What’s overlooked and what’s overvalued?

TW: cissexism, transmisogyny, sexism, racism, stop and frisk

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual event held by numerous trans* advocacy groups to honor and bring out of general obscurity the violence that trans* people across the world experience. The closest organization to being the “official” runner of the event – the Transgender Day of Remembrance website – has a non-exhaustive list of anti-trans* murders that they’ve been notified of in the past year alone. If you can at some point today, give it a look, because the reality that transgender people – especially transgender women of color – are subject to a unique form of violence is something that it communicates well.

This year’s TDOR is particularly raw for many because of the new circumstances surrounding the death of Islan Nettles, who died in medical care after being attacked in August. The legal situation of bringing her probable killer to justice hit a snag just a few days ago, with the primary suspect, Paris Wilson, being released by Manhattan police after they failed to construct an effective case against him within the time period they could hold him for. As local reporting explained

“Paris Wilson, 20, left Manhattan Criminal Court a free man — at least temporarily — as prosecutors said they were not ready to move ahead with a homicide case. Wilson had been charged with misdemeanor assault but the charges were expected to be elevated because victim Islan Nettles died at the hospital after his arrest. But after the collar, another man turned himself in to police and confessed to the crime , saying he was too drunk to remember the events. That person has not been arrested and Wilson’s case was older than 90 days as of Tuesday, meaning the speedy trial clock had expired.”

What’s unstated here (and even actively rebuked by an Assistant District Attorney’s claims that the case was actively being pursued) is how criminal and even police resources are being used with regards to this case (and others like it). Or rather, how they aren’t. In the more than a month prior to the attack and the immediately following month and a half, the police in Manhattan alone conducted 2588 stops at which people were stopped, which translated into 481 arrests, out of which the justice department actually generated only 80 court summons, which pertain to anything from a fee to actual criminal charges. New York is not suffering from a minimal police force or a lack of police attention in those contexts, where crimes are not know to have occurred.

Those figures are from the New York Civil Liberties Union’s data on the NYPD from July, August, and September of this year, focusing only on the police precincts in Manhattan (where Nettles was killed), which can be found on the sixth and nineteenth pages of this report. What’s clear is that the bungling of investigating a not terribly credible-sounding confession by a non-suspect is occurring in a context of extensive police and justice department efforts. The inability to sort out the details of this one case, which is known to be a crime, reflects the prioritization of monitoring men of color within New York City over actually addressing existing crimes.

Islan Nettles
(Islan Nettles before being attacked, from here.)

The often repeated assertion that dramatic police activities like stop-and-frisk prevent if not directly deal with crime fails to notice how resources are being drawn away from actual police and criminal justice duties to deal with frankly unnecessary and undemocratic mass policing. This International Transgender Day of Remembrance it seems necessary to notice both how little attention is paid to helping trans* people stay safe and how overly focused too many cis-dominated institutions are on imagined threats other than those actually faced by such vulnerable groups.

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