Advocates say police aren't doing enough to investigate killings of trans people

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A number of transgender people have been killed in the past few weeks and are being misgendered in death.

Since June 30, at least five people in the transgender and nonbinary community have been found dead in the United States. Most of these deaths are being investigated as homicides.

But police and media reports have deadnamed and misgendered many of victims, which makes it harder for their loved ones to seek justice, LGBTQ advocates say. "Deadnaming" is the practice of referring to a person by a previous name that they no longer use.

Merci Mack, a Black trans woman, was killed in Dallas on June 30. Mack, who was found unconscious in a parking lot and suffering from a gunshot wound, died at the scene. She was later deadnamed by police and in media reports.

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In Louisiana, Draya McCarty and Shakie Peters, both Black trans women, were found dead within the past week. The death of McCarty, who was found dead in Baton Rouge, has not so far been ruled a homicide, but advocates are watching for additional information.

Peters, whose first name is spelled "Shaki" in some reports, was found dead on July 1 near Amite City and was initially misidentified as a man by the local sheriff's office. Police are investigating her death as a homicide.

Louisiana Trans Advocates, an advocacy and social support organization, has called for law enforcement agencies investigating these women's deaths to release more information to the public and to their families. They are also calling for the police and members of the press to correct the name and gender they use for Peters.

"Were it not for the advocacy of the family members of both Shakie and Draya, Louisiana Trans Advocates would not have learned of these two murders at all," the group said in a press release on July 4.

A Black trans woman, Bree Black, who also went by the name "Nuk," was shot on July 3 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Police were called to her residence, and Black was pronounced dead shortly after they arrived. Black has also been deadnamed and misgendered in media reports.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, an estimated 78% of all tracked deaths of transgender people from 2013 to the present has included misgendering in media or by law enforcement. Since HRC began its tracking, the number of trans people reported killed by this point of the year has never been this high. At least 21 transgender or gender-nonconforming people so far have died by violent means in 2020. In 2019, at least 27 transgender people were slain.
Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign's Trans Justice Initiative, said, "This is the deadliest period we have on record. While we are still awaiting facts on the ground, it is clear that members of our beloved community are being killed because of who they are. Racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia are destroying lives and taking away our loved ones."

According to the Miami Herald, there hasn't been any other information released about Black's death. Tiffany Burks, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, told the Herald, "We want some immediate answers to what's going on and we want this investigation to be done with full integrity." The Broward Sheriff's Office used Bree Black's deadname and the name "NUK" in a press release about her death. The office's spokesman, Sgt. Donald Prichard, said that police had to release their deadname because it was part of the public record, and that they had been told by Black's family that "NUK" was her chosen name.

Mariah Moore, who is an organizing program associate for the Transgender Law Center and serves on an LGBTQ task force created by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, said of police and press deadnaming and misgendering Black trans women: "It's quite simple to see, if you find a woman on the ground and she has perished, and her identity documents read differently than how she presents, that should be a trigger in your mind to say this person may be of the trans community."

Dylan Waguespack, president of the board of Louisiana Trans Advocates,  said that he sees this as "institutionalized transphobia" on the part of police, and that because media often use the information provided by police, the press shares inaccurate information. That information often leads to people in the LGBTQ community being unable to recognize victims and find out details or share information relevant to their killing.

"We're talking about police who, in the case of a Black trans woman who is still alive, would be showing their bias against this person and overpolicing this person and acting violent toward this person at a rate that is disproportionate to cisgender people and white people," Waguespack said.

He added, "I think it's going to take a lot more than a training specific to 'What does law enforcement do when a trans person is found murdered?' to change that because it all goes back to the very essence of what our law enforcement agencies do in our communities and in the context of Black trans women. They are written off by police as criminals and are not seen as victims, and that carries through their death."

Moore said reporters work closely with police in creating their stories, and often refuse to believe the word of trans people who knew the deceased, making it difficult for trans people to convince the media of the deceased's accurate gender and name.

"When we contact the media to let them know 'Hey, you have misgendered our community members,' it's almost like they feel like they have to come at us and question our validity as people and our word. We have to prove everything beyond a reasonable doubt about this person's existence — even if we knew them," Moore said.

Waguespack said that the misgendering, deadnaming, and withholding of information by police following the possible or clear killing of a Black trans woman are part of an overall pattern of police acting as enforcers of gender norms. He pointed to Black trans women being profiled by police as sex workers for standing outside and essentially being criminalized for existing in public as an example.

Moore said that advocates for the well-being and equality of Black trans women must prioritize discussions about police and prison treatment of Black trans women in life as well as death. "Before we even talk about the murders of trans people and how we are characterized and represented, even in death, we also have to talk about the way we are treated when we are alive — the ways that they have been physically harmed, mentally harmed, and harmed inside of the prison-industrial complex," she said.

The violence against transgender and nonbinary people continued over the long holiday weekend. Summer Taylor, a white nonbinary protester, was killed in Seattle after they were plowed into by a car being driven at high speed during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Taylor has been misgendered in the media as well as by political leaders. Diaz Love, another nonbinary protester, was also injured by the car that night.
Love wrote on Facebook on Sunday, "I'm alive and stable. In a lot of pain. I cannot believe Summer was murdered. If they thought this murder would make us back down, they were wrong. Very wrong."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.