Jacksonville In Crisis After Third Shooting of Trans Women This Year

Transgender advocates are calling it an epidemic of violence that has gripped the community in fear. Three transgender women have been shot in Jacksonville, FL this year.

“It’s like a target is placed on our backs,” said Paige Mahogany Parks, director of the Transgender Awareness Project in Jacksonville. “The transgender community, especially the African American transgender community, we’re in an uproar right now because we don’t know who’s out here trying to kill us. We don’t know who’s targeting us. We’re just blindsided.”

On June 8, a yet-to-be-identified transgender woman survived multiple shots to the chest and back, according to The Florida Times-Union. Her boyfriend, Ronald Diquan Bost, allegedly shot her last August and remains in jail on charges of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon.

This latest shooting follows two recent transgender homicides in Jacksonville. Celine Walker, 36, was killed in her hotel room on February 4, and 38-year-old Antash English died in a drive-by shooting that took place June 1. Both murders remain unsolved.

“It should be noted that none of the [three] case[s] are related,” says Melissa Bujeda, a public information officer for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JS0).

Bujeda did not respond to questions about how police had determined that three shootings were unrelated, especially since the murders remain unsolved. But transgender advocates have expressed mounting frustration with law enforcement as violence escalates. JSO has repeatedly dead-named victims, calling the women by their male-assigned birth names instead of the names they used in life.

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida, says her organization sent cultural competency training materials to JSO, but has heard nothing back from the agency.

“We are very concerned about what is going on in Jacksonville and what is not being in done Jacksonville,” she said. “We’re concerned there could be a potential serial killer. We’re concerned that there could be an increase in organized crime against the transgender community in Jacksonville, and we’re seeing very little progress in JSO improving the policies and procedures around addressing transgender victims.”

Jimmy Midyette, a staff attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he, too, reached out to Bujeda after Walker’s murder resulted in police dead-naming her.

“I mentioned to the police at that point that it was concerning because it could hamper the investigation,” he told INTO. “What if someone doesn’t know that Celine was transgender?”

Midyette said JSO insisted that legal names released to press be consistent with the medical examiner’s reports.

But JSO has been uncomfortably quiet on the investigations, say advocates. The agency did not respond to a number of questions and inquiries from INTO sent over two days.

It’s hard not to notice that JSO has an active social media presence. The agency regularly posts news of shootings and homicides, safety alerts and even oddball staff news. Almost none of that reporting has been directed to the trans shootings.

In May, the JSO Twitter account shared the image of an officer delivering flowers for Mother’s Day.

On June, the day English was shot, JSO didn’t tweet about the shooting despite sending multiple alerts. The office did share a photo of the “beautiful ladies” of JSO.

In February, when Walker was killed, JSO tweeted that it was “working a person shot at Extended Stay America located at 10010 Skinner Lake Drive. Call police if you have any information on this shooting.”

JSO never reported Walker had died. Even on the day when media outlets reported that they learned Walker was trans, a fact that came to light late because police dead-named her, JSO apparently posted nothing about her on its Twitter account.

The Times-Union reported that police released no follow-up information on Walker’s death.

For advocates like Duncan, that silence has spoken volumes. Last week, local groups hosted a panel for trans residents on how to keep safe as violence escalates in Jacksonville. It’s a bitter pill for advocates that the onus continues to rest on transgender victims, instead of law enforcement and community members.

“Law-abiding citizens, no matter their race or their socio-economic status should be protected by law enforcement,” said Duncan. “They should not be concerned about living their authentic lives and fearing violence because of it.”

Bujeda also did not respond to a question about advocates concerns that police were not taking the shootings against trans people seriously.

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to include gender identity and sexual orientation. The expansion means that one million more Floridians are protected in public accommodations, housing, and employment, according to Duncan.

Advocates hoped the new protections would improve the relationship between the transgender community and police. Midyette, who was part of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality that spearheaded the expanded HRO, said the group met with Sheriff Mike Williams prior to its passage.

According to Midyette, that relationship resulted in a new anti-discrimination policy for JSO employees that included gender identity and sexual orientation. It also resulted in the appointment of an unofficial liaison between the JSO and LGBTQ community.  

But that hasn’t helped the agency serve trans community members, critics say.

Later this month, Parks will hold a “Trans Lives Matter” rally in front of the Duval County Courthouse to call attention to the shootings and to what she says is a pattern of harassment against trans women by police.

“I get a lot of people calling me,” she said. “They walking down the street and JSO is fucking with them, 1 or 2 [am]. What’s the problem? They could be walking home from work or walking from the club or walking from someone’s house, and JSO is stopping them, ‘Where you going?’ People see that.”

And if police can harass trans women, she says, the message that gets sent is that everyone else can, too, without consequence.

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