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, September 28, 2007

Newark triple murder may be anti-gay hate crime

Victims' friends 'driven to despair' over alleged police, media cover-up
Source: ExpressGayNews.com

A close friend of three college students who were shot to death execution style in a Newark, N.J., schoolyard in August said the students planned to join him in attending a black Gay Pride event in Queens, N.Y., the day following their deaths.

News of the students’ plans to attend the Aug. 5 event at New York City’s Riis Park Beach surfaced after a New Jersey gay group released a letter last week calling on Newark authorities to investigate the murders as possible anti-gay hate crimes.

The murder of the three students and the shooting of a fourth student, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, shocked Newark’s citizens and became the subject of international news coverage.

“[W]e want to know why, although the murders were committed more than a month ago, the fact of the sexual orientation of the youth has never been a part of the media or public discourse of the murders,” said Newark gay activist James Credle in a letter to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

“This happened despite the fact that several sources, including friends, boyfriends/lovers of at least one of the victims and perhaps one of the parents knew that one or more of the murdered students were gay,” Credle wrote.

He sent the letter on behalf of Newark’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Two-Spirited Concerns Group. The group released the letter to the press. On the day the group released the letter, Credle and other activists met with members of the mayor’s office and several members of Newark City Council, including lesbian Council member Dana Rone, to urge city officials not to ignore a possible anti-gay hate crime angle to the murders.

Rone released a statement calling for “further investigation” to bring “clarity as to the motives” of the assailants in the crime.

“I urge the Essex County prosecutor’s office to explore these concerns brought forth by the gay and lesbian communities in Newark,” she said in her statement.

“Several young people, friends and classmates of [victims] Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower and Natasha Aeriel have come forward,” Credle said in his letter. “In their fear and grief, they are further driven to despair by the refusal of the city administration, the police and the media to acknowledge the fact that some of the deceased were members and friends
of their community.”

Credle called on police and the Essex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office to investigate the case as a possible hate crime, based on the victims’ sexual orientation or race.

Police said Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, were lined up against a wall on the grounds of Mount Vernon Elementary School and shot point blank in the head. Authorities said Natasha Aeriel, Terrance’s sister, was also shot in the head and left for dead.

Aeriel survived the shooting, remained conscious on the night of the incident, and gave police a full account of what she saw, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger. After undergoing several surgical procedures, she is said to be recuperating.

Within a month of the incident, police filed murder and robbery charges against six males in connection with the case. Three of the six are juveniles.
Police and the mayor’s office continue to suggest the motive for the murders was robbery, pointing to a statement by Natasha Aeriel that one or more of the six accused assailants appeared to have announced a robbery.

However, Paul Loriquet, spokesperson for the Essex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office, said authorities are still investigating the case and his office has not disclosed an officially determined motive for the murders.

“We know robbery was a factor because they were all charged with robbery,” Loriquet said. “But was that the motive? That is still under investigation.”

Credle and other activists have said police and city officials appear to be ignoring evidence suggesting that the killings were hate crimes related to the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation. Credle told the Blade that he and others in the gay community have learned from friends and relatives of the victims that little of value was taken from the victims. He said friends claim all of their wallets were left at the scene.

Credle and others have questioned why the attackers, wielding guns, would have killed the victims if robbery alone was the motive.

Police have said all the victims were upstanding citizens who never had any run-ins with the law. Three were students at Delaware State University and one, Hightower, had planned to begin classes there this fall.

The friend of the student who spoke with the Blade, a 20-year-old Newark resident, said at least one of the victims was openly gay and all the others had gay friends and were known to hang out in “gay circles” at their high schools before going on to college.

The friend declined to disclose his name, saying he is concerned about possible negative consequences of speaking out openly about the sexual orientation of the deceased students.

He was put in touch with the Blade by Newark gay and AIDS activist Alex Williams, who manages a Newark drop-in center for young gay men sponsored by the Northern Jersey Community Research Initiative. The Initiative receives city, state and federal funding to carry out HIV-prevention programs, Williams said.

The friend of the murder victims, who said he is also gay, is a client at the Initiative, Williams and the student said.

He told the Blade that one of the victims, Terrance “TJ” Aeriel, 18, and one of the youths arrested in the case, Melvin Jovel, 18, each attended Newark’s West Side High School. He said it’s possible Jovel, who was a member of the school’s soccer team, recognized Aeriel during the fateful encounter in the Mount Vernon schoolyard on the night of the murders.

“A couple of other friends were talking and they think he had classes with TJ,” the friend said of Jovel. He said friends think the two might have been in the same Spanish class.

In addition to Jovel, who is a resident of Elizabeth, N.J., the others arrested and charged in the murders were Jose Carranza, 28, of Orange, N.J., Rodolfo Godinbez, 24, who was arrested in Prince George’s County, Md., and Alexander Alfaro, 16, who was arrested in Woodbridge, Va. Two others charged in the case, both 15, were not identified.

All four victims were close friends. The four were hanging out at the schoolyard on the night of the murders, as they often did, authorities said, because it was known as a gathering place for young people.

Police have said Natasha Aeriel told investigators that two of the six suspects were present on the school grounds when the four students arrived. Police said the other suspects arrived a short time later, a development that prompted the students to become worried and decide to leave. It was at that time that the suspects attacked the students, police said.

But police have declined to provide further details, other than to say that at least one of the suspects separated Natasha Aeriel from the others and shot her in the head, leaving her for dead.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported police sources as saying the other three students were led down some steps to a wall beneath a set of bleachers.

Authorities have said each of the three suspects has been linked to a local Newark gang, but they could not determine whether the murders were gang related.

News From the Michael Sandy Foundation

The following message comes from our friends at The Michael Sandy Foundation. The RBMF proudly supports their efforts, and hopes that you'll join us in attending the events they've scheduled.

Dear Friends

Only one short year ago Michael was taken from us...and as this anniversary arises we'd like you to know the current status and updates from The Michael Sandy Foundation.

The Michael Sandy Foundation has been accredited with a 501(c)3 which makes us a NY Nonprofit Organization established with a Board of Directors. We've been very busy this past year finaling all the paperwork necessary to be given exempt tax status and become Incorporated, and now that we are the real work begins.

Please, dear friends, join with us in a one year memorial for Michael Sandy on Saturday the 13th of October 2007 at the St. Ignatius Church in Manhattan. The following day, October 14th, a candlelight vigil will be held where Michael was killed, Plumb Beach.

The events that are currently scheduled are:

Memorial Service
Sat. October 13th
St. Ignatius Loyola Parish
980 Park Ave. at 84th st.
New York, Ny 10028
Please arrive at 6:30, Service commences promptly at 7pm.

Candle Light Vigil and Public Statement
Sun. October 14th
Plumb Beach, Sheepshead Bay
Brooklyn, NY
Please arrive at 4:30, Event will commence promptly at 5pm.

This is serious, and we are committed. We know you are to.

All our love,

Michael Sandy Foundation
-Patrick McBride
-Keith Winsted
-Tony Bruce
-Michael Dudek
-Chelsea Tillett

All always donations can be made out to: The Michael Sandy Foundation
Mailing Address: The Michael Sandy Foundation PO BOX 20706 New York, NY 10011
Voicemail: 917 677 3108
Website: http://www.michaelsandyfoundation.org/
Email: michaelsandyfoundation@gmail.com

Georgetown Student Arrested In Possible Hate Crime

Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON -- Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Thursday a man has been arrested in a possible hate crime in Georgetown.

On Sept. 9, a man was attacked in the 1400 block of 36th Street in Northwest by a group of men yelling homophobic slurs. On Wednesday, an arrest warrant was obtained for 19-year-old Phillip Anderton Cooney, a Georgetown University student from Texas. He is charged with simple assault.

Police said they identified Cooney from Facebook.com, a college networking Web site.

Authorities said that, suspecting his attacker was a Georgetown student, the victim scoured profiles and photos on the site. He said he found a picture that resembled the description of the man who had beaten him.

"The Metropolitan Police Department takes all crime seriously and is committed to bringing a swift end to crimes of hate and bias," Lanier said. "All members of the community should feel safe and welcome in our neighborhoods without the fear that they may become the victim of random violence. Investigating hate crimes often involves delicate and personal matters, and I commend these officers for staying on top of the case while ensuring the victim's well-being."

The Georgetown attack was the first of three possible anti-gay crimes in Northwest in September. On Sept. 13 a transgender person was attacked in Chinatown, and a man was attacked at about 1 a.m. Saturday after leaving a gay bar near the Convention Center.

Lanier said police have not seen a spike in reported hate crimes, despite the attention these three attacks have received.

Stay with News4 and nbc4.com for more information.

Previous Stories:
September 25, 2007: Man Beaten After Leaving Gay Bar In Northwest
September 15, 2007: Police Investigating Hate Crimes Against Gays
September 14, 2007: Transgender Woman Attacked In D.C.

Monday, September 17, 2007

As Sandy Murder Trial Opens, One Defendant Asserts He's Gay

Source: Gay City News

One of the defendants in the 2006 murder of Michael J. Sandy, a gay man, is himself now claiming to be gay.
The trial of two defendants in the Michael J. Sandy case opened with defense attorneys asserting that their clients never intended to harm the gay African American let alone rob him and so they cannot be found guilty of felony murder and related crimes in the 2006 homicide.

And in a case in which anti-gay hate crimes are being alleged, one defense attorney, in a startling revelation, asserted in his opening remarks that his client is gay.

The other attorney explained his client's view of what happened the day Sandy died.

"Basically what you had here was a scam," John D. Patten, the attorney for John Fox, told the Brooklyn jury on September 17. "The plan was to scam Mr. Sandy to get his money."

Fox, 20, and the second defendant, Anthony Fortunato, 21, are charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one as a hate crime, four counts of attempted robbery with two as hate crimes, two manslaughter counts, one as a hate crime, and two assault counts, one as a hate crime.

The murder count, called felony murder, alleges that while committing a felony - attempted robbery in this case - the defendants caused Sandy's death.

Fox and Fortunato are being tried together, but with separate juries. If the defense can convince the juries that their clients never intended to rob Sandy they may avoid a conviction on the top count.

Robbery is legally defined as forcible stealing. Patten and Gerald J. Di Chiara, Fortunato's attorney, both said that their clients never planned to use force.

"There was never a plan to use violence," Patten said. "There was never a plan to commit robbery."

On October 8 last year, Fox, Fortunato, and Gary Timmins, 17, allegedly approached Sandy in an online chatroom for a sexual encounter. As they headed for the meeting with Sandy, they were allegedly joined by Ilya Shurov, 21.

Sandy traveled from his Williamsburg apartment to Sheepshead Bay near where the young men lived. Once there he said he was uncomfortable after seeing Fox and Fortunato together and left. Later that same evening, Sandy contacted them again and was invited to another meeting, supposedly only with Fox, at Plumb Beach.

Once on the beach, Shurov allegedly attacked Sandy and chased him on to the nearby Belt Parkway where he was hit by a car. Sandy, 29, died on October 13.

A defense in felony murder is that the defendant did not cause or aid in the killing and did not believe that any other participant would cause death or serious physical harm. Defense attorneys pointed to Shurov as the one who violated the plan and caused Sandy's death.

"The question at the end of the day is will the idiotic craziness of Ilya Shurov take another victim?" Di Chiara said.

Shurov faces the same charges as Fox and Fortunato, but will be tried separately. No date has been set for his trial.

Timmins pleaded guilty to one count of attempted robbery as a hate crime last year and is cooperating with the prosecution in exchange for a four-year sentence.

While witnesses place Fox and Shurov on the parkway grappling with Sandy, Fortunato was not on the parkway.

"Did you hear anything about Anthony Fortunato being near that highway?" Di Chiara said referring to the opening statement by Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the prosecutor in the case. "He's not fighting with Michael Sandy, he's not pulling at Michael Sandy."

The prosecution's theory is that when the four selected a gay man to rob - thinking he would be an easy victim - that made this a hate crime. The prosecutor has not said the four were motivated by anti-gay bias.

A surprise in Di Chiara's opening was the revelation that Fortunato is gay.

"This man has been tortured by a secret that he has carried for a long time," Di Chiara told the jury. "His secret is coming out in this courtroom and his family is listening to it."

Di Chiara said Fortunato had been secretly meeting with other men for sex for several years. The value of that news in the Sandy trial is unclear.

To show that Fortunato has committed crimes similar to the alleged Sandy robbery, the prosecutor will introduce evidence that Fortunato had invited gay men to a local motel where he had stolen their belongings when they went to the toilet. The revelation may be an effort to explain that evidence, thereby mitigating its impact.

The jury may reject the notion that a gay man can commit a hate crime against another gay man, but even without that charge Fortunato could be still convicted of felony murder, though not as a hate crime, which carries a maximum sentence of 25-to-life.

As an alternative explanation for the events of October 8, Di Chiara said that his client had thought that Timmins might be gay and wanted the opportunity to come out to him. Fortunato thought that if he, Timmins, and Sandy smoked marijuana together he would feel comfortable telling him.

A problem for the defense is that Fortunato, the alleged ringleader in this crime, will have to take the stand to put his being gay into evidence. If he does that, he will be subject to cross-examination by Nicolazzi, a skilled and experienced prosecutor.

Unlike Fox, who implicated himself in planning and executing the crime in five statements given to police, including a 21-minute videotape, Fortunato never spoke to the cops.

Much of the case against Fortunato relies on Timmins' testimony and aspects of that testimony came out during the prosecutor's opening remarks. Timmins will say that as Shurov and Fox chased Sandy, Fortunato gave him an instruction.

"This defendant yelled for Timmins to get into Sandy's car," Nicolazzi said referring to Fortunato.

The next day, as they joked about a newspaper article about the crime, Timmins will testify, Fortunato looked at a picture in the newspaper of Sandy's car and some of the victim's belongings, including a book bag, that were scattered on the ground.

"The defendant, pointing at that picture, said he was worried about that bag because he had taken that bag and gone through it," Nicolazzi said. No fingerprints from any of the defendants were found on Sandy's car or on any of his belongings.

Under the legal theory that the defendants acted in concert, Fortunato could be held responsible for Sandy's death if the jury decides he intended to commit robbery and that in the course of that robbery other participants caused Sandy's death.

The first witnesses in the case were a police officer who described the scene upon arriving at Plumb Beach after the alleged attack and Sandy's condition there. He also testified about later identifying Sandy's body at the city medical examiner's office.

The second witness, Susan Vaillant, testified that she was driving to the airport when she stopped by three young men fighting in the parkway in front of her car.

"The boy with his back to me was being attacked by the other two boys," she said. "He was being pulled and pushed and shoved."

The one being attacked then ran out of her sight.

"I heard a very loud bang," she said. "The boy got hit, he got thrown into the lane next to me."

Two days after the attack, Vaillant identified Fox and Shurov in line-ups as the two young men she saw attacking a third on the parkway. She also identified Fox in court. The trial will continue on September 18.

©GayCityNews 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shocking events put state in unwanted spotlight

by Kris Wise
Source: Charleston Daily Mail

Six pesople have been arrested for the torture of 20-year-old Megan Williams of Charleston.

Police say Williams was sexually assaulted, stabbed, beaten, burned and held against her will in a Logan County trailer while her captors assailed her with racial epithets and threatened to kill her.

James Nolan, a sociology professor at West Virginia University, said the case will shine a harsh light on the state. Nolan cited similarities between Williams' torture and the 2000 beating death of 26-year-old Arthur "J.R." Warren, a gay black man from Grant Town whose murder also made national news.

Police arrested two 17-year-olds they said had brutally beaten Warren, loaded him into the back of a car, dumped him on the side of the road and then ran over him multiple times.

Read the full story here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Scholarship Committee Makes Unprecedented Decision

Last week, the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Scholarship selection committee convened to select our 2007 scholar. After careful deliberation, we were unable to decide between two exceptionally strong applicants. One had an amazing story of triumph over adversity, detailing how she maintained her drive and her grades even as she and her family while navigated NYC’s homeless shelters. One spoke eloquently about how he coordinated a series of social outings to help ease racial tensions in his school.

How could we possibly choose between two scholars who so clearly embodied two distinct aspects of Rashawn’s legacy? Well, we’re hoping that through your generosity, we won’t have to.

Since the meeting, the selection committee has collected, donated and pledged over $700 to make it possible for BOTH of these promising scholars to receive the award. Today, we are less than $500 away from meeting our goal. For as little as $25, you could help us show these promising young scholars how much we appreciate their commitment to furthering Rashawn’s legacy of academic excellence and selfless service.

Click here to Donate Now!