Alex Blaze

Black transwoman found dead in Memphis: Will there be justice?

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 02, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Duanna Johnson, hate crimes against LGBT people, Memphis, police, Rodney Whitaker, Tennessee

A black transwoman in Memphis was found dead. This is the same city that Duanna Johnson was beaten by police:


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This happened in the same city with a police department that is more concerned with its image than it is with the safety of its citizens, especially black and trans citizens.

The Memphis PD have begun an investigation into how the Duanna Johnson tape was leaked:

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said watching the tape "made me sick" and "infuriated" him. He said he immediately notified the FBI and asked them to investigate whether Johnson's civil rights were violated. Federal investigators, we hope, will also look into the incident as a possible hate crime.[...]

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, is intent on finding out how the videotape was leaked to an attorney. That's all well and good, but we trust they have been just as diligent investigating why their jail personnel didn't intervene.

Indeed, we also know that the Police Director refuses to acknowledge this as an institutional problem and did little to punish the officers involved until the tape was leaked. Now that everyone can see what happened to Ms. Johnson they're pushing the "a few bad apples" narrative - a clear attempt to shield the department from substantive change.

rodney whitaker.jpgSo how can we trust them to investigate this case properly? Here we have another African American transwoman whose body was found near a strip club (they're going to presume sex work, of course, even though the body could have been moved or she might have been in the neighborhood for another reason)... it's sounding like there are a lot of good reasons to believe that the Memphis police will ignore this one.

Especially since they told reporters that they found "the body of a man dressed as a woman." Here's the Tennessee Transgender Equality Project:

"We consider these two recent crimes, combined with the still unsolved murder of another African American transgender woman, Tiffany Berry on February 16, 2006, to be totally unacceptable," said Marisa Richmond, president of TTPC. "The lack of response by the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County to the beating of Duanna Johnson has set a tone in the community that the lives of transgender people, especially African American transwomen, are irrelevant."

They're building up quite a reputation down there in Memphis. Whether or not this was a hate crime, people who think that they can get away with crimes against trans folk because the police won't investigate probably aren't too far from the truth.

(h/t Autumn for the video)


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As a Black Transwoman i find this very disturbing. Last weekend my car was in a accident. I believe if i did not have my kid's with me at the time the police officer would of been confrontational. The police officer was not happy about my driver license and registration having two different names. I wanted to say to him I'm not a prostitute why don't you relax.

People, thi is why I, other African-American transpeople and many of our allies see an inclusive ENDA as non-negotiable.

'Incremental progress' is unacceptable when your people are being hit with exponential increases in anti-transgender violence directed at them.

How much y'all wanna bet the Memphis pigs did this, or at the very least won't try very hard to solve the crime?

Yes, I called them pigs. That was no mistake, after what happened to uiDuanna Jackson.

I recommend that all GLBT stay away from Memphis and refrain from spending any money or time there, until their police force is brought to justice.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 3, 2008 4:53 AM

Trans persons who live in Memphis have few options but to live there or move. I said at the time of the Duanna Johnson article when the two officers were dismissed that they would each have "friends" both on and off the force who could endanger her. Now, an apparent copycat is exacting revenge where he can find it, or a new killer has arisen.

Alex, is Duanna safe? When I say we should all be careful "out there" it sure as hell does not mean that I blame a victim. It means think six paces ahead of where you are. I have long ago gotten over the need to have more than one or two drinks in a Gay establishment before I switch to soft drinks. I come from a time when I have seen broken glass flying, police entrapment of drivers leaving Gay Bars in Indianapolis and police guns drawn as I walked down Meridian.

As far as I know Duanna's safe right now.

The question we should be asking is "How often does this happen in other cities as well?" That, I think, would give even more credence to ENDA and hate crimes.

The Pilot Truck Stop is 3.6 miles north of Lamar and Getwell. If I was left with absolutely no option but to spend the night there I would make sure every time I stepped out of the relative protection that a 1/16" aluminum sleeper offers, it was a absolute necessity. Every second exposed to the criminals and Memphis police who inhabit that hell hole is placing your very life in danger. I always thanked god when I left safely.
And don't expect the Memphis cop to touch the breaks if he is about to run you over, you best be quick and aware on Lamar. It is like the conditions you find at the truck stops at Harding St Indianapolis IN except in Memphis the cops sell the drugs and pedal the bodies, openly. Just go to Memphis with a C.B. radio. You would be amazed!

Kelli, if I were a T trucker, as I presume you are, I'd have a conceiled carry permit, and would be packing a Glock Model 20 with a couple spare loaded magazines. If the bigots don't get you, the cops might.

And, good points: Memphis isn't the least bit unique. We've had police attack citizens in Louisville, too - mostly racism-based, and have one T murder the cops won't investigate, despite the mother having solid evidence of who did it. We have many good officers, including GLBT ones, to balance it out. Still, Memphis has a problem, and they need to basically can their chief and the top officers and start over, change the culture of the department. What those officers did there is no doubt endemic in the department.

Or maybe it's time to plan a protest march there.

Count me in Monica. I'm only a day away. It can be a brutal place. What a fitting tribute to Dr. King.
We are moving forward with a protest in November's Black Tie in Dallas. San Fran and Atlanta are rocking it already.
Hey Polar, I am a T trucker. Fortunately I am fem and can move about freely!

I think that these police officers are way out of line. If she was born with female parts, they'd be out beating down doors (and suspects), but because she was born with a penis, it seems like they could give less of a crap but are putting on the "PR face" to this. If I was a police officer or detective, I would investigate any crime, irregardless of whom the victim is. Serve and protect is the mission statement, and discrimination makes it so that objectivity is not possible. They might disagree with a person's lifestyle, but they still need to do their damned jobs. If they're going to beat or threaten someone, they need to be in prison or off the force, because cops are protectors, not criminals. At least if they read the damn manual and do their job ethically and morally. Finally, that's what I think; Police officers everywhere need to be held to a higher accountability since they have weapons and authority. No wonder at least some trans gender people hate the government.
I feel sorry for them having to put up with people who would let this happen, or worse yet, beat someone who is in custody.