Violence against trans women concerns community leaders

Crystal Davis, whose sister, Michelle "Tameka" Washington, was murdered in 2019, speaks about violence against transgender women on Monday.
Jack Tomczuk

Crystal Davis thought she would feel relieved when the man convicted of killing her sister was sentenced.

But 28-year-old Troy Bailey didn’t show any remorse, Davis said, about the death of Michelle “Tameka” Washington, a transgender woman and local LGBTQ advocate who was fatally shot more than two years ago in North Philadelphia.

“Every day I can’t call her and talk to her, I’m hurting on the inside,” Davis said. “She was my rock, and I don’t have that. He took that away for something that was so stupid, and I could never forgive him for that.”

Bailey was sentenced to 25-to-50 years in state prison Thursday after being convicted in May of third-degree murder and weapons violations.

Two days before his sentencing, a preliminary hearing was held for Akhenaton Jones, who is accused of killing Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a 27-year-old trans woman.

Fells’s dismembered body was found in June 2020 in the Schuylkill River near Bartram’s Garden. Jones, 37, was on the run for several months before being arrested in California in November.

During the hearing, prosecutors presented DNA evidence showing that Fells was killed in an apartment where Jones was living, Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey told reporters Monday.

A lawyer for Jones declined to comment on the case.

Kelly Burkhardt, the district attorney’s LGBTQ-plus community liaison, speaks Monday, July 26, during a news conference. Jack Tomczuk

Investigators do not believe Fells or Washington were killed solely due to their gender identity; however, there is evidence that trans women, particularly those of color, face increased risks of violence. Fells and Washington were both Black.

“Even though we think that certain cases may not be hate crimes, there’s definitely hate against trans women,” said Kelly Burkhardt, the District Attorney Office’s LGBTQ-plus liaison.

Since the beginning of the year, 31 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been murdered nationally, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that tracks violent incidents.

In 2020, the group documented 44 homicides, the most since they began counting the killings eight years ago.

“It seems as if it is hunting season for trans women,” said the Rev. Andrea Arrington, a trans woman and pastor at Whosoever Ministries. “It seems as though there is something against the very lives and breath of trans women just living their lives.”

Arrington spoke alongside others alarmed by the violence Monday at a news conference organized by the District Attorney’s Office at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Center City.

The Rev. Andrea Arrington, of Whosever Ministries, speaks during a news conference about violence facing transgender women. Jack Tomczuk

Trans women are more likely to be in vulnerable situations, such as living on the streets or resorting to sex work for survival, which increases their chances of being victimized, advocates said.

“It’s not the fact that trans women are not trying,” Arrington said. “It’s that we don’t have as many opportunities daily as the actual regular person.”

Washington was “full of life,” Davis said, before the fatal shooting in May 2019. She loved spending time with her family, traveling and being an advocate for the LGBTQ community, her sister said.

“Her life was just cut way too short,” Davis added. “She had so much more work here to do and since her death, I’ve vowed to try to continue her work.”

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