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.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Party shootings lead activists to push for black gay rights

By Tonya Maxwell
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
Published February 14, 2007

After two masked gunmen shot six people at a party of young, black, gay men on Dec. 31, police investigated the shootings for evidence of a hate crime.

Almost two months later, investigators still don't know if it was a hate crime or who was responsible for the attack at a South Side two-flat, which is known as a gathering place for gay men. But activists have called for public officials in the 8th Ward, where the incident occurred, to expand a task force created to promote more tolerance toward gays and lesbians in the area and provide more services for them.

On Tuesday, advocates asked City Council candidates on the Feb. 27 ballot to attend a meeting Sunday at Chicago State University and announce their support for gay rights in the African-American community.

"Thank God nobody died. But out of that tragic incident, we're able to find our voice and our strength. After we called everyone together, we did something that's never been done before in this town," said Marc Loveless, an activist who organized the news conference. "We just said to everybody, `We need to bring this community together with people who are responsible and call them to be accountable.'"

The attack and the surrounding controversy have pushed into the public arena issues that have long been talked about among black gays and lesbians. For example, there are few services and social venues for gays and lesbians on the South Side, advocates said.

Most are on the North Side, said Vernita Gray, a liaison to the gay community for the Cook County state's attorney.

"You can go to a doctor who understands your concerns, have lunch at a friendly place and grab a cocktail," Gray said.

The South Side isn't the only area that lacks prominent services for gays, she said. Similar concerns exist in other predominantly minority areas.

Long before the shooting, residents had complained to police about the late-night parties and loud music in the two-flat in the 7900 block of South Woodlawn Avenue. Some neighbors said the sexual orientation of the men in the apartment wasn't an issue; they were just concerned about the strangers coming and going from the home.

One of the tenants, who asked to be identified only as Romeo, said neighbors had rarely complained about the noise.

About 5:30 a.m. Dec. 31, about 75 to 100 partygoers were in the basement and first-level apartment when a gunman burst through the side door and another stood in the back yard pointing a gun at the back door, he said. By the time the gunmen fled, six people had been shot.

Romeo, 21, said the incident shows the need for a recreational and social-service center for young gays and lesbians in the area.

"It doesn't take much. Just a couple of words, a letter, to get it started. We could come in and scrub the walls ourselves just to make this happen," he said. "Does another incident have to happen before this starts to move?"

But Lisa Marie Pickens, an 8th Ward resident and president-elect of a group for lesbian and bisexual black women, said the first step is having a communitywide discussion about issues related to the shooting. Her group, Affinity, is among a few gay organizations on the South Side, and it provides services such as support groups and cultural activities, including poetry slams.

Pickens, a member of the task force, said she is concerned about the homophobia gay and lesbian schoolchildren face, as well as the violence that pervades the ward, regardless of the sexual orientation of the victims. Other members of the task force include police officers and Ald. Michelle Harris (8th).

She dismisses the notion black people are more homophobic than other groups.

"I take issue with the stereotype. I think there is ignorance in all communities. I don't think people in the 8th Ward have a monopoly in that issue," Pickens said. "Ultimately, what we all deserve and want is equality, and I'm going to hold my community to a standard of equality."

Violence is a common issue facing young, black, gay men in Chicago, said Frank Walker, who founded the Youth Pride Center, a downtown organization that offers activities for gays 13 to 24 years old.

After the shooting, he began asking youths at the center to fill out an informal survey.

"They don't report [attacks] to police because they are not out at home," Walker said. "And sometimes people know that they didn't report, so they find out they can do it again and again."

Leroy Pinkerton, 17, who spends a lot of time at the Youth Pride Center, recalled being attacked on a summer day in 2005.

He was walking with two cousins when six people started following them and hurling gay slurs at them.

"My cousin said not to pay attention. We didn't do nothing to them, but they jumped us. I guess they needed someone to pick on," Pinkerton said. "They broke my cousin's arm. He was pretty shaken up."

Bill Greaves, the city's liaison to the gay community, said he, too, sees a youth center on the South Side as an attainable, albeit long-term, goal. So far, task force members are getting input from the community, and diversity training for police officers and at schools could emerge as priorities, Greaves said.

"I think it's positive, in spite of the fact it came out of a violent situation that should never have occurred, this has great potential for changing the lives of [gays and lesbians] in the 8th Ward, and on the South Side in the larger sense," he said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

He noticed good in all

years after slaying, son's love inspires mom


Desire Brazell wakes each morning and gives herself the same pep talk: There is good in all people, she says, repeating the words of her late son, Rashawn.
But it's a constant struggle for Brazell to believe that the person who carved up her 19-year-old boy and spread his remains across Brooklyn is anything but pure evil.

"I tell people it's because of [Rashawn] that I don't have the hatred in my heart," Brazell said from her Brooklyn home. "Because of the type of person that he was, he just wouldn't understand that. I learned so much from him, especially about caring and people."

It's been two years since transit workers found a bag stuffed with Rashawn's arm and legs in a Bedford-Stuyvesant subway tunnel. A piece of his pelvis was recovered in a Greenpoint recycling plant five days later.

The killer has not been found.

Rashawn's family, friends and even strangers inspired by him plan to meet Saturday for a candlelight vigil at the Nostrand Ave. station to mark the anniversary.

"To return to the place where ... his remains were found is really brave and courageous, and really speaks to Desire's love for her son," said Larry Lyons, 25, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University who co-founded the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund, a scholarship fund.

Rashawn, who wanted to work in health care, was last seen Feb. 14, 2005, after leaving his Bushwick home to apply for jobs and get his taxes done.

Police initially believed the teen, who was gay, was killed after arranging a date over the Internet with a man, but no evidence has surfaced to support the theory.

Rashawn's head and other body parts are still missing, and the case has stumped NYPD investigators, despite a $22,000 reward, three segments on "America's Most Wanted" and an aggressive campaign soliciting information from the public.

The teen's high school graduation photo appears on reward posters across the city, said Detective Richard Amato.

In the meantime, his mother's struggle continues.

Rashawn was not only her best friend, she said, but that of countless others. The popular teen made it his mission to help neglected or abused youths.

"I used to say, 'Rashawn, you can't help everybody,'" his mother recalled. "And he said, 'Mom, that's not true. You can find some good in anybody.'"

"You could get his last dollar out of his pocket," she said. He was free-hearted. That's why it hurts me so bad that somebody could take his life like that."

Originally published on February 12, 2007

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?"

Friday, February 09, 2007


Gay City News: 2/8/07

The family and friends of Rashawn Brazell, a 19-year-old gay man from Bushwick, Brooklyn, whose dismembered body parts turned up shortly after his disappearance in February 2005, will hold a vigil on February 17 at 7 p.m. The vigil will take place at the intersection of Nostrand and Fulton Avenues in Brooklyn.

According to Police Officer Thomas Verni, the NYPD LGBT community liaison, detectives from Brooklyn North Homicide were meeting as Gay City News went to press to evaluate the status of the case, and may hold a press conference soon. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Brazell's killers, and the NYPD has added an additional $12,000 to that amount for a total of $22,000. Anyone with information should contact 1-800-577-TIPS and reference Crime Stoppers Poster BK-768.

A Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund has been set up to support the study of violence against queer people of African descent. For more information, visit http://www.rashawnbrazell.com.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Brazell Family Organizes Candlelight Vigil

On February 17, 2007 family and friends of Rashawn Brazell will gather at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand Avenues in Brooklyn, NY to mourn the loss of 19-year old Brazell and to pray that 2007 will bring with it the answers, the justice and the closure that the Brazell family has sought since his February 2005 murder.

Desire Brazell, Rashawn's mother, is asking that the community show its support by joining her as she marks the two year anniversary of her son's disappearance and the discovery of his dismembered remains at the Nostrand Avenue subway station.The vigil, which will run from 7-8pm, is open to the public.

Desire adds, "We will not allow this tragedy to be forgotten. Join us as we pray that this never happens to anyone else and that no more families have to suffer this kind of loss".

If you cannot attend, but would like to honor Rashawn's memory by making a tax-deductible donation to the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Scholarship, you may do so by clicking