Violent crimes targeting transgender people on the rise in Chicago
CHICAGO - They're crimes you may not always hear about, and they're happening at a rate some say is at an epidemic level: fatal attacks against transgender individuals.
The brutal death of 33-year-old Tatiana Labelle made headlines in Chicago just last month. The transgender woman's body was found in a garbage can in a South Side alley. Tiara Banks, Disaya Monaee, and Briana Hamilton were also part of Chicago's transgender community. They were all killed last year.
"Some of the trends we've noticed is: some of the numbers continue to get higher and higher every year," said Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for the Human Rights Campaign.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) began tracking the number of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who were the victims of fatal violence in the U.S. nearly 10 years ago.
"We've unfortunately broken two grim records two years in a row. Last year and the year before. The truth is we may be on track to do that again this year," Cooper said.
HRC's numbers show at least 37 such deaths occurred in 2020 and at least 47 occurred in 2021: a 27 percent increase.
"I'm 72-years-old and across my lifetime, [I've seen] maybe, 50 [killed]. This was the closest one. This was somebody that played with my grandchildren," said Alexis Martinez, President of the Chicago Therapy Collective.
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It's been six weeks since Martinez lost her friend Elise Malary. Both used to work together at the Chicago Therapy Collective in Andersonville, where there is a mural nearby remembering the transgender woman from Evanston, along with her advocacy work. So far, her cause of death is still undetermined.
"I don't know how to express the fear or the levels of actual terror that you go through being trans," said Martinez. "This isn't something you choose because it's trendy. It's heartfelt."
Martinez says a transgender person often becomes a victim of violent crime because they are forced to live on the streets at a young age.
"They can only survive by participating in the street economy," said Martinez. "Selling drugs, selling their bodies, shoplifting, whatever it is they can do to survive."
"Here's another unfortunate trend," said Cooper. "Most of the people we report on were killed by someone they knew. That's incredibly frightening."
Since 2013, 36 percent of the anti-trans violent deaths that the Human Rights Campaign has recorded were committed by an acquaintance of the victim; another 21 percent by the victim's intimate partner.
"If we can't trust people that we know, then who is that we can trust?" said Cooper.
The statistics also indicate trans women of color seem to be at a greater risk of becoming a victim of violent crime.
"As Black people, we are disproportionately impacted by fatal violence," Cooper said. "As trans people and gender minorities, as non-binary people, we're also more victimized because we're seen as 'lesser than' and disposable."
Cooper said social determinants like where a person lives or works also plays a part. She says the public would have a better idea of the number of transgender violent deaths that occur if the victim's identity was required to be recorded as how they lived their life, and not what is listed on their driver's license.