Target: Thomas Manger, Chief of Police in Montgomery County, Maryland
Goal: Act to protect the transgender community after the second murder of a trans woman in Montgomery in under a year.
A transgender woman of color was recently murdered at a Red Roof Inn in Rockville, a prominent suburb of D.C. Her death is a grim reminder of the need to improve policing in order to stem killings of transgender people. According to police reports, officers found the woman, who identified herself as Keyonna Blakeney, in the late morning with immediately visible “trauma to [her] upper body.” With the office of the medical examiner ruling Ms. Blakeney’s death a homicide, she becomes the latest victim of our nation’s escalating violence against transgender women.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 transgender people were killed in just the first half of last year. Moreover, the Human Rights Campaign notes that official figures likely under-represent the number of killings and murders suffered by the transgender community because many local police forces fail to acknowledge the gender identities of the victims whose deaths they investigate.
The Rockville police, who acknowledged Ms. Blakeney’s gender identity and cited the name she lived under in their press releases, should be commended for recognizing the seriousness of the crime that took her life and for extending her the basic courtesy of gendering her correctly. Posthumous niceties, however, are not enough. Keyonna Blakeney is the second transgender woman killed in Montgomery County in less than a year; according to the Human Rights Campaign and police reports, Zella Ziona was killed after a public altercation, while “carrying flowers to lay on her grandmother’s grave.”
Tell Montgomery County Police to redress this unendurable crisis, not just its optics. Tell the police to implement the Human Rights Campaign’s research-based recommendations and to promote positive interactions between police and the transgender community, better serving all their constituents in the process.
Dear Thomas Manger,
The death of Keyonna Blakeney, a transgender woman killed in a Rockville hotel, is an unmitigated tragedy. Her loss is morned most keenly by her sister and her father, who “couldn’t turn [his] back on who [she] was,” but is also felt by the larger transgender community. The least we can do in this sad circumstance is learn to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Ms. Blakeney’s death is a singular loss, but it is also part of a disturbing national trend. In the first half of last year, at least 21 transgender people were killed—a figure that likely under-represents fatalities in the transgender community because, as the Human Rights Campaign notes, many local police forces fail to acknowledge the gender identities of the victims whose deaths they investigate.
Thankfully, underreporting does not seem to be a problem in Rockville. Local police acknowledged Ms. Blakeney’s gender identity and cited the name she lived under in their press releases. However, as the second transgender woman killed in Montgomery County in under a year, Keyonna Blakeney’s death suggests the existence of an underlying problem.
Violence against transgender people stems from a wide and complex network of social problems, from deeply ingrained bias to difficulty in accessing social safety nets or finding employment. Ineffective policing is surely a contributing factor as well. According to 2011’s National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 22 percent of those interviewed reported harassment from police based on their transgender status. Moreover, the Human Rights Campaign reports that “Nearly half of transgender people surveyed said that they were uncomfortable turning to police for help.”
Whether Montgomery County’s police engage in discrimination and harassment is immaterial. It is simply impossible to protect a community when half of its members fear law enforcement so much that they will not come to them for help. Please adopt the Human Rights Campaign’s recommendations to law enforcement and protect the transgender community from violence.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Montgomery County Police