All life is precious, and no human being has greater value than any other. When an innocent person is murdered, we all suffer from the loss of life, potential, and the love shared by that individual. It is especially cruel when the death is random or the consequence of the selfish, criminal actions of others who do not value life and freedom.
It is also cruel when a tragedy is exploited for political gain and individuals are used to advance a narrative that overshadows the lives they lived. Unfortunately, even when the intentions are just, the exploitation is nevertheless wrong.
Ashlee Marie Preston, a prominent transgender activist, illustrated how compassion and advocacy can often create unnecessary fear and outrage by tweeting, “3 black trans women have been murdered within a couple of days of one another. When we whisper, no one hears us. When we yell; we’re gaslighted, demonized, and told we’re being intense. This is a crisis. All across America; my sisters are being erased. Will you stand up for us?”
Echoing the sentiment, Human Rights Campaign declared, “It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive. This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color — particularly Black transgender women — must cease.”
A spokesperson for the LGBT advocacy organization Anti-Violence Project argued, “Without safety and access to the workforce, healthcare, housing, and other critical areas of public life, Black trans women continue to be made disposable and denied the most the basic necessities needed to live a full life.” The organization released a report in 2017 on anti-LGBT violence and concluded, “For the last five years, NCAVP has documented a consistent and steadily rising number of reports of homicides of transgender women of color, which continued into 2017.”
In a tweet identifying a transgender woman who was recently found murdered in Philadelphia, the LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal demanded, “Stop killing black trans women.”
Discussing this recent murder, the above linked Philadelphia paper cited a survey stating, “The National Center for Transgender Equality released a survey of 28,000 transgender people in 2015, in which nearly one in 10 respondents said they were physically attacked in the last year because of being transgender. Transgender women of color were four times as likely as other transgender people to have been attacked at gunpoint.”
Discussing the LGBT community’s concerns over the safety of holding a public memorial, one transgender person said, “I’m scared that someone might follow me home from a rally, that someone might follow me home from work. I’m in fear.”
There is, however, one significant issue concerning the three transgender people cited in the above outcries that illustrates a serious narrative flaw: none of them were murdered for being transgender.
Claire Legato, a 21-year-old transgender person, was shot on April 15 of this year and died from those injuries on May 14 in Cleveland, Ohio. Muhlaysia Booker, a 23-year-old transgender person, was shot and killed on May 18 of this year in Dallas, Texas. Michelle “Tamika” Washington, also known as Michelle Simone on social media, a 40-year-old transgender person, was shot and killed on May 19 of this year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A
ll three are the subjects of ongoing criminal investigations, with two suspects under arrest. Muhlaysia Booker was previously involved in a viral video assault that occurred in mid-April.
According to police, Legato was at home with Legato’s mother and a man named John Booth. Legato’s mother was in an escalated argument with Booth, accusing him of stealing her tax refund check. During the altercation, Claire confronted Booth then left the house. Booth followed Claire and shot Claire in the head. Booth, 61, is charged with assault in connection with the shooting.
There is no indication the violence occurred due to Claire’s transgender identity or the relationship Claire and Claire’s mother had to Booth. Almost surely both knew of Claire’s transition. Claire, aged 21, was clearly in an incredibly unsafe environment that appears to have included domestic violence. A dispute over money and Booth’s willingness to use deadly force with a gun during an altercation tells us the danger Claire was living in. The shooting happened around 4 a.m.
Tamika Washington, according to police, was shot multiple times around 5 a.m. and died nearly a half hour later in the hospital. Washington’s alleged killer, Troy Bailey, 28, has been arrested and police believe the murder was the result of an attempted robbery, as neither individual knew each other. According to Philadelphia Gay News, Bailey has been charged with “murder, possession of a firearm with an altered manufacturer’s number and violations for carrying a firearm as a former convict and without a license, among other crime.” Washington was a well-known transgender person and LGBT activist.
Muhlaysia Booker is a unique case, having also been assaulted in a widely shared video showing a group of men viciously beating Booker. Booker accidentally backed into another car on the road and the driver drove Booker off the road in an attempt to prevent Booker from fleeing. According to the victim, the other driver pointed a gun at Booker and demanded Booker pay for the damage to his car before he would allow Booker to leave. A crowd gathered around the altercation, and an unidentified person offered Edward Dominic Thomas, 29, $200 to beat Booker.
The video of the incident shows the beating in progress as a large crowd shouts and cheers while surrounding them as multiple men violently attack Booker. Although Out Magazine indicated the video shows homophobic and misogynistic slurs being hurled from bystanders and Booker reported the attackers used homophobic slurs, this is not indicated clearly by the video or confirmed by police.
Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2019, and has a prior history of family assault, burglary, and the illegal carrying of a weapon. During an interview with police, he admitted to the assault but claimed not to have engaged in any derogatory language towards the victim. No other witnesses’ statements have been released or other arrests associated with the attack as of this writing.
The attack appears to be a highly escalated case of road rage and mob violence. There is no other evidence to indicate the attackers knew Booker, that Booker was transgender, or that the assault was motivated by Booker’s gender identity. At a rally after the first assault, Booker told the crowd, “This time I can stand before you,” alluding to the fact that when violence against black transgender people receives any kind of attention, it’s usually because that person has been killed: “In other scenarios, we are at a memorial.”
On May 19, several weeks later, around 6:40 a.m., Booker was found dead of gunshot wounds on a street. The police are currently investigating but have found no evidence to address if the murder was retaliatory or bias-motivated. There are no current suspects or witnesses to the crime.
All three of these tragedies appear to be either random violence or domestic violence, and this is indeed a vital concern for our society. A person should not fear being severely beaten over a minor car accident in broad daylight as a crowd cheers, nor should a person be the victim of a robbery walking along a street. A person should certainly feel safe in their own home with his or her family.
But these are dangers everyone faces in high-crime areas or even simply due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is why conservatives advocate so strongly for gun rights and ownership as a powerful tool of personal protection. But to assume these tragedies are somehow connected by transgender identity or race is not only unsupported by the evidence, but also intentionally incites fear and paranoia in the name of innocent victims.
There is no evidence of targeted violence against transgender people of color or otherwise, and there is no evidence of a specific threat of LGBT individuals publicly gathering in a group or traveling alone on their daily business. To claim a specific pattern of violence due solely to shared characteristics of the murder victims is misleading and unethical. Worst of all, it causes members of those minority groups to feel their own sense of freedom and security must be restricted for no reason at all.
No new law, task force, or awareness campaign is going to be able to address these crimes if focused on the completely irrelevant personal and physical characteristics of the victims in this narrow case. To protect transgender women, or anyone else living in our vast country filled with diversity and various dangers and threats, we must embrace personal protection and personal responsibility in our daily actions.
Nothing good happens after 3 a.m., never engage with an angry person waving a gun at you, and always, always, be able to defend yourself and your family if a threat appears. This is good advice for everyone.
LGBT people don’t need special protections. We just need to be aware of the dangers around us.