Rashawn & Beyond: Anti-Violence News for Queer People of Color

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund aims to establish a sustainable tribute to Rashawn that promotes critical thought about the impact of violence and intolerance, particularly upon queer communities of African descent.

Through this blog, we provide action alerts, event postings and breaking news as a means of informing these communities in ways that enable them to combat racism and homophobia.

Friday, March 24, 2006

NYPD Admits Mistake. Still No Answers.

On Thursday, March 23, the Gay City News ran a story addressing the inaccuracies contained in the New York Post's report (from an unidentified source) that the NYPD had a new lead in the Rashawn Brazell murder investigation. Surely, the Brazell family and the community at large appreciate the insight that the GCN article provides into the true status of the investigation as well as the publication's sensitivity to the impact that media reports have upon the communities that look to them in their search for justice. To this end, the RBMF would like to commend the Gay City News for their thorough reporting and for upholding the journalistic standards that are so clearly lost on their colleagues at the Post.

At the same time, the RBMF wants to be clear about where this "development" leaves our community and exactly why there is little cause for celebration.

While we are pleased that the NYPD has publicly declared that the earlier story was indeed erroneous, we are sobered and disheartened by the reality revealed by the title of Gay City News story, "Rashawn Brazell Murder Progress Discounted".

We at the RBMF feel that it is truly a sad state of affairs when the NYPD must make public statements that assure the public that they have made no progress in their investigation.

The NYPD's emphatic denial that the information provided to the Post came from their department identifies two key issues for those of us whose safety is compromised by living in a city where Rashawn's killer roams free.

First, the situation reveals the faulty line of communication between the 79th precinct, the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information and the "sources close to the investigation" quoted in the pieces in question. Given Larry Celona's long career of covering crimes that require him to work closely with the NYPD, we will not believe that he would mistake an uninformed civilian with a confirmed NYPD representative. To date, he maintains that his information came from a "source close to the investigation".

How, then, is it possible for someone involved in or "close to" the investigation to not only be mistaken about who is wanted for questioning, but also to be confident enough about this misinformation to offer details about case to a member of the press?

And, if this is the case, what is the NYPD doing to repair the leak of bad information to the press and to the public they proclaim to serve? Surely, addressing and preventing the brand of reckless behaviour evident in this public blunder should be a priority for the department.

Second, there is the question of progress. After a full year of investigative work, is the identification of "someone who definitely needs to be talked to" the single most significant or newsworthy development? The NYPD's forays with the media suggests that it is. And if this is the case, there is certainly dire need for the march and rally that Desire Brazell has organized for April 15.

The RBMF will continue to work toward justice for Rashawn and the countless others whose names the public has forgotten or will never know. And for us, that justice will only begin to manifest when those who are charged with serving and protecting the public begin to do so efficiently and without regard for race, class or sexuality.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Police challenge Post account; victim’s mother expresses anger, doubt

A March 20 published report that police investigating the gruesome February 2005 murder and dismemberment of Rashawn Brazell—a 19-year-old African-American gay man from Bushwick—are trying to find a former neighbor in his 30s who was the victim’s lover, has drawn a firm denial from the NYPD and created confusion and anger for the young man’s family.

“They didn’t get that from us,” a spokesman for the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information said of a story Monday in the New York Post. “We are not saying that we are looking for somebody with whom the victim was acquainted.”

The DCPI spokesman added, however, “For us to say we are looking for somebody makes it that much harder to find them.”

That statement suggested that there could be police interest in a person not yet located.

Another police source told Gay City News that the thrust of the published report was “total BS,” but that “there is someone who needs to be spoken to.” That source emphasized that the man in question is not a suspect, and that while he is “an acquaintance [of Brazell’s], I wouldn’t even say he is a boyfriend. That is unknown.”

Brazell, an aspiring Web designer, was last seen on Valentine’s Day 2005 as he prepared to visit an accountant about his taxes. Early on, police sources indicated that he might also have been planning to meet someone, perhaps a man he had met on a telephone chat line.

Early in the morning of February 17 of last year, a transit worker found portions of two legs and an arm stuffed in a bloody plastic bag jammed against the tunnel wall on the A line very close to the Nostrand Avenue stop at Fulton Street. Fingerprint and DNA tests confirmed that the victim was Brazell. Nearly a week later, torso parts, bagged in similar fashion, were found at a Greenpoint recycling plant where refuse from the subway station is transported. No other body parts have been found.

The Post said a police source told the newspaper that a man who lived around the corner from Brazell’s Gates Avenue home, in his 30s, on welfare, and romantically linked to the victim is being sought and is believed to now be somewhere in the South.

“We want to try and find this guy, identify him, and talk to him,” the Post quoted its source as saying.

For Desire Brazell-Jones, the victim’s mother with whom he lived and who has pressed insistently for answers for the past 13 months, the latest turn in the case came as a shock, and also made her angry. She first learned of the speculation when reading the Post Monday and saw a television report recounting the same information later that day. To her, the story makes no sense and also seems like a diversion created by police under pressure to come up with answers.

Brazell-Jones noted that the family and its supporters have announced plans for an April 15 march from the Nostrand Avenue subway stop to the 79th Precinct at 263 Tomkins Avenue and recounted that she called the precinct in the wake of the Post story.

“They are denying that they ever said that. I think they threw this out there because of the march,” Brazell-Jones said. “The detective on the case asked me if I talked to anyone.”

The victim’s mother also voiced a feeling of disproportionate justice that has come up a number of times as her family, friends, and members of the gay community have demanded action on the killing. Brazell-Jones made specific mention of the enormous police effort undertaken to solve the February 25 murder of Imette St. Guillen, which resulted in Tuesday’s indictment of Darryl Littlejohn, the bouncer at the SoHo bar, The Falls, where that victim was last seen.

“I am very unhappy when this young lady’s case came about to see what amazing energy the police showed on that compared to this case,” Brazell-Jones told Gay City News in a telephone interview Tuesday.

She also said that the man identified in the Post story was not a boyfriend of her late son, but rather “an acquaintance… He knew our family very well.”

Asked if she had seen the man lately, Brazell-Jones said, “No I haven’t,” adding that she does not know his current whereabouts. But, she said, police had never identified him to the family as person of interest in the case.

Despite her obvious frustration with and suspicion of the police handling of her son’s murder, Brazell-Jones singled out the 79th Precinct’s community affairs office for its help in working out details for the April 15 march and rally.

The victim’s mother is not the only person to express frustration with the pace of the Brazell murder investigation. At a March 2005 vigil for Brazell outside the Nostrand Avenue subway station, an April town hall meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and a June City Hall press conference, leaders in the LGBT people of color community, advocates from the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, and elected officials pressed for a more aggressive effort to solve the crime.

The June beating of 27-year-old Dwan Prince, a gay man and a building porter, by his neighbors in Brownsville, Brooklyn, heightened concerns that gay men of color face an unacceptable risk of violence in the city.

At Brooklyn Borough Hall last April, Marvin Paige, of the gay advocacy group Black Men’s Exchange, said, “Had Rashawn Brazell been a young white man, this murder would have been news for days.”

But police are insisting that the murder remains a priority.

“It hits the detectives, it bothers the supervisors involved, for the simple fact that it’s a 19-year-old kid who was somebody’s son,” a source told Gay City News.

And not all the frustration has been aimed at the police. At the City Hall press conference last June, Councilwoman Leticia James, an African American who represents Fort Greene and Crown Heights, a district adjacent to the one where Brazell lived, said, “Unfortunately, in central Brooklyn there is a conspiracy of silence,” terming the response from some elected officials “appalling.”

“Homophobia does exist in the black community,” she said. “It is our dirty little secret.”

Plans for the April 15 march, the day when Rashawn would have turned 21, call for participants to gather between noon and 1 p.m. at Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street near the A train station. At 1 p.m., marchers will proceed the roughly 15 blocks to the 79th Precinct for a rally.

For more information on the march and rally and on the scholarship fund established to help support college-bound African-American New York youth, visit rashawnbrazell.com or call the Anti-Violence Project at 212-714-1184.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On the New York Post Article: A Message from the RBMF

On March 20, The New York Post ran a story on a "new lead" in the investigation into Rashawn Brazell's murder. Because the RBMF shoulders the responsibilty of monitoring the case, as well as the coverage of his life and murder, we thought it was important to respond to what we see as poor journalism.

It comes as no surprise to those who follow Rashawn's story, and most New Yorkers for that matter, that the New York Post chose such a sensational title for its story ("Gay Beau Sought in Body Chop Slay"). By now, our frustration with the way the Post treats subjects who stand at the intersection of marginal identities has become commonplace. Are men who are suspected of murdering their girlfriends identified as straight in the headlines accompanying their stories? Of course not, but the Post keeps its circulation numbers up by concocting salacious headlines that normalize racism and homophobia.

While we aren't pleased with the article, we are even more troubled by its timing, and the implications therein. In monitoring the coverage of this case, we pay close attention to who covers Rashawn's story. This most recent story comes from Larry Celona, a Post reporter who covers grisly crimes across the city. He cites his source as a police representative, but for reasons unknown to us, the source seems to want to remain anonymous.

Because we are all too aware that many similar stories never get discussed in a newsroom, we remain encouraged that Rashawn's case still garners some coverage. But we must ask, why now? It is clear to us and to Desire Brazell, Rashawn's mother, that this information is not new. In fact, the police were told about the man in question within weeks of Rashawn's dissapearance last year. Surely, the police must have wanted to bring the man in for questioning at the time Rashawn's body was found. If not, that would highlight, at the very least, a serious lapse in judgment, if not responsibility, on the NYPD's end.

We also know that Ms. Brazell is planning a march on Rashawn's birthday (April 15) to the 79th precinct station house to demand answers about her son's murder. The police have asked her to cancel her march. To us, it seems all too convenient that the police would suddenly have a lead that necessitated communication with the New York Post, and not the mother of the victim. While that lead may be new to the reporter and the Post, it is all too old for Ms. Brazell and indeed the NYPD.

This leaves us with many questions and not too many answers. We at the RBMF, along with all of you who have taken an active interest in Rashawn's case, are committed to ensuring his story is told in the most straightforward and accurate manner. We also hope that the police are keeping their priorities in order and that they are not engaging in stealth PR tactics, which only serve to bolster the NYPD's cracking facade. As the cases of Immette St. Guillen and Nicole DuFresne received the appropriate amount of resources from the NYPD, we demand the same for the case of our brother, Rashawn.

Larry Lyons & Mervyn Marcano
Founders, RBMF

Monday, March 20, 2006

New York Post: Suspect Sought in Murder of Rashawn Brazell


March 20, 2006 -- The gruesome slaying of a gay Brooklyn teen whose dismembered body was found in a subway tunnel - once sparking fears of a transit-worker killer - had an older lover whom cops now want to grill.

Investigators recently discovered that tragic aspiring Web-site designer Rashawn Brazell, 19, had a boyfriend who rented a room around the corner from Brazell's Gates Avenue home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

The older man - described by cops only as in his 30s and living on welfare - hasn't been seen since the death of Brazell, who vanished on Valentine's Day 2004, the sources said. The man is believed to have moved somewhere down South.

"We want to try and find this guy, identify him and talk to him," a police source said.

Three days after Brazell vanished, a subway worker found his legs, an arm and part of his torso in a blue plastic bag on the A-train line a few hundred feet north of the Nostrand Avenue station, which is close to Brazell's home.

Six days later, workers came across a bag containing Brazell's waist and pelvis at a Greenpoint recycling plant that serves a company that collects garbage along the A line.

His head has never been found.

On the last day Brazell was seen alive, he told people he was meeting a tax preparer, but cops have said that may have been a ruse.

Police ask anyone with information about the case to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rashawn Brazell Memorial March

Rashawn Brazell Memorial March
From Nostrand Avenue Station stop (at Fulton and Nostrand)
To the 79th Precinct (263 Tompkins Avenue Brooklyn)


When the NYPD investigated the murders of Immette St. Guillen and Nicole DuFresne, they left no stone unturned. Each case was afforded an appropriate amount of resources from the department. Desire Brazell has one simple question: Why should the investigation of her son's murder be treated any differently?

On Saturday, April 15, the day the would have marked Rashawn Brazell's twenty-first birthday, Desire will demand an answer from the NYPD's 79th precinct.

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial March will begin at the Nostrand Avenue station stop at 12pm. The procession to the 79th precinct station house will begin at 1pm. There, Mrs. Brazell, along with invited guests, will demand that the police devote the maximum amount of resources available to the year-old investigation her son's murder.

Scheduled Speakers:
Eric Adams, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care
Letitia James, Council Member – District 35
Hameed (Herukhuti) S. Williams, Ph.D., M.Ed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

America's Most Wanted Footage

Footage from America's Most Wanted's September 2005 report on the unsolved murder of Rashawn Brazell is now available online.

The ten minute segment is broken into two parts.

part one

If you can not view the video by clicking on the box above, you may
view part one by clicking here.
view part two by clicking here.

part two

Be advised: both segments contain graphic scenes that may be unsettling and inappropriate for some viewers.