TransGriot Note: Thanks to Latoya and the peeps at Racialicious.com for giving me the honor of writing this guest post for them.
It seems that no matter where we live or what decade we're talking about, when the justice system concerns transwomen of color, justice is delayed, denied, and disgraceful.
Back in 1998, William Palmer, the man who killed Chanelle Pickett in Boston was given a 2 1/2 year sentence with 6 months suspended, and 5 years probation. Never mind the fact that Palmer strangled Pickett, then slept for six hours next to Chanelle's lifeless body lying beside his bed before he turned himself in. The judge presiding over the case commented bitterly to the defendant at the time "Mr. Palmer should kiss the ground the defense counsel walks on."
On August 12, 2002 Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis die in a hail of bullets on the same southeast Washington DC street corner that Tyra Hunter died due to EMT neglect. As of this writing there's not only been no arrest, but the execution style killings aren't even classified as a hate crime.
Never mind the fact that rumors in the community persist that the trigger men who executed the grisly crime are guys who picked up the two transwomen on dates and found out their transgender status after the fact.
Tiffany Berry's killer, DeAndre Blake, walked the streets of Memphis, TN as a free man for almost two years after being released on a ridiculously low $20,000 bond. Blake admitted he had killed Berry on February 9, 2006 because he did not like the way she had “touched” him. He was arrested last month for killing his own two year old daughter.
Even across The Pond, the recent trial of 18 year old Shanniel Hyatt for the murder of Kellie Telesford had the same depressing results.
So what's causing these miscarriages of justice?
For starters, we've always had the situation in this country in which the lives of people of color aren't as valued as the life a white male or female. Toss transgender status into that mix, and it's a foul recipe for injustice.
Add to this recipe for injustice trans panic defenses. What the defendant will do is claim for example, that when they discovered that the woman they're with is discovered to be transgender, it causes them to become so enraged that they committed the crime they ordinarily wouldn't have done and were not of sound mind and body when they did it.
In a nutshell, they're trying to blame the victim and use the sensationalist nature of transgender issues against them in order to get away with murder.
And too many times it works.
You can also add to the injustice stew the fact that transwomen of color are disproportionately saddled with 'exotic' hypersexual images. The Shanniel Hyatt defense team seized on that to suggest that Telesford died as the result of a kinky sex game.
The ludicrous assertion that transpeople are trying to trick people is also a factor playing into these carriages of injustice. We'll hear that the murdered transwoman was trying to 'deceive' someone, and therefore the defendant was justified in killing them after discovering the 'deception'.
Crimes committed against us should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. If they aren't, it sends the message that it's open season on transgender people and you can kill us with a slap on the wrist.
But as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around. A murderer you set free in a transgender case could one day take the life of one of your loved ones as the Berry case painfully pointed out.
These are just a few examples of how these factors add up to justice delayed, denied and with a disgraceful stench attached to it.
So what do we do to combat it?
The judge in the Angie Zapata case is off to a good start. He not only denied the attempts of Allen Andrade's defense lawyers to reduce the charges, the bias crime one is sticking, too. We can only hope the positive trends continue and that Angie's family receives justice.
Eliminating the 'trans panic' defense would help as well. Making prosecuting attorneys aware of it so that they can come up with strategies to eviscerate it would also be helpful while we push for legislation that would ban them as the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act does in California.
The great civil rights leader Asa Philip Randolph once stated, "A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess."
Transgender people are the folks most in need of civil rights protection. We need the traditional advocates of justice in minority communities such as LULAC and the NAACP to step up and forcefully advocate for transgender people of color. It would send the message to John P. Public, the potential jury pool members, that transgender citizens are not only valuable members of society but we are somebody's brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin and friend.
Once people begin to realize that we're human beings with hopes, dreams and lives like them, hopefully we'll begin to see less cases of justice delayed, denied and disgraceful when it comes to transpeople of color and more cases in which justice is served.