On Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 4 p.m., over 150 transgender protestors and their supporters braved sub-zero temperatures to gather outside of NYC Police Headquarters in Downtown Manhattan to demand incoming NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton and the NYPD explain thier negligent investigation in the immediate aftermath of the brutal beating death of transgender woman Islan Nettles last summer in Harlem. The emotionally charged group also demanded a report on the current status of the case's lagging homicide investigation by NY County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and later in the evening emailed an extensive list of questions to Bratton and Vance.
"There is a target on the backs of trans women of color!" said Lourdes Hunter, Co-Founder, Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York, who spoke at the event. "If Islan was a white woman we would not be out in the cold demanding justice!" she said from atop snow-encrusted steps at One Police Plaza.
A series of impassioned speeches by Hunter and others were punctuated by fiery chants against the NYPD, including "NYPD do your job!" Enumerating the many errors and delays in the investigation, protestors chanted "How many more? Not one more!" and "Trans lives matter!"
Speakers angrily repeated the puzzling details of the August 17, 2013 attack, including the fact that officers from Public Service Area 6, where the crime occurred, pulled Paris Wilson, the accused assailant, off of Nettles yet failed to adequately question Nettles' or Wilson's companions and never checked on Nettles' condition after her admittance to Harlem Hospital, where she later died. A failure to obtain DNA evidence from the assailant's hands and ten broken surveillance cameras at the location were viewed as serious problems that had not been addressed in the case. Speakers also expressed disgust over the fact that Simone Wilson, Paris Wilson's mother, coerced another man into falsely confessing to the crime but she was never held accountable for hindering the investigation. Five months after the unsolved murder, protesters were still enraged that even a misdemeanor charge against Paris Wilson was dropped and that the D.A.'s office had produced no new charges in its homicide investigation.
Delores Nettles, mother of the victim, said the NYPD's handling of the case was so inept that an officer called her three weeks to ask for Paris Wilson's address.
Telling the crowd about findings published in her recent report on various statistics on transgender Americans, Jennifer Louise Lopez, of media group Everything Transgender in NYC, said that of the approximately 750,000 transgender people in the United States, 90% are likely to experience discrimination, mistreatment, or harassment. She also said that 61% of Black and Latino transgender individuals report harassment by police, and that there were 16 reported murders of transgender people in the United States in 2013.
"Islan Nettles is my fourth trans client who has been murdered in the streets of NYC in the twenty years I have worked with homeless youths," said Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, which houses homeless LGBT youths. "Not one of their murderers has been brought to justice. This is a disgrace that reveals a pattern of transphobic bias on the part of the NYPD," he said.
"The murder of Islan Nettles is an unspeakable tragedy and the police and district attorney's response has been underwhelming and disappointing," said Melissa Sklarz, President of Stonewall Democrats of New York City. "The New York trans population is probably the biggest in America and yet, young people like Islan Nettles, and Lorena Escalera before her, are killed in cold blood and no justice is done," she said.
Endorsers included the Transgender/Cisgender Coalition, ACT UP NY, Luz's Daughter Cares, Trans Women of Color Collective ( TWOCC ), Harlem Pride, Lambda Legal, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, Translatina Network, Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform ( STARR ), Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand, Destination Tomorrow, Ali Forney Center, VOCAL-NY, ETNYC, Global Network of Black Pride, and Make the Road.