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.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Queens DA Says Flirting Led to 2001 Edgar Garzon Murder

Source: Gay City News

Edgar Garzon, a 35-year-old gay man, lingered in a coma for almost three weeks before dying after a brutal 2001 attack.

John L. McGhee, the accused killer of Edgar Garzon, made the assault because Garzon flirted with him, the Queens prosecutor asserted at the start of McGhee's trial.

"I will prove to you that on August 15, 2001... his defendant, John McGhee, attacked Edgar Garzon," Karen L. Ross, the assistant district attorney who is handling the case, told the jury in her July 12 opening statement. "I will prove to you that this defendant did this because Mr. Garzon was a gay man and he made the mistake of hitting on this defendant."

McGhee is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one manslaughter count in the case. The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is 15-to-life, but the average timed served is just under 25 years.

Garzon, 35, was in a coma until his death on September 4, 2001.

Police knew little about the attack and McGhee, 39, left the U.S. for London in December 2001 to reconcile with his wife and child there. Police knew at least two men participated in the assault and they drove away in a red car. Ross said an eyewitness to the incident, who was 14 at the time, came forward a year after the attack and identified McGhee as the assailant.

"You're going to hear from somebody who was friends with this defendant who was in the car," Ross said.

She told the jury that another witness, Chris Ricalde, will testify that McGhee "acknowledged that that was the guy from the other night" as the two watched a television news report on the Garzon attack.

Police located McGhee in London in 2003. He was sent back to the U.S. by British authorities in June of 2006 after he allegedly lied on a visa application there. New York City police met his flight from London and he was arrested hours later.

Ross said that when police introduced themselves at the airport, McGhee said, "What am I looking at? Three, four, five years?"

The defense aimed at weaknesses in the case. The Queens prosecutor asserted early in the case that a weapon was used to strike Garzon, but no weapon has been found. Charles D. Abercrombie, McGhee's attorney, said that no DNA and no fingerprints link his client to the assault and the red car has never been located.

"No one is debating that Mr. Garzon was assaulted on the street that night, the question is who did it?" Abercrombie told the jury. "Pay attention, pay strict attention to the absence of corroborating evidence in this case."

Abercrombie said his client returned to the U.S. for a 2004 visit when police knew who he was and were looking for him.

"You may ask yourself what's that about?" Abercrombie said. "A man who is supposedly wanted is going through customs... At the end of the day the evidence will show that John McGhee did not commit this crime. Who did? We don't know."

The first three witnesses, who included Leonor Garzon, Edgar's mother, essentially testified to the brutality of the crime.

Sergeant Eileen M. Walter was the first police officer to respond to an early morning 911 call of an assault with a weapon in progress. When she and her partner arrived on 77th Street in Jackson Heights she found Garzon lying in a pool of his own blood and barely conscious. Walter said Garzon was "constantly moaning. It was awful."

Stephen Carpenter, the emergency medical technician with the city fire department who responded, said he and his partner could not stop the bleeding and Garzon had suffered serious head injuries.

"It was significant because that to me looked like brain matter," Carpenter said, referring to visible flesh laying on Garzon's face. "That would indicate extensive head trauma."

Before Leonor testified, and with the jury out of the courtroom, Abercrombie asked that she be limited to identifying Edgar from his hospital photos and she not be allowed to discuss his life or achievements.

"The character of the victim is not an issue in this case," he told Robert J. Hanophy, the judge in the case. Ross and Hanophy agreed.

Questioned by Ross, Leonor went on at length about Edgar's work as a film editor, restaurant owner, and set designer. He was "very creative," she said. She wept when asked about first seeing Edgar in the hospital.

"His face had no shape at all," Leonor said through a translator. "I kept talking to him and I was afraid to kiss him."

When Ross asked, "Did he respond to you at all?" Leonor burst into tears and said only "No, no."

While Abercrombie could have objected, given the earlier agreement with the prosecutor and the judge, interrupting a weeping mother's testimony could anger the jury. It was only when Ross paused to introduce two hospital photos of Edgar that Abercrombie got a discussion out of the jury's hearing and Leonor was dismissed from the stand.

Hanophy later told the jury that both sides had agreed that Leonor had identified Edgar.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Abercrombie asked for a mistrial or that the jury be told to ignore Leonor's testimony. Hanophy denied both motions.

The day's final witness was Frank Byrne, a former 77th Street resident, who was awakened that morning by "three loud thwacks," he said.

"It was almost like a baseball bat hitting a ball," Byrne said. "It was very loud."

He looked out his window to see a man lying on the sidewalk with a second man standing over him and third man moving toward a red car. He did not see their faces. The man on the sidewalk did not move and only the other two left in the car, which, Byrne said, was "very loud."

The prosecution's theory is that there were three people in the car -- McGhee, a friend of his named Arnold, and the 14-year-old. The trial will resume on July 16.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Black Coalition Makes Plans

Source: Windy City Times
by Amy Wooten

After fighting reggae singer Buju Banton’s appearance at the July 4 African/Caribbean International Festival of Life in Washington Park, the coalition that was able to persuade corporate sponsors to pull the plug on their dollars laid out its plans to combat anti-gay music in the future.
At a news conference July 5, Rev. Deborah Lake of Sankofa Way announced that the coalition has an “ongoing mission to bring an end to the use of hate.”

In June, local organizations such as Sankofa Way, Coalition for Justice & Respect and Black LGBT & Allies for Equality called out to the community to write and call sponsors, voicing their concerns regarding having Banton perform at a city festival. Banton’s song Boom Bye Bye, written when he was 15, includes lyrics that condone murder and violence against gays.

After the community responded, the festival lost many sponsors, including local TV station NBC-5, The University of Chicago and the Chicago Park District. “The community responded with a strong outcry,” Lake said.

Local leaders also voiced their disappointment. Members of the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations’ Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues sent letters to Chicago Park District CEO Timothy Mitchell, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Richard Daley expressing their concern. The festival’s promoter, Ephraim Martin of Martin’s Inter-Culture, LTD, issued a statement saying that he is “totally against the lyrics of the song” and lyrics that condone violence.

Despite the fact the coalition could not stop Banton from performing, Coalition of Justice & Respect’s Mark Loveless, who attended the concert, said that Banton did not perform the anti-gay song during his 30-minute performance, and instead provided messages of love and respect. Earlier in the evening, however, a clip of the song was played by a DJ at the festival. Although Banton did not perform the song, Loveless said, “It is not a disconnect; it’s the sum total of his work.”

Loveless added that although other reggae artists have removed hateful lyrics from their work, Banton has yet to formally apologize.

“Together we made a difference…by understanding the connection between hate language and violence,” Lake said.

But the fight is not over, Lake said, adding that the marriage between the creators of hateful lyrics and corporate sponsorship is very detrimental, leading to the spread of HIV in the African-American community, a decline in education, the continuing degradation of women and girls and escalated violence against LGBT people. “We will continue to voice our concern until there is a divorce,” Lake added.

The coalition has begun a second stage, one they call an anti-hate language initiative. First, the coalition urges those who want to help combat the use of hateful, anti-gay lyrics in songs to contact Sankofa Way ( sankofaway@sankofaway.org or 773-624-5669 ) to become involved in future initiatives. Lake also expressed that the coalition will build on collaborations already formed to help spread the message that hateful lyrics lead to violence, and build nation-wide collaborations to discourage performances by anti-gay musicians.

Lake said that taking legislative action is “not off the plate,” but the main focus right now is to continue building collaborations to fight anti-gay music. “We are not talking about censorship; we are talking about ending violence,” she said.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The 'politicisation' of sexuality

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner
published: Sunday July 8, 2007

These little boys had stopped by Mr. Durex to have a closer look at the condoms at the Children Expo held at the National Arena on Thursday, May 12, 2005.

The Editor, Sir:

I would like to comment on the debate over recent attacks on alleged homosexual men in Jamaica.

The number, according to the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Gays and All-Sexuals (J-FLAG), the Kingston-based gay rights group in a recent Gleaner report, has skyrocketed to 16, more than for the same period last year.

Surely, this is cause for concern. However, not just at the level of the violence directed against these men, most of whom are young, black and definitely working class. There is also the question of how difference and prejudice are normalised by the state in such contexts. This has to do with the fact that, though the violence has been publicly deplored in all instances by state officials, there seems very little acknowledgement also of how public hysteria is mobilised as violence against persons who identify, whether under the label of sexuality or gender, et cetera, in ways different from mainstream ideas which gain their legitimacy from state apparatus, officers and culture.

The Public Defender, for example, in the face of this unfortunate state of affairs, advised 'the homosexual community' to exercise caution in their engagement with the public sphere. A timely comment, particularly in th atmosphere of anti-homosexual violence.

Is sexuality the problem?

However, what is interesting is that the public performance of gender read in this instance as (homo) sexuality may or may not have anything to do with actual sex, sexual orientation or, for that matter, the question of the vagaries of the sexual histories of those thus persecuted. This, then, means that the issue has been conceived of in a rhetoric of public denial, as represented in the comments of the of the Public Defender who indicates that 'homosexuals should hol' [dem] corner!', suggesting a level of disinterest, which in this context mirrors the extent of officialdom's silence on the abuse of minority groups under the law.

The need for a more developed and appropriate review of state policies, especially as it relates to groups defined as political minorities, is clear, as evidenced by these attacks. However, more than this there is a way in which there is need for acknowledgement that Jamaica is, indeed, a prejudiced society which, apparently, works out its anxieties over difference (race, class, sexuality, gender) through the use of violence and intimidation, in this instance against mostly male members of the working classes. They are, after all, the primary actors in reported stories of violence, murder and mayhem in the press.

The beating of Dr. Jephthah Ford which, while not directly connected to the violent attacks against the men identified at the start of this article, clearly shows the extent to which police excesses, themselves officers of the state, are almost accepted as a normal and normative part of those relations; that is, in treating with presumed disruptive (black, male) elements in society.

Whereas it may be argued that Dr. Ford's situation is different on account of his station and political connections, there is no mistaking how he may well have been 'mistaken' as a 'commoner' at the time of his shameful and merciless beating by the officers on account of his skin colour.

Notably, these incidents of crime have come at a time when there is a reported upsurge in violence by the police. This has come at a time when issues of sexuality and gender are themselves front and centre in the national psyche, especially in the context of a female head of state and the increasing politicisation of sexuality within the context of the law.

The legal age of consent for females in the sex act, the distribution of condoms in school, abortion rights and the definitions of rape as a gender-specific crime are all parts of this discussion, and focus attention on the fact that the modernisation of the state, as the nation undergoes therigours of change, is one that has brought with it many fallouts. Some of which are, indeed, very deadly.

Accordingly, the witch-hunt to persecute and kill all homosexuals in Jamaica finds resonance in a discourse of violence and, indeed, hate which does not discriminate, particularly when confronted with elements of black masculinity which are defined as objectionable. However, this is considered in the particular context.

It is, therefore, incumbent on the debaters that they also acknowledge the intersecting and complicated roles of race, class, gender, education and socialisation, inter alia, in their look at these issues, and that meaningful addressis given same. Otherwise, our young men will continue to die needlessly, and 'black people', whoever these are, will continue to strain under the burden of blackness as a sign of negativity.

True peace, after all, is not just the absence of war; it is also facilitated through meaningful laws and customs which seek to enshrine its protection.

I am, etc.,

Agostinho Pinnock

Kingston, Jamaica