Rashawn Brazell: Black, Gay, Dead and Invisible
Since the February murder and dismemberment of Rashawn Brazell, a 19-year-old African-American gay man, the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and other groups in the LGBT and people of color communities have been organizing to publicize the case and put pressure on the police to apprehend those responsible. For this issue of Lambda Line, we invited AVP Acting Executive Director Clarence Patton to bring L.I.D. members up to date on the Brazell case and how we can help. Following is his article:
There was a recent Bob Herbert column in The New York Times titled “Black, Dead and Invisible.” Unfortunately, at the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, we know all too well that virtual invisibility is the default position of those who are young, black and murdered. For those whose cases are most directly addressed by our work – those who are young, black and gay – the invisibility is absolute.
Monday, April 4, over 100 community members, elected officials, community-based organizational representatives, as well as interested parties from the New York Police Department, participated in a Town Hall meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall in response to issues raised by the gruesome murder of Rashawn Brazell.
Rashawn was 19, gay and black, and he lived in Brooklyn. On February 17, a transit worker discovered some of Rashawn’s dismembered body parts in the A Train subway tunnel in Bedford- Stuyvesant. Subsequently, additional pieces of Rashawn’s body were found in a garbage transfer station used by the MTA in Greenpoint.
It was fairly clear to anyone listening closely at Monday’s meeting that at this point, despite statements from the investigative team that nothing and no one had been ruled out, the investigation has all but gone cold, and precious few in this city really care.
How is this possible? There is a possibility that no amount of community, police and media attention and resources would have resulted in bringing the murderer or murderers of Rashawn to justice, but we’ll never know, and here is why:
After a brief burst of media coverage at the beginning of the investigation, with few exceptions, none but gay community media followed the case. Despite the murders of some black men being on the radar of people like Bob Herbert, The Times also turned away from what is one of the most troubling and horrifying murder cases in ecent memory: A 19 year-old child was murdered and parts of his body have been found all over Brooklyn; even now, his mother has not been able to bury her son in total because there are still scattered pieces of Rashawn’s body missing, including his head. The Times’ last piece on this case ran February 26th; there were a total of four pieces, which ran from February 18 to 26. The city’s other dailies didn’t do much better. Until recently, police investigators essentially ignored multiple offers of assistance and support from AVP and other organizations that in the past have helped the NYPD reach into the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities to get information which the Department would never have received if left to its own devices.
At the time of the Town Hall meeting, the award offered by the police and the City of New York was the standard $2,000 offered for information leading to the capture and indictment of those responsible for Rashawn’s murder. Monday evening, community-based organizations, all of which are facing fiscal challenges of their own, offered up to $3,000 to supplement the paltry award offered by the city. AVP asked the Mayor to increase the municipal portion of the award by $10,000. His office agreed to do this on Friday, April 9.
All of this is to say that on some level, we all have a responsibility in creating those who are rendered black, dead and invisible: the police, the media, the politicians, and the community. Black life is discounted in our culture - it has been since before it first arrived on our shores. Black male life is viewed as being cheaper still. By the time we get to black gay male life, why, we’re just giving it away.
The hope is that from now on all of us – the community, the police and the media – will do our parts to increase the value of young black and gay lives and eradicate the invisibility of all victims of crime.
Take Action: What to Do in the Wake of the Brazell Murder
- Call the metro editors of the cityÃ¢ÂÂs dailies, starting with Susan Edgerley at The New York Times (212-556-7356). Ask how itÃ¢ÂÂs possible for a case like this to disappear from view.
- Call the MayorÃ¢ÂÂs office (212-788-3000) and demand he tell the top brass at the NYPD to direct the full resources of the department to solve this crime.
- Connect with programming at AVP (212-704-1184), People of Color in Crisis (718-230-0770), Gay Men of African Decent (212-828-1697) and other organizations working together to create and facilitate community discussions and strategies that will help foster a safer community environment.
- Write a check to AVP, 240 West 35th Street, Suite 200, New York, NY 10001.
First LGBT Mayoral Candidates Forum of 2005 Hard-Hitting and Well Attended
Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Congressman Anthony Weiner all turned out to address the LGBT community at the April 6 mayoral candidates forum hosted by Greater Voices: The Coalition of NYC Progressive LGBT Political Clubs. L.I.D president Gary Parker served as moderator for the event, which drew more than 150 people and was not only covered by the LGBT press but also mentioned in the April 8 and April 11 issues of The New York Times. Each candidate had a total of 45 minutes to make remarks and respond to vigorous questioning from the crowd. To read highlights of the candidates’ comments, see Duncan Osborne’s coverage in Gay City News at gaycitynews.com/gcn_414/demsseeklgbt.html or the Gotham Gazette coverage at http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20050411/202/1377.
27th Anniversary Lunch with Lambda Draws a Whoâs Who of the N.Y. Political World
The 27th Anniversary Lunch with Lambda on Sunday, April 10, was a resounding success. This year's honorees included Brooklyn’s Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu; Kelli Conlin of NARAL Pro Choice NY; Joe Pressley of the New York AIDS Coalition; Gay City News (accepted by its editor Paul Schindler); and, from the landmark decision allowing same-sex marriage in New York, lead attorney Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund with plaintiffs Lauren Abrams and Donna Freeman-Tweed and Jo-Ann Shain and Mary-Jo Kennedy.
A who’s who of the New York political world attended, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes. There were three mayoral candidates: City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. L.I.D. was also joined by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Congressmembers Major Owens, Nydia Velazquez and Jerold Nadler, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblymembers Jim Brennan, Adele Cohen, Joan Millman and Nick Perry, City Councilmembers Yvette Clarke, Bill DeBlasio, Letitia James, Dominic Recchia and David Yassky. Arnie Kriss, Mark Peters, Sandra Roper and Paul Wooten, all challengers for Brooklyn D.A., joined us at the lunch. In attendance from the Brooklyn judiciary were several Civil Court judges, including L.I.D.’s own Debra Silber as well as judges Donald Kurtz, Sallie Krauss, Ellen Spodek and Margarita Lopez Torres.
We were also joined by former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green, candidates for Public Advocate Norman Siegel and Andrew Rasiej, judicial candidates Sylvia Asch, Cynthia Boyce, Genine Edwards, Michael Gerstein, Phil Grant and L.I.D.’s own Norma Jennings. District Leaders included Queens’ Danny Dromm, former L.I.D. President Alan Fleishman, Lori Knipel, Dilia Schack and JoAnne Simon. Our LGBT community friends in attendance included Chris Bauer and Rosemary Palladino of Staten Island Stonewall, Dirk McCall, President of the Stonewall Democratic Club, Clarence Patton of the NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-ViolenceProject and Miriam Yeung of New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.
Prompted by Thompson, City Pension Funds, Toys âRâ Us Bars Trans Discrimination
New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. recently announced that Toys “R” Us has agreed to adhere to policies prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender identity. Toys “R” Us, which is based in Wayne, NJ, notified the Comptroller on March 11 that it is taking steps to adhere to the Equality Principles, a 10-point code of conduct aimed at advancing workplace equality by barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The announcement comes after efforts by the City’s Pension Funds – the New York City Employees’ Retirement Fund (NYCERS), Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), New York City Police Pension Fund, New York City Fire Department Pension Fund, and Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) – to urge the company to comply with the Equality Principles.
The decision is an encouraging move by the toy retailer. Lambda Line readers will recall that in December 2000, three transgender Brooklyn residents were subjected to anti-transgender harassment by store employees at the Bay Parkway Toys “R” Us. In June 2002, they won what their lawyer called a “moral victory” when a jury awarded each $1 in damages. Later in 2002 a federal court judge found that Toys “R” Us must pay lawyers for the laintiffs’ nearly $200,000 in legal fees – a decision that was upheld last November by the state’s top court after Toys “R” Us appealed.
Glick Prepares Legislation to Provide Benefits to Partners of Uniformed Services Personnel
Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, from Manhattan’s 66th Assembly District, is preparing accidental death benefits legislation for domestic partners of uniformed services personnel. After general conversations over the last year, Glick drafted the legislation in the off session. As required for this type of legislation, the bill is now undergoing review by both the State and New York City Comptroller’s Offices for the fiscal implications on all the relevant pension systems. Glick noted she has received enthusiastic support and cooperation from State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. to date.She explained, “Special legislation was needed after the World Trade Center attack to make domestic partners of officers killed during that horrific event eligible for accidental death benefits and was supported by both houses of the Legislature.” Declared Glick, “This legislation will redress this disgraceful disparity. After all, public employees in New York City and New York State have access to recognition as domestic partnerships for other benefits.”
Friday, April 15, 5:30-7pm
Tax Day Action: Protest “Taxation without Representation” at the Main Post Office on 34th St. & 8th Ave in Manhattan. Sponsored by Marriage Equality. Co-sponsored by L.I.D. among others. For more information go to www.marriageequalityny.org.
Monday, April 18, 5pm
Racial Justice Day 2005. Let it be known that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming people of color community demands an end to the harassment, brutality and murders of our communities by the NYPD. Gather in City Hall Park, Manhattan.
Wednesday, April 20, 7-9pm
Conversations with Lambda: a forum for L.I.D. members to discuss our issues with candidates and our elected officials prior to our endorsement meeting. Also on the agenda: Dan Wilson will be up for election to the L.I.D. Executive Board. Old First Reformed Church, 126 Seventh Avenue at Carroll Street in Park Slope. Enter on Carroll Street.
Saturday, April 30, 4-6pm
Walk-In Legal Clinic, presented by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York (LeGaL Foundation) at the offices of Dyke TV, 71 5th Ave (Prospect and St. Marks Pl.), Park Slope. For more information call 212-533-9118.
Friday May 6 and Saturday May 7
“Trans Politics, Social Change and Justice,” a conference presented by The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th streets), Manhattan. For more information and to register visit http://web.gc.cuny.edu/clags/transpoliticsinfo.htm.
Wednesday, May 25, 7:30pm
L.I.D. endorsement meeting for Brooklyn District Attorney, Comptroller and uncontested Brooklyn City Council districts, YWCA, 30 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic Avenue), First Floor Community Room, Boerum Hill.
Monday, June 6, 7pm
L.I.D. endorsement meeting for Mayor, Public Advocate, contested Brooklyn City Council districts and Civil Court Judges, Old First Reformed Church, Ground Floor Lower Hall, 126 Seventh Avenue at Carroll Street in Park Slope. Enter on Carroll Street.