Tens of thousands of people across the United States rallied to demand justice for Black transgender women on Sunday. The demonstrations hoped to call attention to the fact that trans people of color are disproportionately the victims of violent crime.
Approximately 15,000 people gathered for a “Brooklyn Liberation” rally outside the Brooklyn Museum in New York City while an estimated 25,000 marched alongside the Hollywood Wall of Fame in a Los Angeles demonstration. Rallies also took place in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio.
The marches came after the killing of two Black trans women within 24 hours. The dismembered body of 27-year-old university student Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells was found Monday in the Schuylkill River in York, Pennsylvania. Riah Milton, 25, was found dead on Tuesday in Liberty Township, Ohio. She had been shot multiple times and killed by two men and a 14-year-old girl during an attempted robbery.
These women are the most recent victims of what activists have called an epidemic of violence against transgender people, especially Black trans women.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 14 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally shot or violently killed so far in 2020, an increase from last year. In 2019, advocates tracked at least 26 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people due to fatal violence, 91 percent of whom were Black transgender women.
These rallies took place among a swell of global protests against police violence against Black Americans, inspired in part by the murder of George Floyd.
Many activists pointed out the relative lack of response to the police killing of Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was murdered by police in Tallahassee, Florida, two days after Floyd’s death. The Los Angeles march, organized by the Black LGBTQIA Advisory Board Council, was in McDade’s honor.
The Brooklyn march also honored the life of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Black woman, who was found dead after experiencing an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement at Rikers Island last April. According to NBC News, new surveillance footage released last week shows that guards neglected to provide medical care that could have saved her life.
Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, was one of the speakers at the Brooklyn march.
“Black trans lives matter! My sister’s life mattered! All of the loved ones that we have lost, all of those beautiful girls that we have lost, their lives matter. We have to protect them,” Brown said in her speech. “If one goes down, we all go down – and I’m not going anywhere.”
The Brooklyn march was organized by a group of approximately 150 young LGBTQ+ activists working under the direction of Black queer-led organizations like Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.), the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, and the Okra Project.
Raquel Willis, a writer and activist who spoke at the rally, called the organizing effort a “new, grander version” of the power that LGBTQ+ communities of color have always had.
“I believe in my power. I believe in your power. I believe in our power. I believe in Black trans power,” Willis chanted, as people in the crowd changed the words back to her. “Let today be the last day that you ever doubt Black trans power.”
Sources: The New York Times 6/16/2020; CNN 6/15/2020; The Guardian 6/15/2020; USA Today 6/15/2020