Earlier this afternoon, I received a phone call from a local television station about the murder of an African American transgender woman. Her body was found outside a vacant apartment complex near a daycare center at Lamar and Getwell in Memphis.
Late night news reports from other television media released the given name of the victim as Rodney Whitaker. The specific circumstances leading to her death are not known at this time. But there is reason to believe this is a hate crime fueled by transphobia. Memphis police officers are searching for any possible witnesses. If you have information that could aid police, call CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.
The recent news of the terrible beating of Duanna Johnson by Memphis police heightened everyone's awareness of the violence directed at transgender citizens in our city. Is the public hearing about this new crime against a transgender citizen because of Duanna's high profile case? Or is this merely a coincidence? Channel 5 did not even mention in their report that the victim was transgender. Have previous transgender murder victims not been reported as such?
Will irrational fear and violence continue to define Memphis? Or will our community admit to the underlying prejudice that has been thrust before us? When will our community realize that all citizens deserve to live in safety regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression? Will elected officials, civil rights leaders, church leaders and other organizations join the cry for justice and meaningful reform of our society's policies and laws?
This horrible incident must serve as a reminder to all citizens and our governments of the need to add gender identity and expression to existing state and federal hate crime laws so that these terrible acts can be properly recorded, investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes.
Please keep the victim and her friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.