Deeniquia Dodds, known to her friends and loved ones as "Dee Dee," died Wednesday from a Fourth of July shooting in Washington, D.C. On a day commemorating the alleged freedom and equality for all people in this country, Dee Dee, a 22-year-old black transgender woman raised in the nation's capital, became at least the 15th trans person murdered in the United States this year.
Sadly, you will rarely hear her name because she is not a straight black man killed by a police officer. But make no mistake: This killing is just as tragic, just as violent and just as worthy of our mobilizing together to say that #BlackLivesMatter.
The history of black oppression should be remembered not only through the stories we share but also by the stories we often silence. The violent act (pdf) of refusing to share the experiences of black women—which is often compounded for black trans women, who live at the intersection of overlapping oppressions—is one that we know all too well.
Women like Zella Ziona, a 21-year-old black trans woman fatally shot in the head in a suspected hate crime and left to die in an alley in Gaithersburg, Md., after being attacked. Women like London Chanel, a 21-year-old black trans woman who was stabbed to death in North Philadelphia. Women like Kandis Capri, a 35-year-old black trans woman who was shot multiple times outside her apartment complex in Phoenix. And now, women like Dee Dee.
These black trans women, and so many whom we will never know, have endured countless acts of violence—the very thing we want to end when we protest against state-sanctioned violence of black men killed by the police. Yet so many of us remain silent.
The truth is that #BlackLivesMatter—not the organizational structure founded by three black women, two of whom are queer, but the words often shouted on social media by those who don't live in or acknowledge the intersections—doesn’t really include all black lives.
That must change.
Last week the police killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling—a black man who was shot several times while being held on the ground by police outside a Baton Rouge, La., convenience store. Less than 24 hours later, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor, was killed in front of his child and girlfriend, who live-streamed it on social media, after attempting to comply with the police officer’s orders. In a matter of hours, the video went viral.
These tragic incidents reignited conversations of policing, racism, masculinity, white fragility and open-carry laws in this country. But even with the Pulse-nightclub tragedy in June, when Omar Mateen killed 49 black and brown people, many of whom identified as queer or trans, sexual orientation and gender identity rarely play significant parts in this conversation. Thus, we, black LGBTQ people, still find ourselves fighting to have our lives recognized—especially at death—all while being called divisive for wanting our lives to matter.
Following Sterling’s and Castile’s brutal killings, President Barack Obama stated, “When incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our citizenry that feels as if, because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same, and that hurts, and that should trouble all of us.” It's safe to say that his statement resonated with many in the black community, but we must also be critical enough to disinvest in the idea that “skin” is the only reason for violence and mistreatment in black and brown communities. Despite our consistent silence, black trans women know differently.
Last year was the deadliest on record for trans people, with at least 21 people being killed in the United States alone, and 17 of them trans women of color. The high number of black trans deaths is a serious problem, but our silence over these deaths is the epidemic. Our silence displays how much society does not care about the lives of trans people. But it is black trans women, who live at the very terrifying intersection of racism, transphobia, sexism and a host of other factors, who pay the ultimate price.
They pay the price of being on the front lines—for example, in Ferguson, Mo.—when black men are killed, but never having the same reciprocated. They pay the high cost of being blamed for their own deaths—by those within the black community, by racist police officers investigating their cases and by judicially biased decision-makers rendering verdicts during the rare instances when charges are actually formalized. And they pay the high price of hearing people scream, “Black lives matter,” and yet being faced with the odd silence when their own lives are cut so short.
Let me reiterate here: This is not a critique of the organizational structure of Black Lives Matter. In fact, its guiding principle as it relates to trans justice is one we should all follow:
We are committed to embracing and making space for trans brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
Will all those who claim to be about this transformative-justice work pick up this mantle? This is not an issue of divisiveness but one of recognizing that black experience applies to all black people differently. This is the moment when we ask ourselves, if a black trans person is killed by police, how many of us will speak up? And if a black trans person is killed by the same people whom so many of us are on the front lines marching for every day, will we even notice?
In the nation’s capital, the past two weeks have been loaded with anti-police-brutality protests, and for good reason. Thousands of individuals have gathered to march from the White House to Capitol Hill chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and demanding equitable treatment for black people in these United States. But until our speaking about black lives applies to all black people killed at the hands of white supremacist, systematic oppression, then proudly exclaiming “Black lives matter” can mean nothing at all. And until we start marching, protesting and speaking up for the deaths of black trans people (often killed by these same police officers or, at the very least, the same systems that protect them), then we will be complicit in their deaths.