In February of this year, a young black gay man named Rashawn Brazell was murdered in New York city. His body was dismembered, to be found later in garbage backs place in various places along New York’s subway system. Brazell’s murder did not make headlines, or inspire mass demonstrations, as did the murder of Matthew Sheppard. It did, however, resonate with a number of black gay men — myself included — who were connected through email and blogging, and used both to raise awareness of Brazell’s murder, and the realities surrounding it.
Some of us blogged about our dismay and sadness at both Brazell’s murder and how it was (or wasn’t) covered in the media, and others gave voice to their anger at the same. We all blogged to raise awareness of Rashawn’s murder and issues related to it, and out of that blogging came action (PDF Document).
Within several weeks of Brazell’s killing, people began blogging about the incident. Today, there are at least 10 sites, including rashawnbrazell.com, that have discussed his murder.
Some bloggers are trying to keep the story alive, while others are trying to organize.
Terrance Heath, 36, who lives in Washington, blogged about Brazell to raise awareness outside of New York. His site, republicoft.com, receives about 1,000 hits a day. "If even that many people can hear about this case," he said, "then maybe it will make a difference. So that the next young African-American gay man doesn’t find himself in the situation that Rashawn did."
With the help of organizations like People of Color in Crisis and Gay Men of African Descent, bloggers planned a vigil, then a town hall meeting in which City Councilwoman Letitia James, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and the Unity Fellowship Church of Brooklyn volunteered funds to increase the reward. It has grown from $2,000 to $12,000.
… Bloggers launched the Rashawn Brazell Collective in March and, along with it, a collaborative Web site. It includes contact information for the detectives working on the case and details on upcoming events.
Others used their blogs to share information drawn from their skills and experience. "Brotha to Brotha," written by a former television network producer, included tips on contacting ABC and CBS. Donald Agarrat, 35, a Web designer, built rashawnbrazell.com.
While their initial meetings were spurred by tragedy, several bloggers are heartened to see a community forming.
"We use the term ‘blogfam,’" Agarrat said. "I’ve seen other collectives and other people who blog together, but I feel really lucky to be part of this tight network."
It’s a network that has encompassed members of Rashawn’s family. Both his mother and his aunt commented on my blog post about Rasahwn, expressing their gratitude for the attention bloggers have focused on Rashawn’s murder. Several of us who blogged about Rashawn’s murder are connected through an online community that came into being several years ago, as an email listserve for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people of color.
It’s important to understand that an online community brought about the level of awareness of Rashawn’s murder and its relevance to issues facing black gay men today. It’s the existence of that community that connected the people involved in the activities to raise awareness in the wake of Rashawn’s murder; through the use of technology to connect people with common interests across distances. Being connected in that way, and blogging, it means we were able to report on Rashawn’s murder and its personal impact in a way that regular media either couldn’t or didn’t.
As noted by one person in the article, some people couldn’t even find space in their reports to mention his name. Those of us blogging about Rashawn knew his name and, even if we didn’t know him personally, something of his life because we’d all lived some part of it in our own ways. As someone said in the article, it’s the bloggers who brought community organizations together to address what happened and to meet related needs in the community.
If Rashawn’s murder is solved, it will be in some part because that community of bloggers kept his story alive. If there are fewer victims like Rashawn Brazell in the future, it will be in some small part because of the work engendered by that community of bloggers. It’s one life, and one story, but also one more way that individuals and communities can be connected and empowered through blogging.