With enemies like these

Well I was not expecting to go on vacation right after NaBloPoMo started when I first signed up, and I have a few things to say about the idea that by missing a couple of days I have “blown it”–especially since my own motives for undertaking this challenge boil down very simply to “make myself write.” But first let me tell you about this:

In case you have not heard, a transgendered woman named Duanna Johnson was shot and killed in Memphis TN last Sunday, November 9. Yes another transgendered woman murdered. So what? Well, besides the obvious so what–that The Targeting of Transgendered People for Abuse and Murder Must Stop–Duanna Johnson, if you will remember, was the same woman whose abuse at the hands of the Memphis Police was caught on tape last June. The two officers involved, the one who beat her and the one who held her down for the beating, had been fired, and at the time of her murder, she was in the process of suing the City of Memphis for $1.3 million.

If you, like myself, suspect that there might be some nasty retribution motivating this murder, or worse, that the city and the police department might have actively facilitated this murder, we are not alone. Monica Roberts at TransGriot and Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend are reporting developments in the case and in their posts and subsequent comment threads you will find many misgivings about the propriety of the Memphis Police Department’s investigating the case on their own. What’s more, none other than the trans-if-they-do, trans-if-they-don’t double agents at the Human Rights Campaign, featuring Joe “Stop Crashing Our Party” Solmonese himself, is calling for a federal investigation of the murder, which was my own first thought on hearing the news.

Whether you think it is overly-sensitive trans- paranoia to suspect that the City and/or Police Department of Memphis might have had some hand in Johnson’s murder, it seems obvious to me that they cannot be objective investigators in this case, given the dismissal of the police officers for beating Johnson–something that never would have happened had the tape not leaked out into the blogosphere–and Johnson’s pending lawsuit against the city. Personally I think the City and Police Department are logical suspects in the murder, and I have no problem whatsoever imagining–as one commenter conjectures in one of the above blogs (forgive me if I cannot find the link to the specific comment. Since I cannot put post-it stickies on the internet, I frequently move too quickly through several pages to remember my way back to the right ones where I read something I want to quote–but so in this case the idea is not my own but does not seem out of the realm of the possible to me)–a hit arranged so that a handful of black males may take the fall, probably with “drugs and prostitution” stirred into the mix so that all this seems the fault of the multiple victims there would be in such a setup.

But no matter whether your level of suspicion goes that far, it seems to me obvious that this murder needs to be investigated from outside and higher up, and probably by the FBI–not because they are necessarily the most sensitive agency to violence against trans- folk, but because they are charged with upholding hate crimes law and also simply because this case demands high priority: we cannot sit by while trans- people are silenced in this way for coming forward with the charges that Johnson’s assailants faced and that the City of Memphis itself faced. This case in particular must be picked up as emblematic of how we are going to allow our own government to treat us: as citizens worthy of the same protections as other citizens, or as marginal creatures whose rights to live and to live unmolested are suspended by virtue of our own need to be true to ourselves–and at no harm to anyone else!

I hesitate to endorse anything the HRC is involved with, but if they truly want to throw their muscle behind demanding a federal investigation of Johnson’s death, then I think that it might be worth our while to employ them in that regard. Who knows why they are doing this–to make up for certain, um, colossal political betrayals and disingenuous efforts to rewrite queer history without gender variant individuals in the center of it all, where they actually stood for decades–but you know? If they want to make up for all that, I am willing to suspend disbelief for now.

I think, though, that it might be helpful to do some organizing of our own, in case the HRC cannot see this one through whatever obstacles the feds might throw up in their unwillingness to protect the lives of trans- individuals. In a Pam’s House Blend comment I can actually find the URL for, Kathleen suggests that we demand an FBI investigation ourselves as well: anyone can file “a civil rights complaint with the FBI ‘Under Color of Law'”. It is not clear to me whether multiple complaints involving a single incident will encourage the FBI to investigate or have the unwanted effect of making them less likely to do so. I do think, though, that as a community, however you might conceive of it in relation to yourself, we need to find a voice in this case that is separate from or “back-up” for that being offered by the Human Rights Campaign, who have proven themselves extremely untrustworthy in speaking for us. Watch the above blogs for further organizing efforts–I myself cannot promise to keep abreast of all developments but wanted to put this out there for whatever limited audience I have to keep in mind and to monitor.

We cannot allow Memphis to investigate this crime without oversight from higher up; to do so would be to abandon Duanna Johnson and any trans- person who might find themselves staring at the wrong end of police officers’ assumptions and prejudices, facilitated as they are by the surrounding culture. We need to let Memphis and the rest of the nation know that we are not going to be their punching bags to use for working out their own insecurities about gender–which is what drives this literal policing of gender boundaries to begin with. Send ’em to therapy to cure them of hate. Leave us the fuck alone.

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