The Black Trans Lives Taken During Pride Month
During Pride Month, the epidemic of violence against Black trans women continued.
by Jon Greig
June 30, 2020 at 9:01 pm
The lives of trans people continue to be lost at an alarming rate each year despite efforts by advocacy groups to raise awareness and provide protection to those in need.
The deaths of Riah Milton in Liberty Township, Ohio, and Dominique Fells in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, galvanized protests in June that began over the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported that at least 17 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were fatally shot or killed but that this number is considered a vast undercount because so much of the violence perpetrated against trans people goes unreported.
According to the HRC, Black trans women are the most at risk, representing 91% of the reported murders of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2019. More than 80% of victims were under the age of 30.
People have come out across the globe to protest for Black trans lives, and activists have urged supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to speak out for Black trans people who are being killed both by white people and their own community.
During Pride Month, at least three Black trans women were killed, and there were many other instances of violence instigated against trans people. Here are a few of the trans lives lost during Pride Month.
Dominique Rem’mie Fells
Fells was found dead in Philadelphia on June 8. CBS News reported that the police found Fells' body dismembered in the Schuylkill River and have yet to find the person behind her death.
The HRC cited one post from a friend of Fells that said: “Dom was a unique and beautiful soul who I am lucky to have known personally. I am beside myself right now. We need to fight!! We need to do more!!!! We will get justice.”
On a GoFundMe campaign created by her sister, Fells' family wrote that she was "truly one of a kind" and that they would not "stop until her killers are found and justice is served accordingly."
There is very little information on her death, but Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs released a statement:
"The pain of such a loss is always difficult, but it is especially deep as we are in the midst of Pride month—a season typically filled with joy and celebration for many in our community. As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives. Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered."
“We are reminded with this, and countless other painful losses—especially within our transgender communities—that there is much left to do until we achieve full equality, respect, and support for us all. The murder of transgender people—especially those of color—is truly an epidemic, and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further," the statement added.
Sadly, the city has a long history of trans killings, with at least seven trans people being killed since 2013.
At least 7 trans women were murdered in #Philadelphia since 2013
2013 – Diamond Williams
2015 – London Kiki Chanel, Keisha Jenkins
2016 – Maya Young
2018 – Shantee Tucker
2019 – Michelle Tamika Washington
— Trang Do (@TrangDoCBS3) June 12, 2020
“Black Trans Lives Matter. In the same week countless people across the globe stand up for racial injustice, in the same week we honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, in the same week a billionaire author spouts transphobic rhetoric to millions—in this same week, we have lost two more Black transgender women to the same fate most of us worry about every day," said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative.
"Say their names. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Continue to say the names of every transgender and gender non-conforming person stolen from this Earth. Don't wait until we are all gone to speak up. This fight belongs to us all,” Cooper added.
Milton was a 25-year-old Black transgender woman killed in Liberty Township, Ohio, on June 9.
As Blavity previously reported, police believe Milton was lured into an area by three young people who were trying to steal her car and was shot twice.
During a press conference, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said Milton was not killed because she was trans and that police have since arrested 18-year-old Kaleb Tooson and a 14-year-old girl. They are still searching for 25-year-old Tyree Cross, FOX19 reported.
Milton's case drew the attention of many because police repeatedly deadnamed her, causing her sister Ariel Mary Ann to criticize the police and news outlets for continuing to use the wrong name.
But, Ann said she was heartened to learn how many people were speaking out about what happened to Milton.
“It has been amazing watching so many people uplift my sister. To see so many people demand justice for Riah, and people I don’t know reaching out to me, it’s amazing,” Ann told FOX19.
The HRC said Milton was a loving aunt and sister who worked as a home health aide and studied at the University of Cincinnati.
“This week, two Black transgender women were killed. This horrifying news comes the same week that we remember the 49 people gunned down at Pulse in Orlando, as millions continue to take to the streets to declare ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and as a billionaire author with a gigantic megaphone continues to spout off transphobic propaganda to her millions of followers,” said HRC President Alphonso David after Milton's death.
“Tragedy does not happen in a vacuum, and each of these events show how much work we still must do to ensure dignity and justice for all. These two women — Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells and Riah Milton — deserve to have their names known. As our country faces a long-overdue reckoning with the violence and indignities that Black people have dealt with for centuries, we must affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter. And we must do everything we can to ensure that we create policies and laws that lift up our transgender siblings, and communities where transgender people are not targeted for who they are. Today, we mourn alongside Dominique's and Riah's loved ones and call for all of us to confront transphobia,” David added.
Right before Pride Month ended, news emerged of the death of Brayla Stone, a 17-year-old found dead in a car in Sherwood, Arkansas.
The case has caused controversy because activists and people who knew Stone have clashed with her family, which told news outlets to refer to her by her birth name and not the name she chose, according to FOX16.
While it has been unconfirmed by news outlets, there have been social media reports and petitions stating a man posted on Instagram that he was paid $5,000 to kill the teen.
Out.com shared screenshots of a post from Instagram user @tapnseason, who brazenly wrote about committing the murder, but police have not released updates on who was behind Stone's death.
Her murderer boasting about her death pic.twitter.com/L254wmM8ZF
— Lauryn (@1thirty1) June 26, 2020
"Brayla was someone who always held space for others to be themselves and express their identities. Despite the fact that these institutions didn’t support Brayla, it is important that we uplift her memory and dedicate ourselves to seeking justice for her. She was 17 years old and her life was taken far too soon. We must put a stop to the violence against Black transwomen. We don’t want another Black transwoman’s death to go unnoticed," the Center for Artistic Revolution wrote in a Facebook post.
In a statement, David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, called out news outlets for continuing to use the wrong name for Stone and said her young age was another example of statistics confirming that the average life expectancy for a Black trans woman in the United States is around 35 years of age.
“Both the continued tragic and often silent loss of Black trans, Black queer, and Black non-binary lives as well as the continued adultification of Black girls should be lost on no one—especially as we celebrate the 51st anniversary of Pride and the Stonewall resistance; as mostly white reporters and the white-led media outlets they work for write think pieces about all of the gains white gays have claimed, and as people continue to risk their lives to demand for shifts in policy and practice that acknowledge and protect all Black Lives, especially Black trans women and girls," Johns said.
Candlelight vigils have been held in Little Rock, and there is a petition with nearly 200,000 signatures calling for police to investigate her case further.
Cooper said that Stone's young age made her death even more tragic.
“Brayla Stone was a child. A child, just beginning to live her life. A child of trans experience. A young Black girl who had hopes and dreams, plans and community. As a nation, we failed Brayla — as we have failed every transgender or gender non-conforming person killed in a country that embraces violence and upholds transphobia, racism, homophobia. Guns are not as important as people,” Cooper said.
Right before Pride Month came to a close, more tragic news emerged about another life lost. Merci Mack, a 22-year-old Black trans woman from Dallas, was found unresponsive in a parking lot on the morning of June 30. USA Today reported.
According to the police report, witnesses found Mack with bullet wounds in her body, and people nearby said they heard gunshots around 5 a.m., but no one who heard the gunshots called 911. At 6:15 a.m. a passerby called authorities about Mack, who was declared dead at the scene. Sgt. Warren C. Mitchell told NBC News that police are still searching for leads in the case.
“Our detectives, as with all murders, are working diligently to find the perpetrator to this horrible crime. We continue to ask the community for their assistance,” Mitchell said.
In a statement, David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, noted that Texas has the highest number of trans deaths in the country, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“What pains me most about the continued loss of Black trans life is that nearly everyone who is identified as Black knows the sting of stigma and the trauma of discrimination. We know the horror of being the victim of violence simply because of socially constructed ideas of ‘Blackness,’” Johns said.
“This shared experience alone should be enough for each of us, everyone who is Black, regardless of cis or trans experience, to collectively call for and do the work to end the violence that trans and non-binary members of our community experience—too often in silence. Merci Mack deserves better, as a community we failed her and so many of our trans siblings and this is beyond unacceptable,” he added.
Mack's Facebook page is now full of messages from people remembering her life and the time they spent with her.
“I’m gonna miss you like crazy Twinn… Fly High Baby I cant stop looking at your page hoping this is a cruel game l. I’m gone miss that beautiful smile,” Nicole Monroe wrote on Mack’s page.
In his statement, Johns said it was hard to comprehend the rising death toll and explained the work needed for the killings to stop.
“What do you do when you don’t have the capacity to wrap your head around the pain and trauma a community of people continues to experience and you know that your feelings aren’t half of what’s required to show up as a member of that community? You continue the work and insist that others, who purport to believe that #BlackLivesMatter, also get engaged,” Johns said.
Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, echoed those remarks in a statement to Out.com, calling out the unfairness of the situation and the nonstop violence Black trans women face on a daily basis.
“Another Black transgender woman has had her life stolen from her. We cannot become numb to the fact that our community has learned of more killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the past few weeks than HRC has ever tracked in the past seven years. Her friends say that Merci Mack was a young, upbeat soul who deserved to experience a full life. HRC is mourning with Merci’s loved ones and are calling for a full, thorough investigation into her death,” Cooper said.
To donate to organizations advocating for Black trans lives, click here.