Pols Urged to Speak Against Violence

Family of Dwan Prince, victim of brutal Brooklyn anti-gay attack, joins with Anti-Violence Project

The vicious assault on Dwan Prince and the murder of Rashawn Brazell, both gay men from central Brooklyn, has the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) calling for more cooperation from political leaders in the area to combat the atmosphere that contributed to these attacks.

Clarence Patton, acting executive director of AVP, said one staffer of an elected official he called in Brooklyn told him, “If people live that lifestyle, then stuff can happen to them.”

He would not identify that official, but did say he had asked Councilwoman Tracy Boyland “to stand with us” and got no response.

“I reached out to every elected official at the state and local level in Brownsville,” Patton said, in reference to the neighborhood where Prince lives, was assaulted in front of his apartment building and put in a coma. “They acted as if they didn’t understand what I wanted them to do.”

Boyland did not return a Gay City News call seeking comment.

Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents Fort Greene and Crown Heights, was on hand Wednesday to stand with AVP at a City Hall press conference in which she joined Patton in assailing the lack of response to these attacks.

“Unfortunately, in central Brooklyn there is a conspiracy of silence, James said, terming the response from some elected officials “appalling.” James declined to be specific.

“Homophobia does exist in the black community,” said James, herself African American. “It is our dirty little secret.”

Patton, who is also African American and lives in Brooklyn, said that the black leadership in central Brooklyn “hasn’t learned to engage with the gay community—they just don’t know how to respond appropriately.”

AVP hopes to “create stronger partnerships with community-based organizations” throughout Brooklyn to develop “a package of expectations on responding to incidents” going forward, Patton said. He is particularly concerned about sounding this alarm now as the community heads into Gay Pride weekend, citing increased lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visibility as a factor in triggering violent attacks.

Reports of anti-gay violent attacks are up 32 percent over the last year in the latest New York Police Department statistics. AVP, which handles more incident reports than the police do, has seen a 24 percent rise over the last two years.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller called for an increased police presence where these latest crimes have been committed and for “leaders in the city to speak out,” though he did not directly criticize Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who he hopes to oppose in November’s election.

Democratic Councilwoman Christine Quinn, a lesbian who represents Chelsea, said, “Violence in practically every other category has gone down in New York. Why can we protect against most attacks, but not against LGBT people?”

She called for an increase in police resources to address the problem.

Colin Robinson, director of the New York State Black Gay Network, did not play a formal role in the press conference, but distributed a statement that said the heart of the matter does not involve “election year politicians and the media looking for a Pride Week story,” but rather “black gay bloggers who forced non-profit organizations to pay more attention to Rashawn Brazell’s murder and built a bridge to the Brazell family,” through the Rashawn Brazell Collective, that grew up in response to the blog posts.

“I dare you,” Robinson’s letter challenged the city’s political leaders, “when you go into churches to campaign, to talk about the violence that flows from those pulpits.”

Robinson also called for greater philanthropic involvement in the issue and more “meaningful stories” in the press “about the real lives of black gay men, not just what’s sensational.”

Bishop Zachary Jones, of the LGBT Unity Fellowship Church in Brooklyn, speaking at the gathering, said that a good deal of “anti-LGBT violence is supported by religious ideology,” and called for a “united voice of religious people” to combat it.

Police have arrested Steven Pomie, a 24-year old ex-con and Crips gang member, as the principal attacker of Dwan Prince, 27, on June 8. Two other attackers seen by witnesses have not been apprehended. Last week, AVP leafleted Prince’s neighborhood to encourage more witnesses to come forward.

Prince’s mother, Valerie Prinez of Bergen County, New Jersey, and his twin sister, Deisha Wingster, arrived after the press conference concluded and spoke about Dwan’s progress.

While still in a coma, “he opened his left eye,” his mother said.

Doctors told the family last Friday that there was a 90 percent chance Prince would not survive his injuries, Prinez said, but his condition is believed to have improved since he made it through the weekend at Brookdale University Hospital.

“No one deserves what my son got,” Prinez said. “There’s nothing wrong with being different. If we weren’t, life would be boring.”

She credited the power of prayer in her son’s survival and is setting up a Fund for Dwan Prince to help with his medical expenses, including reconstructive surgery and relocation. Checks can be made out to “Dwan Prince” and sent to P.O. Box 31, Yonkers, New York 10703.

Wingster, Prince’s sister, said, “We knew he was gay. He came out many years ago. He wasn’t ashamed and he wasn’t flamboyant. He was just Dwan.”

Prinez said that she and her family are being assisted by AVP, particularly Basil Lucas, the agency’s coordinator for hate violence and police relations.

Before leaving City Hall, Prinez spoke briefly to Dep. Mayor Dennis Walcott about the case. He said he would reach out to the police department to be updated about the case and would get back to them.

No arrests have yet been made in the murder of Brazell, a Bushwick man whose dismembered limbs first turned up in a Brooklyn subway tunnel on Feburary 17.

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