 1,000 times in this thread: If “mute” is offensive — whether to deaf people who can or cannot speak, or to those who can hear but cannot speak, whoever — then what is another English-language word that means the same thing and can be used in a politically correct sense?

            I’m all for describing a condition or a people the very way they wish to be described, but we have to know what that word is. What we’re getting in this thread is “deaf people aren’t mute!” and “if someone is mute it doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t even be mentioned, so there doesn’t need to be a word for it.”

      2. It still makes no sense that they are implying that there does not need to be a word for someone who doesn’t speak vocally, just because even people who don’t speak vocally can still communicate.

        We have a word for people who can’t understand aurally, even though such people can still understand communication. The word is deaf. It’s a useful and non-offensive word. Likewise, it is useful to have a word for people who can’t (and possibly for those who choose not to) speak vocally, whether or not such people can communicate by other means.

        1. But don’t you see – “it’s offensive”.

          There, now I am right and if you continue to argue your point, no matter how true or reasonable your arguments, you are being boorish.

        2. I think what the NAD is saying is that it’s offensive to assume that deaf people can’t communicate, which is an assumption that was made for centuries. And if you think about it, does there really need to be a single word? Is it that much harder to say “he can’t speak” instead of “mute”? I stopped using “retard” in high school because a friend’s sister had Down’s Syndrome; stopped using “gay” as a derogatory term in my 20s because I came to know better. What’s so hard about not using a word when there are other ways of expressing the same thing?

          But truthfully, the only really offensive thing I’m seeing in this thread is the arrogance of some people who have the attitude of “I’m in the majority, I get to decide why and when a minority should feel offended.” It’s no different “I can say n*gger because black people say it all the time.” Not saying you’re acting that way, but there are a couple of real winners.

          1. And if you think about it, does there really need to be a single word? Is it that much harder to say “he can’t speak” instead of “mute”?

            Does there really need to be a single word for “deaf?” Is it that much harder to say “he can’t hear” instead of “deaf”?

            Come on, these arguments don’t make any sense.

            Nobody has disagreed once that baldly assuming all deaf people are mutes is offensive, or that habitually saying “deaf-mute” is rude and offensive. People are just saying that, when not used in a blanket fashion, it doesn’t seem to make sense to say that the word “mute” should be offensive to those who can’t speak. Why say that there shouldn’t be a word to describe this? There’s a word to describe not hearing, after all.

            And, as pointed out several times, the article appears not to have just assumed that all deaf people are mute, but rather said that one of the deaf people was also mute, thus explaining that the man didn’t or couldn’t respond to the woman vocally.

            I’m prepared to accept that there may be a real reason why the word “mute” is offensive — apparently you think it’s as offensive as n***r — but the only argument anyone has said is that not all deaf people can’t speak.

          2. Is it that much harder to say “he can’t speak” instead of “mute”?

            Yes. Besides the reason that most languages have adjectives as well as verbs, there is ambiguity in the tense. Anyways, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having words to describe these things; it’s one thing if they are habitually used for insult, but it’s still nice to have a convenient word for “this person needs a keyboard instead of a microphone” at a talk.

          3. But truthfully, the only really offensive thing I’m seeing in this thread is the arrogance of some people who have the attitude of “I’m in the majority, I get to decide why and when a minority should feel offended.” It’s no different “I can say n*gger because black people say it all the time.”

            This is reasonable. Does anyone know, or can provide a link to, an opinion on these terms from someone who actually is unable to speak?

      3. Grimc, I think that passage you quoted is incredibly offensive to mute people and that the National Association for the Deaf should be ashamed of itself. I am not kidding.

        If you break that passage down, it pretty clearly says that deaf people don’t want to be associated with those shitty inferior mute people by appellation. It also implies that deaf people who really are mute will want to “pass” as (high status) deaf instead of (low status) deaf-mute. That’s fucked up. It’s OK to be mute.

  35. Gang members attacking (usually shooting) deaf people who were communicating through ASL has been going on for a long time. Back when I lived in Los Angeles, in the 1980’s, I saw several news stories along these lines.

  36. Shouldn’t stabbing someone get you charged with attempted murder? Pushing someone is assault. Hell, even yelling at someone can be assault. Wtf?!

  37. What others have said RE deaf =/= mute.

    I dated a guy who was almost totally deaf as well as “nerve deaf” (preemie; the bones in his ears were misaligned)–and I didn’t realize it for the first 2 months that we were together. He was and still is a very good lip reader, and can still hear words and tones if you enunciate clearly and loudly. I was always impressed by his intense eye contact (we met in a class) and later I realized that he was doing it to figure out what folks were saying.

    FWIW, he told me about his condition after we were at a crowded pub and I said something right behind him, and he didn’t respond, and I got annoyed.

    And yeah, I felt “dumb” then as it were. We’re still in touch today and he still laughs about it. He has a perfect speaking voice (slight lisp but that’s due to later-in-life dental issues) even though he can hardly hear.

  38. OK, granted not all deaf people are incapable of speech (vocal or otherwise) and thus it’s understandably offensive to slap “-mute” on any deaf person if you don’t know for sure.

    But if “mute” and “dumb” are offensive under all circumstances then what IS a non-offensive term for a person who has a physical or neurological condition that renders them incapable of speech? It seems silly to have to say “person who has a physical or neurological condition that renders them incapable of speech,” especially if you have to sign it all out word-by-word.

    Back to the story: what kind of 45-year-old gets a minor and a 19-year-old to fight battles for her… at a BAR no less?

  39. Does this mean Lee is a gang member, and brings two other gang members, who stabbed the deaf guys thinking they were in another gang?

  40. And an old joke:

    Lean close to a grasshopper and say “jump”, and it will jump.
    Remove its legs, lean close to it, and say “jump” again, and it will not jump.
    The scientist thus concludes that grasshoppers hear with their legs.

  41. Oh yeah some people were stabbed because of some stupid woman, but what’s really important is how the article was written. Now we’ve already identified inappropriate and redundant words and phrases. Is there anything else?

    1. I think the reason this discussion has focused on the language is that there’s not much to say about the story itself. Horrible woman with violent young friends, no excuse for anything they did… what’s left to discuss?

  42. Wouldn’t you really say that the men were attacked by a rather blunt and dull object holding a rather sharp object.

  43. Come on, just because they were deaf doesn’t mean they weren’t a criminal gang.

  44. “Deaf people can’t communicate”. Nobody is saying this. It is a strawman.
    “All deaf people are also mute”. Nobody is saying this. It is a strawman.

    It would be nice if people could stop responding to these strawmen, and instead answer the repeatedly unanswered, question: what is offensive about the term ‘mute’ being applied to someone who has no voice?

    Deafness is not relevant to the question. Muteness is what is being discussed here. Mutes have just as significant a need to use sign language as deaf people.

    “Non-vocal” was suggested as an alternative, but that doesn’t seem to have any significant support even among the deaf/mute community. (“deaf and non-vocal”: 9 Google hits). If I lost my vocal cords, I’d likely scorn anyone who called me that, rather than use “Mute”. lists:
    mute as “often offensive”
    deaf-mute as “offensive”
    deaf-and-dumb as “offensive” lists:
    mute as just a regular word.
    deaf-mute as “sometimes offensive”
    deaf-and-dumb as “please let our paywall nuzzle your wallet”

    I think this suggests that mute, *used correctly*, is pretty much OK, but like all things in life, be prepared to fend off frothing hypercorrectors.

  45. Inglés me ofende, especialmente adjecteves. No hay malas palabras, sólo los altavoces mal. Las palabras son más importantes que los significados.

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