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.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Artist's exhibit focuses on murder of gay, black man

By Vicki Smith,
Associated Press
original story here.

Fairmont, W.Va. The drawings are deliberately hazy and subtly violent, full of recurring images - a car, a pair of steel-toed boots and the round, terrified eyes of a young black man, his mouth open in a blood-red scream.

New York artist Rory Golden used wax and mulberry paper to create 52, two-sided images, evoking the feeling of a disturbing dream or memory. And for the tiny village of Grant Town, the July 2000 murder of Arthur "J.R." Warren Jr. is both.

The 26-year-old gay man was beaten, kicked and stomped, then crushed under a Camaro by two drunk, high and angry teens trying to stage a hit-and-run. Warren was still alive when they looked in the rearview mirror, backed up and ran over him again.

Rearview mirrors are part of Golden's exhibit, which opened Wednesday night at Fairmont State University. They force viewers to look at themselves as they read a series of often-disturbing phrases written in reverse.

They are words others used to discuss the crime, from an eyewitness and an activist to a disciple of the Kansas hate group called Westboro Baptist Church.

"He begged them to take him home."

"Homosexuality is the result of demonic activity in the life of a person."

"They tried to say it was a hate crime."

"It's not a hate thing, honey. It's a Bible thing."

They are phrases that speak to Golden, or that speak to a clear point of view on a crime that drew national attention but was quickly overshadowed by events, including the 2001 terror attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They are points of view, Golden says, that people should start discussing again.

"See Related Story: The Murder of J.R. Warren" is an exhibit the 40-year-old native of Springfield, Ohio, hopes to take nationwide to renew debate over racism, bigotry and what constitutes a hate crime in America. Warren's case failed to qualify under either state or federal law.

"Anyone can see how horrible it was, and yet we never go beyond that and look at our day-to-day lives and how they contribute to that," says Golden, who now lives in Brooklyn. "I made a choice several years ago to focus my creative work and life on eradicating racism and homophobia, and to do whatever I can to get people to talk about it."

He focused on Warren because he believed a poor, learning-disabled black man with a malformed hand and a history of seizures would never get the attention he deserved.

Warren was not, Golden says, "a cute white boy" like Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student beaten to death outside Laramie in 1998.

And Warren's case involves interconnected issues of race, class and hatred that are easier to ignore, says Golden, who aims to explore them in a book and documentary film.

Some of Golden's writings are shocking and profane, the provocative images politically charged. Colorful circus tents in one drawing are a nod to a newspaper editorial that scolded national gay activists for "making a circus of the murder."

"Was it appropriate to make a circus of Ku Klux Klan killings?" Golden asks, pointing to a tiny black and white image of a burning cross in the same drawing. "When is it appropriate to make a circus of a murder?"

Curator Marian Hollinger is uncertain how the exhibit will be received but has no qualms about showing it.

"I sort of think if you have an art gallery and you never get any flak for anything, you're probably not challenging your boundaries," she said. "I would prefer people not be bigoted and nasty … but I would like them to come and see it."

Warren's mother, Brenda, has privately viewed the exhibit. She could not be reached by telephone, and no one answered the door of her home Tuesday.

But at the time of the murder, she called her son "a rare creature, and a gentle one at that."

He carried groceries for pregnant women, visited elderly neighbors when they were sick and volunteered at Mount Beulah Baptist Church.

No one knew he was also having a sexual relationship with 17-year-old David Allen Parker, who believed Warren had shared their secret with others.

On July 3, 2000, Parker and Jared Matthew Wilson, also 17, were drinking beer, huffing gasoline and snorting tranquilizers while painting a vacant house. When Warren came to visit, they robbed him of $20, started an argument, then turned a beating into a killing.

Parker is serving life in prison for first-degree murder at Mount Olive Correctional Complex. He will be eligible for parole at age 33.

Wilson, of Mannington, got 20 years for second-degree murder and is now at the Huttonsville Correctional Center. He will be eligible for parole at age 27, four years from now.

In Grant Town, a wreath of pink silk flowers still hangs on a weathered white cross where Warren's body was found.

"Everybody still thinks about him," says Jim Perkins, 60, of nearby Baxter. "We drive past that spot all the time. It never leaves your mind."

"He's part of us," agrees 81-year-old Elizabeth Jones, a friend of Warren's family. "Nobody could every forget something like that. How could you?"


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