Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rashawn Brazell should be alive today on his 21st birthday

On such a glorious spring day as today was in New York City, a few of us heard the call to participate in a noon-time vigil march and rally in memory of Rashawn Brazell, who would have been celebrating his 21st birthday today. His mother, Desire Brazell (above), a few family members and friends led participants from the Nostrand Avenue subway station (at Fulton Street) to the door of the 79th NYPD Police Precinct station. Rashawn's dismembered body was found in plastic bags at two separate sites in Brooklyn back in February of 2005 (one of the bags was found underground a inside the subway tunnel a few feet from the Nordstrand Ave. subway platform).

As with other unresolved crimes, the death of Rashawn, as gruesome a slaying as there has been in this city, has not nearly received the same amount of attention or investigative resources as other recent murder cases. At the 79th Precinct Ms. Brazell demanded equal resources be spent to find her son's murderer or murderers as in other higher-profile cases.

Some community leaders, including City Councilmember Leticia James, GHMC Interim Executive Director Marjorie Harris, the Reverend Ralph "Chaz" Crowder, Eric Adams of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement and Larry Lyons and Mervyn Marcano (who launched the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund in the wake of the murder) were present, as well as members of the Audre Lorde Project and the New York City Anti-Violence Project. I also spotted bloggers Donald Agarrat and Bernard Tarver, among others.

Some media was there, including a photographer from one of the local gay news-weeklies and a FOX-5 cameraman but I didn't see any actual reporters interviewing marchers. I also had my camera with me and took a good amount of photographs some of which you can see here (just as I documented a candle-light vigil that took place in March of 2005).

And yet, as I walked along the crowd, my thoughts kept me bringing to blogger J. Bernard Jone's comments from May of 2005. I felt a bit removed and sad about having to be present at a spectacle (a march) that should not have reason for being (nobody had the right to take Rashawn's life in such a brutal fashion at such a young age). I only greeted those people I knew beforehand, trying to be respectful. And yet, by taking these pictures I also found myself feeling a bit awkward in capturing the raw emotions of the people that truly knew him. No disrespect to the organizations that were represented today, but some of their speeches rang somewhat hollow to me in comparisson to the true pain expressed by people who did know Rashawn. Particularly touching was Councilmember Leticia James leading us all to sing Stevie Wonder's version of "Happy Birthday" which truly captured the moment and heartfelt comments from one of Rashawn's cousins and one of his friends.

And yet, despite my own personal mixed emotions, it still needed to happen. Despite the relative low turn-out it is the only way that Rashawn's murder will be in the community's general consciousness as well as the NYPD's.

The one thing that I do appreciate tremendously is the role of Ms. Brazell in keeping her son's memory alive. It truly takes bravery and strength to be as visible and vocal about a crime such as this, particularly if the victim is your son. I was glad that Ms. Hill brought attention to Ms. Brazell's tiredless and dignified search for justice. For a moment, we all applauded and truly embraced Ms. Brazell with all our love.

And then there's the images of those people on the porches and sidewalks, who wanted to know just what was going on. Some people passed literature to them and most would read it and nod. I was particularly struck by a black priest standing outside his church. I truly hope that those people on the sidewalks carried something home from having witnessed the march and tell others about Rashawn so that his name will go on.

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