How do we stop the killings of Black trans people and dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex as a whole? Justice for Muhlaysia and Michelle
In response to our sister, Muhlaysia Booker
It has happened again. As we bury yet another Black trans woman whose valuable voice was silenced and whose precious life was drastically shortened, we can no longer afford to believe mouthed intentions. We need action from everyone who purports to be a protector and nurturer of Black trans lives. Are you a bystander while Black trans women are being killed - or are you an upstander? If you actually care about Black trans women’s lives - show it - step up. Now. Another life has been lost and we find ourselves spiraling in grief and fury. Muhlaysia Booker was shot and killed just weeks after surviving a vicious attack by a mob of people in Dallas, TX. Less than 24 hours after her death another Black trans woman, Michelle Washington, was found dead in Philadelphia, PA. Now is not a time for statements of mourning or solidarity. Now is a time for ACTION. All communities come together for action. NOW!
Black trans women experience violence, trauma, and deep losses across our community every single day. We know what we need to survive, to thrive, and to create the world we’re all fighting for. It is time to invest not only in the solutions, but the actual people that have shaped & sharpened the solutions we need based on our lived experiences. We are capable & competent enough to take care of our own, we just need the resources to do so.
If you don’t care enough to take action for Black trans women outside of your funding cycle then say it & stop using us to fund your cis white-led organizations. Don’t you dare exploit Black trans folks for the benefit of white-led organizations. Stop hiring one Black trans woman to show how much you prioritize our community without investing in our community as a whole. We face some of the highest rates of imprisonment, recidivism, violence, housing instability, unemployment, and discrimination. If you are not invested in Black trans safety, say it. Unless we are a part of the power structure & decision-making process, don’t claim that you’re out here fighting for Black trans lives if we don’t have an actual seat at the table.
The hurt, sadness, grief & loss we experienced at the hands of both systemic and interpersonal violence MUST be addressed. We need healing, we need safety, and we need to not be the only ones doing the work to challenge white supremacy, transphobia, and toxic masculinity. We need to challenge what safety looks like for all Black women. The solutions are not found by looking to police or prisons--institutions that have for a long time decimated Black trans community--but rather to ourselves & to our allies because our liberation is tied & none of the work matters if our people are still being forgotten or left behind.
How do we organize around Black trans safety? How do we memorialize Black trans people being murdered? How do we stop the killings of Black trans people and dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) as a whole? We do it together. We do it by organizations stepping up not only with words, but action. Every single person fighting for trans rights, or Black liberation, or against the PIC: If that is the goal you are fighting for, Black trans women must be a central part of the work. Not just in thought or theory--but in the room and at the table because we were the first phone call you made and the first invitation you extended.
If you see yourself as an ally or organizer, ask yourself: What relationships have I built with Black trans people and organizations? Am I aware of issues impacting Black trans people and do I reach out to the folks I know when issues arise? Are there Black trans people that know they can reach out to me if they need safety or support? How am I centering the expertise of Black trans women when it comes to addressing issues of domestic violence, public safety, healing justice, disability justice, reproductive justice, housing justice, and more?
Black cis men this is your chance. Your chance to check your brothers, defend your trans siblings, and prevent so much of the violence faced by Black women--trans and cis--on a daily basis. The normalization of transphobia, homophobia, and sexism grow these ideas from thoughts & beliefs to acts of violence all too frequently. Have courageous conversations with your brothers and loved ones, show up for ALL Black lives, and support Black trans women trying to make it past 35.
Today, TGIJP will be holding space for Black trans women to celebrate the life of Muhlaysia Booker and all of the Black trans lives that have been lost.
Here are some ways that you can take action & show up for Black trans lives:
As always, be safe & stay strong!
Janetta Johnson & the TGIJP Family
Since our last statement in Spring 2017 we are deeply saddened & enraged to acknowledge that the onslaught of murders of Black trans women continues.
As of today, there have been 22 murders in the U.S. of trans & gender non-conforming people in 2018, 16 of them Black trans women & gender non-conforming people. The latest being Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier in Chicago just this past Wednesday.
The constant attack on the bodies & lives of Black trans women must come to an end! In this time of openly racist, sexist, transphobic & homophobic sentiment not only by the general public but also those in political office we have to ask one another: What is your commitment to the lives, safety & liberation of Black trans women? How do you support their leadership & livelihoods? How do you check & challenge microaggressions & instances of outright transphobia from those in your home, workplace, classroom or broader community?
As abolitionists we know that we cannot depend on police or prisons to ensure safety for our communities. We MUST look to each other— family, friends, comrades & accomplices—to create the solutions we need so that a Black trans woman living past the age of 35 is no longer an anomaly. What privileges or resources are you willing to leverage to ensure that Black trans women have safe spaces to sleep at night? To keep them from being pushed out of the neighborhoods they have helped to shape & sustain like in the Compton’s Trans Cultural District? These are not asks for a handout—this is simply a request for the receipts from all who say they love & support Black trans women as they continue to be slain in the streets across the country.
WE are the ones that keep each other safe. WE are the experts in our own experiences & know exactly what we need. This is a time to listen to our Black trans sisters & siblings that are at the epicenter of this violence & ensure that their voices are amplified while centering their basic needs & healing. This is a time to expand our understandings of what safety & justice look like beyond police, courts & cages. This is a time to have those uncomfortable conversations with our loved ones that have been shaped by & support a culture that allows for gender-based & transphobic violence against Black trans women.
What you can do:
Nothing about this work is simple. Nothing about this work is easy. When it comes to matters of life & death we have to dig deep, fight hard & love even harder to create a world where Black trans women can truly thrive. We have to be clear & concrete about our commitment to Black trans liberation & push ourselves to embody that commitment every single day. If you can’t name what your commitment is, if you haven’t taken action to bring us closer to the safety & liberation we are fighting for--now is the time, because our sisters can’t wait.
As always, be safe & stay strong!
Janetta Johnson & the TGIJP Family
Three Black transgender women were brutally murdered on the last weekend of February. Their names were Chyna Dupree, Ciara McElveen and Jaquarrius Holland. TGI Justice Project is deeply saddened to witness such a great community loss and, like many, we have been grieving this tremendous loss.
Thus far in 2017, at least seven trans women of color have been murdered in the United States. Last year at this time, there were at least five murders of transgender people, a number which increased to 27 (that were reported) by the end of 2016.
To make matters worse, the Trump administration is taking away life-saving protections for transgender children and their families, creating an environment ripe for shaming, bullying, hate crimes, and suicide. It is no coincidence that these events have occurred simultaneously—in fact, these events speak to the heart-wrenching realities of violence that transgender people face every day.
While we at TGIJP have long advocated for transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex people to be affirmed exactly as we are, this year, like every year before it, began with the devastating reminder that we have a long way to go to get there.
Attacks on Black transgender people are occurring interpersonally and systemically through violent transphobia in government, at church, and in our own homes. The refusal of many to have honest conversations about why Black transgender women are killed with impunity only emboldens the people who kill us.
Transphobia is as deeply rooted in our society as it is dangerous. It exists in all of us, because in America that is how we are socialized – to adhere to a prescriptive set of traditional gender identities and conservative values that leave little room for freedom of choice or individuality. Eliminating transphobia, and stopping the violence perpetuated against Black trans women in particular, requires each of us to be daring enough to reflect on how we have all contributed to it, and to be mindful of how we have, whether we are aware of it or not, given rise to an environment in which transgender people are in danger doing everyday activities like walking down the street, going to work, or having a cup of coffee. It requires educators to begin teaching lessons on the history of transgender people, for legislators to take seriously their job to protect every single person they claim to represent, and for everyday people to intervene when witnessing violence against trans people.
Ultimately, ending violence against trans people requires those who are not transgender to listen to and respect the needs of transgender people, and for each of us to unearth in ourselves a lifelong commitment to advocating on behalf of each other.
In Black communities, we’ve raised awareness about the pervasiveness of gender-based violence and the impact that violence has on everyone involved. However, violence against and the murdering of Black transgender women at the hands of Black men who are not transgender goes unchecked by everyone. Our communities have begun to address violence against Black women who are not transgender, but this has not been extended to Black transgender women, and we should be asking ourselves why.
The fight for civil rights for Black people is alive and strong. Many of the tools we need to abolish anti-Black transphobia exist within that fight, and we are the ones to do it. We have always demanded to not be treated prejudicially because of who we are and what we look like. Now, Black people have a responsibility to hold people who are transphobic in our communities accountable for their discrimination.
We can do this by critically examining the values at the core of people’s bigotry, and by having courageous conversations with those who are closest to us about where they learn to be transphobic. These are ways in which we can start to confront the transphobia in ourselves and, even more importantly, commit to eliminating it. We must uphold and take seriously the collective responsibility of every person to learn about, understand, and realize the full range of human rights that transgender people are due.
This is most important because Black transgender people, who live at the dangerous intersection of gender-based violence and anti-Blackness, are the fulcrum of the success of anti-discrimination protections – if Black trans women are not safe, none of us are safe. For transphobia to be abolished, every individual person has a role to play. At the center of all this is acknowledging the long-standing system that allows people with male privilege to exercise tremendous violence against those without that privilege – in other words, patriarchy.
Our communities are on constant defense from the daily harassment, violence and abuse they face and are eager to find ways to stay safe and to stay alive. People without this experience can’t imagine what it’s like to worry incessantly if the people you’re in relationship or community with want to do you harm. When you are facing real physical and mental violence from everyone around you - from strangers to doctors, legislators to social workers - life becomes about basic survival, and living a fulfilling life becomes impossible. To add insult to injury, there are no protections at the state or federal level for Black transgender women acting in self-defense to protect ourselves. But while the system was not designed to protect us, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we deserve to live and to be affirmed.
The mandate for Black people and everyone now is to transform ourselves and our conditions by both confronting state violence and confronting every day, gender-based and transphobic violence against Black trans women. We ask that you join us in this commitment to keeping Black trans women and trans women of color safe; we ask that you offer up everything you can in this moment as an ally, as a comrade, and as our family. Ask yourselves what little steps you can take to intervene on transphobia as a daily practice. We encourage you to start working on the local and regional level--find organizations in your area like BreakOUT!, El/La Para Translatinas, Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SnapCo), or Audre Lorde Project that directly invest in and center the leadership of transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. Donate your time, energy and money into these local efforts and find ways to be in meaningful relationship with them. Creating a culture of safety is much larger than the task to “stop killing Black trans women;” what we are suggesting instead is the possibility that we can all prevent and intervene against this violence daily. If you have an extra room to offer up to someone in need, if you have a meal to spare, or if you can walk with someone and make sure they get home safely--these are all ways we can begin to create a culture of safety among one another. Remember that this work begins and ends with each of us individually. And, we are all uniquely a part of a stronger collective community, which, when strong at the foundation, can make great shifts systematically toward solidifying the world we truly want to see.
With love from,
Janetta Johnson and the TGIJP family
Be safe and stay strong!