By Lauren Rearick
For the fifth time in less than a month, a black transgender woman was found dead in the United States. Her name was Zoe Spears; her death comes less than three months after another of a black transgender woman was murdered in Fairmount Heights, a Maryland suburb located minutes from Washington, D.C.
According to Maryland’s Prince George County Police, 23-year-old Spears was shot and killed on Thursday, June 13, NBC News reported. A 911 call for an “unresponsive female” on a sidewalk led police to the location of Spears’s body, a release from the police department noted. Their response was too late: Authorities declared her dead at the scene, Buzzfeed News reported.
The shooting occurred four blocks from where Ashanti Carmon, a 27-year-old black transgender woman, was killed in March 2019, NBC News notes. Brian Reilly, major of the Prince George police, could not confirm whether there was a “direct link” between the murders, Buzzfeed News reported, but he did say that “it’s unusual that we had two murders like this within a couple blocks of each other.” He also said the two women knew each other.
According to Earline Budd, a case specialist at HIPS, a harm reduction nonprofit in Washington, DC, Spears was with Carmon when the latter was killed. Budd told the Washington Post that Spears remained fearful for her own life after witnessing her friend’s murder; police could not confirm whether Spears had been at the scene of Carmon’s death.
Budd told the Washington Post that Spears was a “vibrant young person.” Ruby Corado, the executive director of Casa Ruby LGBTQ Community Center, told the paper that Spears was like a daughter to her, and that Spears was working on moving forward from a past that had left her feeling “very broken and very hurt.”
These two murders aren’t isolated incidents — they come just days after 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey was killed in Texas. According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, at least ten transgender women of color, including Spears, have been killed in the U.S. this year alone. At least 26 transgender people were killed in the U.S. in 2018; most of them were trans women of color.
Hancie Stokes, the communications coordinator for the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ+ youth organization SMYAL, called for the community to come together. “We will not stand idly by while there are attacks and threats on our community,” she wrote in a statement to MTV News. “This is a time for mourning and healing together, but this is also a time to take action together.” She also made particular note of “the fear that young queer people live with and carry with them on a daily basis” and encouraged LGBTQ+ people feeling concerned for their safety to seek out supportive resources in their community and online.
Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro, two hopefuls for the 2020 Democractic presidential nominee, have also called for change. Castro tweeted of a need for immediate political action, writing, “There’s a crisis of black trans women being targeted and murdered across the U.S. We need to act to protect and support trans women from violence—and we need to do it now.”
Warren also called the continued murders a crisis, and remembered the women who have been murdered this year by naming them. “Dana Martin. Ashanti Carmon. Claire Legato. Muhlaysia Booker. Paris Cameron. Michelle “Tamika” Washington. Chynal Lindsey. Jazzaline Ware. Chanel Scurlock. And now Zoe Spears…We’ll fight this, and we will continue to say their names,” she wrote.
While many of the other presidential candidates have not yet spoken out, they may further address their stance on protection for transgender people during a LGBTQ+ focused debate scheduled for October 10.
The Human Rights Campaign is also asking for communities and politicians to take action in reducing anti-trans stigma that they attribute with spurring acts of violence. In its “Dismantling a Culture of Violence” report, the organization encouraged politicians to fight back against discriminatory transgender laws that limit housing and healthcare options; called for the creation of more inclusive community spaces; and asked for an end to bills that ban trans people from certain public spaces, including bathrooms and locker rooms.
Such moves stand in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s current slate of policies, which include proposing a rule that would remove federal protections for transgender patients from health care discrimination; making it easier for government housing to discriminate against transgender homeless people; and expressing a sweeping opposition to the Equality Act, which would strengthen civil right protects for LGBTQ+ Americans.