On Tuesday, a 22-year old transgender woman named Keisha Jenkins was beaten and shot to death by a group of men in Philadelphia, ABC News reports.
Jenkins’ death is the 18th homicide of a transgender person of colour in America this year, and the 20th transgender killing overall in 2015, according to the Human Rights
Campaign Foundation in partnership with the Trans People of Colour Coalition.
Advocates say violence against the transgender community has reached crisis levels. There were 13 transgender homicides in 2014.
“[The number of killings] is higher than we have ever counted before by a substantial amount and we still have two and a half months left in 2015,” says Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “I mean it’s a real crisis. It feels like a crisis to most trans people.”
In a statement to Buzzfeed News, the Philadelphia Police Department said they had not made any arrests at this time, nor had they discerned a motive for the killing. Keisling believes Jenkins was targeted.
“There are people who target folks who they think society doesn’t care about. Trans people have often fallen into that category,” Keisling says. “Trans woman, particularly trans woman of colour, feel that they are being targeted. If you just look at the murder rate of trans woman of colour it is astronomical.”
Keisling says the issue is systemic, noting the high rates of violence amongst marginalized groups of people.
“In this country, you’re more likely to face violence if you’re transgender. You’re also more likely to face violence if you’re black or if you’re Latino or Latina. You’re also more likely to face violence if you’re young. You’re more likely to face violence if you’re poor. You’re more likely to face violence if you’re a sex worker. And you’re more likely to face violence if you’re an immigrant,” Keisling explains.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics confirms some of Keisling’s claims.
1.4% of all African-Americans age 12 and older were the victims of violent crime in 2014, compared to 1.1% of whites. 1.7% of all people age 12 to 17 were the victims of violent crime in 2014, the highest of any age group studied (1.6% of all 18-24 year olds were victims of violent crime in 2014). In addition, roughly 40 per 1000 people age 12 and older identified as “poor” are the victims of violent crime, according to a BJS study on poverty and violent victimization. By comparison, only 21 per 1000 people identified as “mid-income” are victimized by violent crime, and only 17 per 1000 people identified as “high-income” are victims of violent crime.
“Society as a whole has undervalued folks and so if you’re any one of these things you’re more likely to face violence,” Keisling says.
In terms of a solution, Keisling says the issues facing the transgender community need to be studied by the federal government. She also called for more education on the issue, and for law enforcement to take the problem more seriously.
“We don’t know precisely what the murder rate is for trans people. We don’t know what percentage of cases of violence end in murder. The people with the wherewithal to study things like this aren’t making this a priority,” Keisling says.
“The rate at which [the murders] are growing shows there is a specific problem to trans woman and to trans woman of colour and we need to look at the scope of the problem. There are trans communities in the country where people probably feel like they need bodyguards.”
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