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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Teen Trans Gunned Down in Florida

by Kilian Melloy
Source: EDGE
Tuesday Feb 26, 2008

Authorities are investigating the Fort Lauderdale shooting death of a male teenager who was dressed as a woman with the possibility that the murder was a hate crime in mind.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel carried a story on Feb. 23 that reported on the shooting death of 17-year-old Simmie Williams, Jr., which took place in the early hours of Feb. 22 on Sistrunk Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale.

The article said that Williams was wearing a dress at the time of his murder. Two men reportedly exchanged words with Williams prior to his 12:45 a.m. shooting.

Williams was taken to Broward General Medical Center, where he died.

Williams, who the story said was known locally as "Chris" or "Beyonce," was killed several miles from his home. One theory was that he was working as a prostitute, the Sun-Sentinel article said. The corner where the young man was shot is known as a locale where transgendered sex workers ply their trade.

The article cited a killing that took place in 2003 not far from where Williams was gunned down

In January of that year, Timothy Broadus, who was also known as "Cinnamon," was shot and killed on Northwest 21st Avenue. Police said Broadus had been killed after approaching a man in a car. The killing was never solved.

The victim’s mother, Denise King, was quoted in the article as saying, "I gave him $2 for the bus and he never came back."

Continued King, "He was a quiet person, kept to himself. He had a lot of friends. He wasn’t a troubled child. He was a happy person."

King said that only two days before his murder, Williams had put his name in with the federal employment skills program Job Corps.

According to King, Williams had planned to earn his GED and then pursue training in the culinary arts, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Said King, "That’s what he really wanted to do. That’s all he talked about."

Continued King, who spoke with the media the day of the young man’s killing, "He spent the whole day with me yesterday, played with his nephew and cooked dinner."

The spokesperson for the local police, Detective Katherine Collins, said, "We’re looking into the possibility of a hate crime."

Said Collins, "There were some words exchanged prior to the shooting," though she did not offer details on the content of those words.

If the killing is determined to have been motivated by bias based on race, religion, sexuality, or other factors, it will be catalogued as a hate crime and be subject to enhanced sentencing, the Sun-Sentinel article noted.

In the case of Williams, the killing, if it was a hate crime, might have been spurred by any of several factors. Sunshine Cathedral’s dean, Grant Lynn Ford, was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel article as saying that Williams was effectively "a minority within a minority within a minority," given that he was a gay black man who cross-dressed.

Equality Florida, a GLBT equality organization, issued a news release on Feb. 25 decrying the killing and calling for meaningful anti-bullying legislation.

Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s executive director, said, "We can be horrified, but we cannot be surprised."

Continued Smith, "Just 10 days ago, 15 year-old Lawrence King was gunned down in California."
Smith went on, "Nearly a year ago, Ryan Skipper was brutally stabbed and his body dumped on the roadside here in Florida. And a week after Ryan’s murder, 20 year-old Sean Kennedy was killed outside a gay bar in South Carolina."

Said Smith, "All of these deaths were preventable. We all must have the will to act and compel our schools and our legislature to confront the harassment and violence directed at gay and transgender young people."

According to the news release, studies nationwide suggest that those who commit hate crimes are typically male, 18-24 years of age, and have a history of bullying others in school.

The news release said that for this reason, Equality Florida supports statewide Safe Schools legislation.

The news release quoted Michael Emanuel Rajner, who co-founded Transgender Equality Rights Initiatives.

Said Rajner, "It is time we demand our government to act and implement policy to decrease the risk factors affecting LGBT youth."

Continued Rajner, "Of the 900 youth in Broward County transitional living facilities, an estimated 25% are LGBT, many have been banished from their homes simply for being LGBT."

The news release announced that a memorial for Williams would take place on Feb. 27 on the 1000 block of Sistrunk Blvd., where the young man was murdered.

A town hall meeting is also scheduled to follow, at 6:30 p.m., at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of South Florida 1717 N. Andrews Avenue, in Fort Lauderdale. The town hall meeting will convene to address to discuss hate crimes in Florida.

The Sun-Sentinel article said that those who might have information in the killing of Williams is asked to contact Detective Mark Breen by calling 954-828-5708.

Anyone with information is also encouraged to contact Broward Crime Stoppers by calling 954-493-8477.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Queer, Dead and Nobody Cares

By Kai Wright TheRoot.com
Why two violent deaths produced two totally different reactions.

A note left by a student is seen at a makeshift memorial honoring fifteen-year-old Lawrence King at E.O. Green School, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008 in Oxnard, Calif. King was declared brain dead Wednesday after being shot in the head in class by a fellow student on Tuesday, February 12, 2008.

Feb. 26, 2008--Little Lawrence King was queer. Not just in some identity politics way, but literally. Despite the innocence of his round, brown cheeks and puppy dog eyes, the kid was a threatening oddity at his Ventura County junior high school. Either because he was brave or naïve, or because he just couldn't help himself, Lawrence reveled in the fact.

By all accounts, Lawrence delighted in the beauty of defying gender rules. He wore jewelry and lipstick, playfully changing up the colors from day to day; he strutted about in black, high-heel boots. And he had the audacity to admit he was sweet on one of his male classmates. That one act of vulnerability—a banal mainstay of middle schools everywhere—cost 15-year-old Lawrence his life. According to friends and news reports, the object of his affection walked into a computer lab Feb. 12 and shot Lawrence in the head.

National gay youth advocates are now valiantly trying to get the nation to recognize Lawrence's death, to draw an emotional line from the 1998 murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard to this latest attack. It's an appropriate linkage: Both Matthew and Lawrence share a profile of youthful innocence that is in stark contrast to their violent deaths. But America has witnessed dozens of equally grisly anti-gay murders and violent attacks since Shepard's killing. These executions are routinely ignored—and I have always suspected that's because, like Lawrence, the victims rarely share Matthew's blonde hair, blue eyes and college education. Nonetheless, they reveal a brutal reality lurking below the surface of our nation's increasing "tolerance" of gay people.

I live in New York, and in this metropolitan area alone we've had a startling level of gay bloodshed in recent years. There was 15-year-old Sakia Gunn, a black teen who was stabbed to death in 2003 at a Newark bus stop, after she rebuffed a guy's flirtations by outing herself and her friends as lesbians. And there was 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell, whose dismembered black body the cops found scattered around Brooklyn in February 2005, his limbs shoved into a plastic bag and tossed onto the subway tracks, his torso similarly deposited in a recycling plant near the East River waterfront. They never found his severed head, or his killer.

The victims are not all teens. There's 29-year-old Michael Sandy, whom three white guys lured into a rendezvous by posing as a single gay man on a chat site in October 2006; they jumped him and chased him into highway traffic, where he was struck and killed. Then there's 27-year-old Dwan Prince, who was stomped into a coma at a Brooklyn bus stop because, in his attackers' words, "he came at me wrong." And just two days before Lawrence was gunned down in the computer lab for having a crush, 25-year-old Sanesha Stewart was stabbed to death in the Bronx, reportedly by a date who discovered she was transgender.

That's all just in the New York area -- and just a handful of the cases. In 2006 alone (the most recent data available), the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs counted 11 people murdered for being gay around the country. The organization's tally is considered a vast undercount, as it culls only incidents in the dozen or so states in which it has chapters. But the group's research is enough to make clear that anti-gay murders are far more commonplace than we acknowledge as a society. The victims are easily dismissed because they rarely evoke adjectives like "angelic," used so often to describe Matthew Shepard. Instead, in reporting on Sanesha Stewart's murder, the New York Daily News described her as "a 6-foot man in high heels and lipstick" and speculated she was a hooker. No wonder such a bizarre creature got itself killed, the report seemed to suggest.

We shrug off this sort of casual defining of gay lives as freakish in all corners of our society, from media to politics to schools. In 2005, a schools advocacy group, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, surveyed just over 1,700 gay high school students. Eight out of 10 reported hearing words like "faggot" and "dyke" used "often" or "frequently" at school by other kids. Nearly a fifth said they heard it from school personnel as well. Two-thirds reported being harassed themselves because of their sexual orientation, and nearly half said they got picked on because, like Lawrence, they didn't act appropriately boyish or girlish.

All of this goes on with impunity: Just 16 percent of the kids said staff "frequently" did something when they overheard hearing homophobic slurs or harassment.
Even more common than explicit slurs are phrases such as "that's so gay" and "you're being queer." They aren't directed at homosexuality itself but are simply meant to identify something as particularly bad— gayness and queerness representing awful enough ideas to be catchall adjectives for anything unwanted. These putdowns are widely considered innocuous, but the kids who are actually gay and queer find them difficult to dismiss. Two-thirds of students in the survey felt stung by the remarks. Overall, 64 percent said they simply felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

According to Lawrence's classmates, he had every reason to feel unsafe as well. He'd been moved around between gym classes because he got picked on, one friend told a local paper. "Every corner he turned around, people were saying, 'Oh, my god, he's wearing makeup today,' " another classmate told the Los Angeles Times. Lawrence's ability to stand up and be himself, despite being defined as an outcast for it, was nothing short of heroic. When we all ignore efforts to stomp out that sort of heroic existence—whether it comes in the form of bullying or murder—we are complicit in the act.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Damage to victim's brain permanent

By Ray Huard

A Lakeside man labeled a white supremacist by police was sentenced to 17 years in prison yesterday for beating a black man and someone he thought was gay in separate hate crimes at bars.

Timothy Michael Caban, 40, pleaded guilty in January to battery with serious bodily injury and personally inflicting great bodily injury.

The first attack, in October 2006, injured Eric Socorro Brunk on the patio of the 67 Bar and Grill in Lakeside.

In July 2007, Caban struck Sylvester Wilson outside Don's Cocktail Lounge in Lakeside. Wilson, who is black, suffered permanent brain damage, and doctors testified at an earlier hearing that he would never fully recover.

Wilson is paralyzed on one side, can barely speak and has trouble remembering and comprehending what is going on around him, his brother Ronald Wilson said in El Cajon Superior Court.

“I don't know if he (Caban) really realizes what he has done,” Ronald Wilson said. “I just hope there is some kind of lesson in this for him other than being in jail and wasting his life away.”

Advertisement Witnesses told investigators that Caban sucker-punched Wilson outside the back door of the bar July 8, 2007, after a bartender stopped serving Caban and his companions and they became rowdy.
As Caban left the bar, he took off his T-shirt to reveal a swastika tattoo across his shoulder and chest, then punched Wilson unprovoked with an uppercut, knocking him down, witnesses said. Wilson hit his head on the pavement and was bleeding from his ears and head when paramedics arrived minutes later.

On Oct. 10, 2006, Caban beat Brunk to the ground on the patio of the 67 Bar and Grill after asking Brunk and a friend, “Are you guys gay?”

Brunk was sitting with his wife and friend at the time, Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr has said.

Brunk suffered a dislocated shoulder and facial cuts and bruises but has recovered, according to court records.

Caban has previous convictions dating to 1995 for crimes including battery, possession of drugs and domestic violence.