Four transgender women have been shot this year in Jacksonville, Florida, and three of these victims died from their wounds. Many activists are outraged over the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the cases and are calling for a better relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the LGBT community.
Violence against transgender people is not limited to Jacksonville; the Human Rights Campaign has tracked 19 transgender homicides this year alone. Last year, the Human Rights Campaign recorded 28 deaths, the highest number ever recorded. They found that “fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color.”
Protests and vigils followed each of the shootings in Jacksonville. Gina Duncan, the Director of Transgender Equality for the activist group Equality Florida, argued that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) is harming its own investigation by not referring to the victim’s by their preferred names and pronouns, the way the community and their friends knew them.
“Besides misgendering these transgender women of color, JSO is also not interacting with the community,” said Dunan during one vigil, according to NPR.
A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, Melissa Bujeda, claimed that they cannot refer to the victims by their preferred names, as their names were never legally changed.
“As a government agency, we can’t change official, legal records,” said Bujeda. “If anyone wishes to go by a different name, they need to go through the proper channels to change their name legally.”
The sheriff’s office does not believe that these shootings are linked. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams believes that their deaths had more to do with their involvement in sex work than their identities as transgender women.
Organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality disagree, arguing that discrimination can often drive people who are transgender to sex work for survival.
Mateo De La Torre, who works with the National Center for Transgender Equality, is working on a system of grading for police department’s trans-inclusive policies. Jacksonville does not have such policies.
“There is a reason which, according to the U.S. Trans Survey, 57 percent of transgender people do not trust to call the police when they’re in need,” De La Torre said to NPR. De La Torre believes that one of the most effective ways to build trust between these groups is to implement police training programs.
Seattle’s Police Department’s training serves as a model for police departments around the country. The Seattle Police Department appointed Jim Ritter as their full-time LGBTQ liaison officer. He has enlisted several members of the LGBTQ community to partner to produce an 18-minute training video.
“You wanted to make sure the officers really understood what transgender folks go through in their life,” said Ritter. “[The training video] basically lets our officers know about what it’s like, as much as they can, to be transgender and to be empathetic and compassionate when dealing with the transgender community,”
Activists in Jacksonville hope that the JSO will adopt a similar path.
In a joint JSO-LGBT community forum led by Chloie Kensington, a close friend of victim Antash’a Devine English, Sheriff Williams announced that he would assemble a LGBT liaison team. He hopes the team will strengthen relationships and communications between the LGBT community and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office.