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, August 09, 2007

Dancehall Hate In City Park?

Source: Gay City News

Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendlyAn August 25 reggae festival planned on city Parks Department property at Randall's Island is raising hackles among activists who point out that at least two of the nine headliners have made themselves notorious with song lyrics calling for the murder of gay men.


Among the music stars receiving top billing at the Reggae CariFest are Buju Banton and Bounty Killa, both of whom have been key targets of the three-year-old Stop Murder Music campaign, a joint project of the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), and the British Black Gay Men's Advisory Group (BGMAG).

Banton - the stage name of 35-year-old Jamaican dancehall music star Mark Anthony Myrie - is infamous for his anti-gay songs, one example of which is "Boom Bye Bye, " which features sounds of gunfire "in a batty-boy's head" - "batty-boy" being Jamaican patois for "faggot" - and says of any "batty-boy," "burn him up bad like an old tire wheel."

Bounty Killa was born Rodney Basil Price in Jamaica, also 35 years ago. Among his lyrics are: "Bun a fire pon a puff and mister fagoty" ("Burn a fire on puffs and faggots"); "Poop man fi drown an dat a yawd man philosophy" ("Shit men [gay men] must be drowned and that's a yardy man [Jamaican] philosophy"); and "Mi ready fi go wipe out this fag wid pure laser beam" ("I'm ready to wipe out this faggot with a pure laser beam").

Though Stop Murder Music activists say that their efforts have led to cancellation of hundreds of concerts and sponsorship deals costing homophobic reggae artists more than $5 million each year, the offending performers, Banton and Bounty among them, continue to find receptive venues.

When longtime New York activist Mark Milano last week noticed a subway poster for the Randall's Island event listing the two among those performing, he immediately sounded a call for action. At its meeting on August 2, the Queer Justice League, an activist group founded in the wake of Larry Kramer's spring speech marking the 20th anniversary of ACT UP, voted to take steps to ensure that Banton and Bounty do not perform on city property.

Since that time, Milano has touched numerous bases in his sprint to block the hate-lyric artists - speaking with both Live Nation, a major Los Angeles live music producer that stepped up to lease the park space, and the Brooklyn-based promoter Team Legendary, which is staging the festival, as well as reaching out for the help of two leading local gay and lesbian elected officials, State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, both Chelsea Democrats, and of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.

After several days of intensive discussions among all of these parties, Team Legendary's Alfonso Brooks has made a verbal commitment to press both Banton and Bounty to comply with a key demand not only of Milano and the Queer Justice League here in New York, but also of the international Stop Murder Music campaign - that they sign and publicly state their willingness to abide by the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA), a document by which other artists have pledged to refrain from making homophobic statements in public, releasing new homophobic songs, or authorizing the re-release of previously-recorded hate-gays music.

According to both Milano and Colin Casey in Duane's office, Brooks voiced confidence that the two artists would sign on to the agreement. But in a telephone interview on the evening of August 8, he conceded that he had not yet been able to discuss the matter with Banton and his management and had heard resistance from Bounty.

"They don't think I should be concerned," Brooks said of preliminary reaction from Bounty's camp. The promoter explained that his contract with artists includes a strict code of conduct on matters ranging from alcohol use to any offensive language aimed at specific communities. Bounty's representative told Brooks that the performer has always abided by that code in the past, and would refrain from performing hate songs at Randall's Island.

Beyond that, Brooks explained, "they are trying to say they have their own life."

In both a telephone interview and an e-mail to Gay City News, Brooks
emphasized that his festival is one aimed at promoting "love, respect, and equality," and he noted that in a similar event in 2005 he made clear to Banton that he could not perform "Boom Bye Bye," a condition the artist accepted. Brooks added, "I don't see anything wrong with the [RCA] agreement. I think all artists should sign it."

Still, when pressed whether he would jettison the two from the concert line-up if they refused to cooperate on the RCA pledge, Brooks wavered.
"This second, right now, I don't have an answer to that," he responded. He noted that the artists have already been paid, and could point to their signed contracts which carry no requirement about any pledge restricting the songs they perform elsewhere.

"These artists have their fans and if there is any political way to get my money back, I'd like to find it," Brooks said, also alluding to problems he might face from his audience if Banton and Bounty are no-shows.

For Milano, Brooks' indecision is unacceptable.

"For the concert promoter or the city to allow the appearance in a public park of performers who have adamantly refused to sign the RCA solely because they've agreed not to sing these songs at this location is unacceptable to gay and lesbian activists and to the Queer Justice League," he told Gay City News.

Asked what steps the League planned next, Milano said, "If we don't not have a definitive answer about them either signing or being dropped from the bill in the next few days, we will begin organizing protests and we will be at the concert protesting."

He also made clear that he plans to hold the city accountable as well.

"We will apply pressure wherever we can," he said, "and we do believe the Parks Department has it in their power to prevent viciously homophobic and violent performers from appearing in city parks."

The Parks Department's position on the appearance of anti-gay artists is unclear. Cristina DeLuca, a Parks spokeswoman, confirmed that the department had contracted with Live Nation for use of the Randall Island facility. Asked whether Parks had a policy on use of its property by groups advocating violence - a neo-Nazi organization, for example - DeLuca said she would research the question and get a response back to Gay City News, but that did not happen.

However, according to Brooks, later the same day, a conference call took place among Parks officials, Team Legendary, and Live Nation, though the outcome is unclear.

Asked whether Duane, who personally called Brooks to express his unhappiness about Banton and Bounty appearing, would in turn press the Parks Department to step in if Team Legendary did not win agreement from the artists to sign the RCA, Casey said, "That is clearly the next step," even as he expressed hope that will not be necessary.

Quinn issued a written statement saying, "The homophobic messages contained in several songs performed by the Bounty Killa and Buju Banton are deplorable and unacceptable. I am pleased that the group has agreed not to perform those songs at Randall's Island... This is just one step in the right direction, and I further urge these artists to sign the Reggae Compassionate Act and agree to not perform lyrics that promote violence or hate at any performance, anywhere."

The speaker's office did not reply to a follow up e-mail asking whether pressure could appropriately be put on the Parks Department.

In his August 8 telephone interview with Gay City News, Brooks said he had just spent an hour on the phone with GLAAD, though calls seeking comment from that organization, placed before and after the promoter spoke to its representative, were not returned.

One puzzling omission in the activists' efforts is the apparent lack of outreach to LGBT people of color organizations. Contacted on August 8, neither Tokes Osubu, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), nor Clarence Patton, an African American who leads the city Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP), had heard about the concert flap.

According to Peter Tatchell, leader of Britain's Outrage! and a key player in the Stop Murder Music campaign, Bounty has steadfastly refused to sign the Reggae Compassionate Act.

Banton has a more perplexing story with regard to the campaign. As Doug Ireland reported in Gay City News late last month, Stop Murder Music has a signed agreement from Banton, yet within days of the artist making the pledge, Radio Jamaica was quoting his manager, Donovan Germaine, as denying he had done so.

This week, Tatchell told Gay City News that he has learned from several Jamaican journalists that Banton himself is now denying that he ever signed the RCA, which the British activist said "renders the agreement null and void."

The public postures Banton and Bounty have stubbornly hung onto regarding their anti-gay hate music do not bode well for Brooks' hopes for an amicable solution.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Judge Rules Hate Crimes Law OK for Michael Sandy Murder Case

Source: Gay City News

A judge upheld the Brooklyn prosecutor's use of the state hate crimes law in the 2006 Michael J. Sandy homicide.

"With respect to the constitutional motion, that motion is denied in its entirety," said Jill Konviser, the judge who is hearing the Sandy case, regarding a defense challenge to the prosecutor's application of the law. The ruling came during an August 2 proceeding.

Anthony Fortunato, 21, John Fox, 20, and Ilya Shurov, 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.

Allegedly, they lured Sandy, a gay African-American, to an October 8 meeting for sex at Brooklyn's Plumb Beach. They allegedly tried to rob Sandy who fled on to the Belt Parkway where he was struck by a car. Sandy, 29, died on October 13.

In court proceedings, the district attorney has not charged that the three were motivated by anti-gay bias. The fact that the defendants selected a gay man to rob, thinking he would be less likely to resist, made these hate crimes, the prosecutor said.

At a May 30 hearing and in a motion, the defense argued that the Legislature's intent in passing the 2000 hate crime law was to punish crimes motivated by prejudice and the prosecutor's use of the law in the Sandy case violated that intent. In her 18-page written ruling, Konviser rejected that argument.

"The grand jury evidence shows that this is not a case where hate crimes are charged simply because the victim just happened to be of a particular sexual orientation," she wrote. "Rather this is a case where the defendants deliberately set out to commit a violent crime against a man whom they intentionally selected because of his sexual orientation."

The law's legislative findings, or its preamble, refer to crimes "based upon bias and prejudice" and "invidious hatred." The law itself requires that the offense be "committed in whole or in substantial part" based on a "belief or perception" about the victim's membership in one of several protected classes including sexual orientation.

A person commits a hate crime when he "intentionally selects" a victim based on a "belief or perception regarding" the victim's membership in a protected class. Defense lawyers also argued that the law was unconstitutionally vague "as applied" in the Sandy case in that the law does not clearly communicate what the illegal act is. Konviser also rejected that point.

"[W]hen considered in the context of the statute and the facts of this case, these terms sufficiently inform a person of ordinary intellect that if you search the Internet for the express purpose of finding a gay man to rob, a man you believe would 'probably not offer much resistance' you will be charged with a hate crime," she wrote.

Denise Sandy, Michael's mother, said she approved of the ruling after the hearing. "I'm grateful that this is going to stand," she said. Asked if she believed this was a hate crime, Denise said "Yes, definitely."

Konviser was expected to rule on whether the prosecution can use statements Fox and Shurov gave to police, the results from police line ups, and other evidence, but late filings from attorneys delayed that. She will issue a ruling later.

Konviser has set September 10 as a trail start date for Fortunato and Fox. No trial has been set for Shurov who will be tried separately.

At trial, a jury will decide if these were hate crimes and, if they are convicted, the hate crime tag increases the minimum prison sentences the defendants face.

A fourth defendant, Gary Timmins, 16, pleaded guilty to one attempted robbery count as a hate crime last year and is assumed to be cooperating with the prosecution.