PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Days after a transgender woman was killed in Philadelphia — the second in just a matter of months — LGBTQ leaders and law enforcement gathered outside of City Hall to denounce the violence and call for more protections for trans women of color.
Standing alongside the deputy police commissioner, district attorney, prosecutors and LGBTQ advocates, state Sen. Larry Farnese pushed for legislation that he helped introduce last year, which would expand the language and increase the penalties for hate crimes in the state.
“We live in a state where legalized discrimination is still accepted, and ridiculous defenses like the gay-trans defense is still on the books, which is a disgrace,” said Farnese, whose term expires this year. “But to change the hearts and minds of folks, flipping that chamber is the best way to do it.
“We’ve had situations where people have been attacked in this city, which we know are hate crimes, but at the state level, we don’t have the legislation there to be able to charge them,” he continued. “It’s a problem.”
Earlier this week, authorities charged Abdullah Ibn El-Amin Jaamia of West Philadelphia for the murder of 29-year-old Mia Green, a Black trans woman who was found dead during a traffic stop.
Sources say 38-year-old El-Amin Jaamia confessed to shooting Green, but investigators are still trying to figure out if and how they knew each other.
Celina Morrison, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said transphobia is out of control.
"It's tough to watch this happen over and over again," Morrison said.
"I was angry. I was sad. It's upsetting, it’s triggering and it’s scary," she said of Green's murder. "There’s no way that anyone can ignore what’s going on anymore. We all see it."
Green is the second Black trans woman killed in Philadelphia this year. In June, police found the dismembered body of Dominique Rem’mie Fells. The people accused of killing the two women are cisgender men.
Morrison said in many cases, these men face stigma for their connections to trans women.
"And I think that stigma triggers these men, and it has that terrible effect on them, and it’s just evil," she said.
People like Green and Fells are especially vulnerable, advocates say, because they face several challenges at once: They are Black, transgender and women. Many times, they are rejected by both the LGBTQ community and the Black community.
"Those are three heavy things to carry, and that’s a tough place to be," Morrison said. "Where do you turn? Who do you go to? They are out here living in survival mode every single day."
Transgender and gender non-binary individuals face discrimination in housing and often find it difficult to get jobs. Then add on the roll-back of legal and health protections for trans women instituted under the Trump administration, as well as negative language, stereotypes, and easy access to guns.
"It’s just a recipe for trans women to be victimized at all different levels," said Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign.
According to the organization, 29 trans and non-binary people have been murdered so far in the United States this year — more than all of 2019.
"The number that we report is probably quite low," Cooper said, noting that trans and non-binary individuals are often misgendered and misidentified in police and media reports.
Both Cooper and Morrison say the time for talk is over.
"If people really care about Black trans women’s lives, they need to show it," Morrison said. "It’s time to step up."
Philadelphia police: ‘We do care’
Every time a known person within the LGBTQ community is the victim of a crime, Philadelphia police send a liaison.
“We have a sergeant in Victims Services who works in our Victims Assistance Program,” said Deputy Commissioner Ben Naish, “who is able to help out anybody who needs help from this community or other marginalized communities.”
At a press conference Thursday, authorities credited two Philadelphia police officers with nabbing El-Amin Jaamia.
Green was shot and killed on Monday. Two police officers pulled over a car that was racing through a stop sign when they noticed Green inside. They helped escort the car to the hospital and detained the driver, El-Amin Jaamia.
“The work, in this case, by the police officers and the detectives involved really shows we do care,” said Naish. “It doesn’t matter what someone’s preference is or isn’t, (or) the color of their skin.”
Or their trade, added District Attorney Larry Krasner. Many transgender people face work discrimination and turn to prostitution.
“If a person who works as a sex worker is harmed, we intend to protect them,” said Krasner. “We want to hear from them. We want there to be no fear on their part about coming forward.”
El-Amin Jaamia is charged with murder and evidence tampering for Green’s death, but he was not charged with a hate crime, per Pennsylvania law.
Police are still looking for the person responsible for the Fells killing.