Nearly two months after the discovery of body parts, family, activists meet with police, lawmakers
Six weeks after the gruesome discovery of a murdered young man’s limbs inside a Brooklyn subway tunnel, the gay victim’s mother called upon police officials and the media to more widely publicize the crime in order to apprehend her son’s killer. “I’m not here to point the fingers at anybody. I’m here for help,” said Desire Brazell at an April 4 town hall meeting in an ornate ceremonial chamber at Brooklyn Borough Hall crowded with nearly 100 politicians, community members and gay activists.
Ms. Brazell has not addressed the media since the week of February 14, when a transit worker stumbled upon the legs and an arm of 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell, an African-American man, just north of the Nostrand Avenue station on the A line track, and the subsequent discovery days later of Rashawn’s torso parts at a Greenpoint recycling plant. This Monday night, addressing an audience noticeably hushed after delivering a respectful ovation as she strode to the microphone, Ms. Brazell asked, “Why all this pertaining to this child? That same person,” she said, referring to her son’s killer, “can be around another child, pretending to be somebody they’re not.”
Seated behind her, on a high wooden dais inside the refurbished courtroom, sat the borough’s chief of patrol, Inspector Thomas Moran, and the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad’s commander, Lieutenant John Cornicello, who has direct oversight on the murder investigation.
Clarence Patton, of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, moderated the town hall event, organized on behalf of community-based groups with gay African-American constituencies who want to publicize the case and put pressure on the police to apprehend those responsible.
David Curry of People of Color in Crisis, joined another panelist, Clarence McMillan, a 19-year-old who said he was an acquaintance of Rashawn’s, in denouncing violence against gay, black men.
Lt. Cornicello said that detectives have yet to establish a motive or locate the site of the crime which likely contains valuable forensics evidence.
Since there is no evidence that anti-gay bias played a factor, police have not designated the murder a hate crime. Early speculation raised the possibility that another gay man with whom Brazell had a romantic connection may have murdered him, a scenario that police officials have since discounted. During his remarks, Cornicello acknowledged that because of various investigative leads, he would not comment on the case with any degree of specificity, “We have not ruled anything out,” prompting one audience member to shout, “What have you ruled in?”
Other than that outburst, the meeting proceeded without incident, with various community members addressing the panelists, including one elected official Democratic City Councilwoman Leticia James. Some speakers expressed frustration that no arrests have been made.
The police have distributed flyers and posters featuring a mug shot of the victim taken during a January misdemeanor arrest. Ms. Brazell mentioned that not enough posters have been distributed and voiced objection to the use of a mug shot, rather than a family photo that has been given to the police. Cornicello said that the mug shot was the only available photograph immediately after the body parts’ discovery and that the family image will be used on subsequent posters advertising a $2,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of a suspect.
The appearance of various officials, including the borough president, Marty Markowitz, and Daniel Murphy, a community affairs specialist with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, who expressed outrage with the brutal crime, indicated that gay activists had succeeded in garnering the attention of top borough officials.
James, who represents the district neighboring Ms. Brazell’s, said that she will hold a news conference to call on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to raise the reward amount to at least $10,000. James, who won a 2003 special election to replace James Davis, who was gunned down in the Council’s gallery by a gay political opponent, Othniel Askew, himself shot dead by a police officer, demanded that police officials assign more investigators to the Brazell case. James said that during the Council’s budget negotiations she will push for more funding for anger management programs.
James’ criticism of the reward amount struck a chord, one man rising to remind the audience that the day was the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. Another man, 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,” demanding that the reward for finding who is responsible for “this hideous taking of a young black man’s life be raised.”
Selinda Burns, a member of the Unity Fellowship Church, a congregation of gay and lesbian Christians, said, “We don’t need no more sacrificial lambs to wake us up.”
Darrel White, an aide to Albert Vann, the Brazells’ city councilman, exhorted the crowd to attend community liaison meetings at the 79th Precinct. “You got to get out and do the things you know you need to be doing,” White said.
One city police officer, Eric Adams, the president of One Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement, described the city’s detective force as the “cream of the crop” and said he was confident that homicide investigators were diligently working to break the case, adding that police “brass and City Hall are another story.” Adams offered to coordinate with gay and lesbian groups to address the violence committed against young gay blacks, adding that “there are sick minds out there that play on the dislike” of certain groups of people.
By the end of the evening, Adams, the Unity Fellowship Church, and Walt Weiss, a gay youth advocate, had increased the reward to $5,000 with donations from their organizations.
During his remarks, Patton said the Anti-Violence Project has documented 37 homicides against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered city residents between 2003-2004, of which two-thirds were motivated by bias against LGBT people and half remain unsolved.
One audience member criticized the police for not solving a series of gay black murders. “Murders happen, nothing results,” he said. Cornicello responded that if the evidence demonstrates that bias played a role in the Brazell murder, detectives will investigate it as a hate crime, adding that there “is no greater value in solving crimes” than getting the community’s help, adding that “there’s probably more than one person who knows about” what happened to Brazell.
After the forum, Cornicello declined to elaborate on that remark. On Tuesday, a detective investigating the murder said that it is a frustrating kind of case because “you take one step forward and two steps back,” adding, “We’re out there every day speaking to people. As far as pressure from the brass goes, if it gets more media attention, that’s good—you get more calls.” The investigator said that as far as the importance police have placed on solving the case, “I rank it up there, not because of pressure from the media or police brass, but because this was a heinous crime that no parent should have to go through.” The detective said that police are still searching for Rashawn’s head and an arm.