Gay Black Community Mobilizes

Following the unsolved murder of Rashawn Brazell, Brooklyn town hall meeting scheduled

Following the recent discovery of the dismembered limbs of Rashawn Brazell, a 19-year-old gay, black murder victim, gay African-American leaders have begun to gather and mobilize public support for gaining more information from law enforcement authorities about the progress in solving the crime.

On March 25, Brazell’s family and friends, along with many gay and lesbian activists, most of whom had never met Brazell, gathered outside the entrance of an otherwise dreary subway station in Brooklyn, to light candles and recall the brief life of one of the city’s fallen gay men.

On February 17, below street level, the same subway station was the site of a massive crime scene investigation after track maintenance workers discovered two legs and an arm jutting from a bloody bag jammed along the tracks inside the A line tunnel north of Nostrand Avenue. The following week, after the body parts were identified as belonging to Rashawn Brazell, a young, aspiring Web designer who lived with his family on Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, sections of a human torso were discovered at a recycling plant in Greenpoint. The DNA testing on those parts is not complete, according to the medical examiner’s office, but a police official has said that considering the bag in which the torso parts were discovered, the regularity which with that plant processed refuse from the Nostrand Station’s trash receptacles, and other factors, it was more than likely that the body parts belonged to Brazell.

Nevertheless, in late February, Desire Brazell, the victim’s mother, held a funeral service in Brooklyn in which her sons identifiable remains—his three limbs—were the only parts of his body put to rest.

Brooklyn homicide detectives say that they are working hard to apprehend whoever is responsible for Brazell’s murder.

In a city where the tabloids cover murder cases with an often-lurid lens, the media has stopped reporting on the investigation of as gruesome a crime as this city has ever seen.

For some of the community’s gay black leaders, men in their thirties and forties, some of whom grew up in neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant where being openly gay has always been nearly impossibly difficult, Brazell’s murder and the seeming lack of outrage across the city, including from within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, is symptomatic of what these men say is a racist society uncomfortable with black men expressing their sexuality.

Earlier this month, at Dayo, a Greenwich Village restaurant popular with many gay and lesbian African-Americans, a group of men met informally to discuss the Brazell murder and offer each other solace, since Brazell was a brother, regardless if none present had ever met him.

Arthur Colquit, an attorney, the group’s informal gatherer, has sought to mobilize awareness about the murder within the gay community and beyond, in order to help the police solve the crime, Colquit said, as well as draw attention to what is discussed in gay, black circles, but rarely within white, gay circles: the other unsolved murders of a series of gay black men who suffered the same ghastly violence as Brazell without anyone, including other gay men, taking heed. There are the men, perhaps five or more, within the last decade, murdered after cruising or passing by St. Nicholas Park in upper Manhattan. Then there’s the Nubian Knight case, a gay men who solicited rough sex with other men on the Internet, who was found bound and nearly decapitated in his Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment in 2003. Whether or not these unsolved murders are related is far from clear.

Basil Lucas, an employee of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, who is an expert of sorts when it comes to the murder investigations of gay victims, told the group that the community needed to help detectives solve the Brazell murder as well as pressure police officials to be forthcoming about the case.

The men discussed the need for a community meeting of some sort, in order for people to console one another, even though maybe none of them knew Brazell either. Many of the twenty or so men, who responded to an e-mail message or a telephone call made by Colquit or one of the other organizers, remarked upon the lack of media coverage and how that allowed other events to push aside the priority of bringing to justice Brazell’s killer.

“The bottom line is, he was black and that is why this is not getting a lot of coverage. Gay, yes, but black explains the lack of coverage,” said Lucas.

Colquit asked, “Does a reward help or does that take away from the dignity of the man?”

Lucas responded, “Money talks.”

After a series of other informal organizational meetings, community-based gay groups including People of Color in Crisis and Gay Men of African Descent, have scheduled a town hall meeting on April 4 at 7 p.m. In Brooklyn Borough Hall for the public, police and elected officials to discuss the investigation of the Brazell murder.

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