25 transgender people have been murdered in 2017, and many of their cases are unsolved

The number of transgender people who die by homicide continues to climb this year - and the victims were mostly women of color.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

On Friday, several men on Detroit’s west side attacked a black transgender woman, shooting her four times in the back and left arm. She has two bullets lodged near her spine, according to Fox 2 Detroit, but she is in stable condition. Recent reports indicate that this violence is a common threat for black trans women.

Monday is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to memorialize the transgender people who were killed due to transphobia and discriminatory circumstances that put transgender people’s lives at greater risk. So far this year, at least 25 transgender people have been killed. The victims were mostly women of color, who were killed by men they knew, police officers, or assailants who are still unknown.

According to a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Trans People of Color Coalition report released last week, 84 percent of the victims were people of color and 80 percent were women. Out of the 102 transgender people killed since 2013, 87 were trans people of color, and there are likely more deaths than HRC could document, given the fact that many media outlets and police departments do not always provide an accurate account of the person’s gender.

In 2013, when HRC first began counting these deaths, they found 19 cases. In 2014, there was a dip in the number of deaths HRC was aware of, but the number of deaths each year has steadily increased since then. Most of the deaths were from gunshot wounds. Since 2013, 55 victims were killed in the South, with as many as 10 trans people killed in Louisiana. The report notes that this region generally has fewer legal protections for the LGBTQ community, including for hate crimes.

Fourteen out of 25 victims’ murders are unsolved, which amounts to over half of the murders. Looking at all murders, one-third of homicide cases result in the killer never being identified. As Cheryl L. Neely wrote in her 2015 book, You’re dead — So What? Media, Police, and the Invisibility of Black Women as Victims of Homicide, black women are often ignored by the media in its coverage of sexual violence and homicide:

Therefore, race- or gender-only approaches eclipse black women’s experiences as victims of violence and are limited in explaining their unique position of vulnerability. Furthermore, these feelings of vulnerability are rooted in a historical context — namely the inherent bias of the criminal justice system since courts routinely have been reluctant to prosecute rape and other crimes of sexual violence against black women, irrespective of the race of the accused. Ultimately, black women have long been disregarded as “legitimate” victims due in part to sexually deviant stereotypes.

According to two researchers from Indiana University and Ohio University, black women who go missing receive limited attention, negative attention or no attention at all. And too often, the media does not cover the stories of missing black women when they are linked to crime, mental illness, and “other issues to suggest they were some how responsible or deserving of their predicament,” according to the 2016 journal article.

Transgender people also face similar, if not higher, rates of intimate partner violence compared to cisgender people in the LGBTQ community, research shows, particularly when it comes to dating violence and sexual assault, according to a 2014 research article.

The arguably severe police reactions to tense situations involving people who are mentally ill should also be recognized as one of the myriad reasons for the deaths of trans people this year. Three of the victims — Sean Ryan Hake, Scout Schultz, and Kiwi Herring — were killed during altercations with police. After Hake’s mother called 911 to report that her son was acting suicidal and violent. Police say Hake threatened his mother and the District Attorney argued that the shooting was justified. Hake’s family brought a lawsuit against the department and said police used excessive force. The case is now in mediation.

Schultz died in a similar incident when police were called to the scene while Schultz was having a mental breakdown. Schultz’s family attorney said officers overreacted and the situation is being investigated by Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Kiwi Herring was killed by officers after neighbors called police during an argument Herring had with one of her neighbors. Police say she had a knife and had stabbed her neighbor, but it was not clear how many shots had been fired. Her sister told The Huffington Post she heard “four shots and then a second set of three more.”

According to a 2015 Washington Post analysis that analyzed nearly 400 police killings, about 25 percent of people shot and killed by police in the first half of 2015 were identified as having a mental illness. Thirty-nine percent of trans people who participated in the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported they experienced serious psychological distress during the month before completing the survey. According to a 2014 report from the Williams Institute and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 41 percent of trans people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Although Trans Day of Remembrance is usually focused on those who were murdered, not those who died by suicide, Katelyn Burns writes for The Establishment that there are many suicides of trans people that the public will never know about:

There are about 42,773 suicides in the United States alone every year, and not all of them left notes behind explaining why. The only reason we know that 41% of trans people have attempted suicide is because those trans people survived to both come out and also to be counted. How many closeted trans people have attempted suicide? And an even scarier question, how many trans people have taken their own lives without ever letting anyone else know they were trans?

In addition to all of the reasons that trans people are targeted, including misogynoir for black trans women, trans people are grappling with discrimination, which puts them at greater risk for being victims of violence. Higher rates of homelessness, as well as housing and workplace discrimination play a major role in enabling violence against trans people, especially trans women of color. According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey (USTS), one in five respondents participated in some kind of underground economy for income and those who participated in sex work were more likely to have experienced violence. It doesn’t help matters that nearly half of Black and Latinx trans women who have had interactions with police say they were harassed or mistreated by officers.

The last known trans person murdered this year was Candace Towns. Towns, a 30 year-old black transgender woman was found shot to death in a driveway. Her best friend, Malaysa Monroe, said of her friend, “If I needed anything she would give it to me. She would give me the clothes off her back.”