Every year is deadly in Duval, and this year is shaping up to be terrifyingly lethal for one of the most vulnerable groups in our community.
February kicked off a spate of murders of trans women and one femme gay man who did drag, all persons of color. As the killings have continued, reactions have run the gamut, from abject fear to calls to defund JSO to pleas for cooperation with authorities. People are afraid and angry; they want justice and they want answers.
Of the five people shot since February, only one survived; her ex-boyfriend has been arrested and charged with attempted murder. His is the only arrest thus far; nor have police publicly acknowledged having any suspects in the killings. The lack of arrests and suspects is feeding the belief shared by many that the four slayings are the work of a serial killer. Honestly, it’s hard to look at the similarities—all shootings, all persons of color, three trans women and one femme gay man, and at least one news outlet has reported that they knew one another through a traveling drag show—and not see serial killer in big, bold letters. But that’s not what the cops are seeing, not officially. Even unofficially, whispers are that the killings are unrelated.
I’ll admit to having some doubts, perhaps due my murder investigation education courtesy of cable television, but for now I’ll take the police at their word.
So could this happen? Could there be four separate killers? Possibly.
Trans women of color are some of the most vulnerable people in our society; they are statistically among the most likely to be victims of crime and violence. The reasons are many, but often start with simple economics: trans women of color have among the highest unemployment rates, up to four times that of the general population. Lack of employment correlates to disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness, depression, addiction, domestic violence, suicide, etc. To survive, some turn to means outside the legal economy, which can lead to arrests, convictions and the permanent stigma associated therewith, making employment an even more insurmountable goal, and imbuing individuals with negative perceptions of authority that makes them less likely to report crimes against them.
Take away the paycheck and the rest of the dominoes start falling, leading down a wormhole of misery. It also makes an easy target. The same would be true for anyone.
So what are we to do as a community to better protect and, not just tolerate, but embrace our trans brethren? For even after the murders are solved, God willing, the problems of unemployment, poverty, addiction, etc., will continue. We obviously need better services, such as mental health and drug treatment, and public awareness; we could also do with some major changes to our criminal justice system. There are human beings walking these city streets with nowhere to go, making a living the only way they know how, and all because they got kicked out as a teen, did what they could to survive, and now they have to check that blasted box on job applications, so they never get hired. Plus, they probably can’t vote.
Untenable doesn’t even begin to describe such a circumstance. Any person with compassion should be ashamed this happens in America.
In addition to revealing a terrible truth about how our country treats the vulnerable, the five shootings have done much to expose a blind spot in local law enforcement, such as misgendering victims even after learning they were trans. Even those who can understand how such seems like a petty complaint to cops busting their hump to bring a killer to justice can probably understand how it feels like a terrible affront to see a friend denied the dignity of their proper pronoun and chosen name in death, particularly as these are things for which she probably fought hard and sacrificed so much in life, possibly including her own.
To their credit, JSO seems willing to learn and improve on past mistakes and has scheduled a public meeting to discuss the investigations, safety, its policies and training with members of the LGBT community.
It’s tragic that it took a murder spree, and time will tell how serious police are about improving relations with the LGBT citizens they serve, but JSO deserves credit where credit is due. It is now up to us, the community, to assist authorities in their efforts to solve crimes and serve us better. Police can’t do it alone, so please, if you know anything about the murders, or just have insight that can improve the way JSO functions, come to the meeting or call in a tip. You could help give justice to an innocent victim.
JSO Sheriff’s watch meeting, 7 p.m. Aug. 2, FSCJ Downtown, Auditorium A1068, 101 W. State St., coj.net.