Volume 5, Number 12 | March 23 - 28, 2006

CRIME

Rashawn Brazell Murder Progress Discounted

Police challenge Post account; victim’s mother expresses anger, doubt

BY PAUL SCHINDLER

A March 20 published report that police investigating the gruesome February 2005 murder and dismemberment of Rashawn Brazell—a 19-year-old African-American gay man from Bushwick—are trying to find a former neighbor in his 30s who was the victim’s lover, has drawn a firm denial from the NYPD and created confusion and anger for the young man’s family.

“They didn’t get that from us,” a spokesman for the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information said of a story Monday in the New York Post. “We are not saying that we are looking for somebody with whom the victim was acquainted.”

The DCPI spokesman added, however, “For us to say we are looking for somebody makes it that much harder to find them.”

That statement suggested that there could be police interest in a person not yet located.

Another police source told Gay City News that the thrust of the published report was “total BS,” but that “there is someone who needs to be spoken to.” That source emphasized that the man in question is not a suspect, and that while he is “an acquaintance [of Brazell’s], I wouldn’t even say he is a boyfriend. That is unknown.”

Brazell, an aspiring Web designer, was last seen on Valentine’s Day 2005 as he prepared to visit an accountant about his taxes. Early on, police sources indicated that he might also have been planning to meet someone, perhaps a man he had met on a telephone chat line.

Early in the morning of February 17 of last year, a transit worker found portions of two legs and an arm stuffed in a bloody plastic bag jammed against the tunnel wall on the A line very close to the Nostrand Avenue stop at Fulton Street. Fingerprint and DNA tests confirmed that the victim was Brazell. Nearly a week later, torso parts, bagged in similar fashion, were found at a Greenpoint recycling plant where refuse from the subway station is transported. No other body parts have been found.

The Post said a police source told the newspaper that a man who lived around the corner from Brazell’s Gates Avenue home, in his 30s, on welfare, and romantically linked to the victim is being sought and is believed to now be somewhere in the South.

“We want to try and find this guy, identify him, and talk to him,” the Post quoted its source as saying.

For Desire Brazell-Jones, the victim’s mother with whom he lived and who has pressed insistently for answers for the past 13 months, the latest turn in the case came as a shock, and also made her angry. She first learned of the speculation when reading the Post Monday and saw a television report recounting the same information later that day. To her, the story makes no sense and also seems like a diversion created by police under pressure to come up with answers.

Brazell-Jones noted that the family and its supporters have announced plans for an April 15 march from the Nostrand Avenue subway stop to the 79th Precinct at 263 Tomkins Avenue and recounted that she called the precinct in the wake of the Post story.

“They are denying that they ever said that. I think they threw this out there because of the march,” Brazell-Jones said. “The detective on the case asked me if I talked to anyone.”

The victim’s mother also voiced a feeling of disproportionate justice that has come up a number of times as her family, friends, and members of the gay community have demanded action on the killing. Brazell-Jones made specific mention of the enormous police effort undertaken to solve the February 25 murder of Imette St. Guillen, which resulted in Tuesday’s indictment of Darryl Littlejohn, the bouncer at the SoHo bar, The Falls, where that victim was last seen.

“I am very unhappy when this young lady’s case came about to see what amazing energy the police showed on that compared to this case,” Brazell-Jones told Gay City News in a telephone interview Tuesday.

She also said that the man identified in the Post story was not a boyfriend of her late son, but rather “an acquaintance… He knew our family very well.”

Asked if she had seen the man lately, Brazell-Jones said, “No I haven’t,” adding that she does not know his current whereabouts. But, she said, police had never identified him to the family as person of interest in the case.

Despite her obvious frustration with and suspicion of the police handling of her son’s murder, Brazell-Jones singled out the 79th Precinct’s community affairs office for its help in working out details for the April 15 march and rally.

The victim’s mother is not the only person to express frustration with the pace of the Brazell murder investigation. At a March 2005 vigil for Brazell outside the Nostrand Avenue subway station, an April town hall meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and a June City Hall press conference, leaders in the LGBT people of color community, advocates from the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, and elected officials pressed for a more aggressive effort to solve the crime.

The June beating of 27-year-old Dwan Prince, a gay man and a building porter, by his neighbors in Brownsville, Brooklyn, heightened concerns that gay men of color face an unacceptable risk of violence in the city.

At Brooklyn Borough Hall last April, Marvin Paige, of the gay advocacy group Black Men’s Exchange, said, “Had Rashawn Brazell been a young white man, this murder would have been news for days.”

But police are insisting that the murder remains a priority.

“It hits the detectives, it bothers the supervisors involved, for the simple fact that it’s a 19-year-old kid who was somebody’s son,” a source told Gay City News.

And not all the frustration has been aimed at the police. At the City Hall press conference last June, Councilwoman Leticia James, an African American who represents Fort Greene and Crown Heights, a district adjacent to the one where Brazell lived, said, “Unfortunately, in central Brooklyn there is a conspiracy of silence,” terming the response from some elected officials “appalling.”

“Homophobia does exist in the black community,” she said. “It is our dirty little secret.”

Plans for the April 15 march, the day when Rashawn would have turned 21, call for participants to gather between noon and 1 p.m. at Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street near the A train station. At 1 p.m., marchers will proceed the roughly 15 blocks to the 79th Precinct for a rally.

For more information on the march and rally and on the scholarship fund established to help support college-bound African-American New York youth, visit rashawnbrazell.com or call the Anti-Violence Project at 212-714-1184.

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