Racism charges sidetrack Brawley case. Family's advisers cite `400 years' of oppression
The case of Tawana Brawley, a black teen-ager who says she was sexually assaulted and kidnapped for four days by white men last November, continues to cast its uneasy shadow in New York State. Yesterday, advisers to the Brawley family said Miss Brawley's mother, Glenda, will not reconsider her refusal to testify before a grand jury.
After initial cooperation with local authorities, the family has refused to answer any more questions, on the advice of their attorneys and advisers - a trio of New York City black activists. The Brawleys and their advisers say that as blacks they will only be victims of racism in the criminal justice system. They accuse both local and state officials with a cover-up in the case.
In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on Monday, State Supreme Court Justice Angelo Ingrassia ordered that Mrs. Brawley be fined and jailed 30 days if she did not cooperate. Family advisers, meanwhile, promised to help Mrs. Brawley resist arrest by seeking asylum in a black church, where she will be surrounded by supporters.
State Attorney General Robert Abrams, appointed as a special prosecutor by Gov. Mario Cuomo after local officials declined to prosecute the case, said the mother would not be arrested if she appeared before the grand jury, which meets again today.
Mr. Abrams has further said the state's investigation into the allegations may end unless the family cooperates.
In a story that shocked New Yorkers and added to the sense that racial problems were deeply imbedded in the state, Miss Brawley said last November that she had been abducted and held by at least six white men, one of whom flashed a police-like badge. When she was found after four days, she was dazed, smeared with animal excrement, and had racial slurs written on her body.
But reports of the investigation have raised skepticism about the sketchy version of events. Reports that Miss Brawley was seen during the time she was gone have led some to say she had simply run away.
Other than two very brief discussions after Miss Brawley was found, there has been no explanation from the teen-ager as to what happened during her disappearance.
Attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, and the Rev. Mr. Al Sharpton, who have counseled the family, have repeatedly promised to tell the full story and then changed their plans.
New Yorkers are divided over the tactics of Mssrs. Maddox, Mason, and Sharpton, who have demanded special prosecutors and condemned state officials.
Reactions range from those who feel the black activists have exploited the case for publicity to those who say that only through this type of challenge can justice be done.
At a press conference in Poughkeepsie on Monday, Abrams said that the attorneys' advice to Mrs. Brawley was ``irresponsible and disastrous.'' Some of the pronouncements from the advisers, such as likening a state official to Adolf Hitler or accusing the Irish Republican Army of involvement in the case, have been called ``drivel.''
Others defend the attorneys. It was their insistence on getting a special prosecutor in the Howard Beach case, lwhere a young black man was chased to his death by white teens, that led to the successful prosecution of the case, defenders say. And the crowds that came to Poughkeepsie on Monday - nearly 300 strong - to protest the state action are testimony to their grassroots support.
In the courtroom earlier this week, Maddox and Mason told Judge Ingrassia that 400 years of oppression was riding on this case, and that ``African-Americans ... are thoroughly disgusted at being told by grand juries that they are hallucinating and what they said happened to them is a hoax.''
The judge asked the attorneys for some factual issues that could explain Mrs. Brawley's decision to ignore the subpoena to appear before the grand jury. Maddox replied that there were factual issues, but that they would not do any good, since his client did not have a chance of getting justice in New York.
New York officials deny this. Ingrassia refused to step down from the case Monday at the request of the attorneys, saying he would render a fair and impartial decision. Governor Cuomo has continued to stand behind Abrams as able to properly investigate the case.
Tawana Brawley, who did not take part in the proceedings this week, remains in high school upstate, avoiding the media and the justice system. The family's public accusations that law enforcement officials have participated in a cover-up have not been answered.
And critics' suggestions that Miss Brawley may have run away for a wide variety of reasons also remain unanswered. Authorities say there is little evidence to support Miss Brawley's charges.