Jacksonville Reels as Trans Homicide Crisis Continues to Grow

Service providers in Jacksonville, FL will sit down with queer youth on Monday night and try to help them talk through something the adults can’t make sense of themselves. Why does their city now account for almost a quarter of the nation’s transgender homicides this year?

Another transgender woman was gunned down in Jacksonville on Sunday. She is the city’s third trans homicide victim in 2018, the fourth to be shot since January.  

“The community is frightened,” said Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida. “The community and advocates across the state are frustrated.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) told INTO they believe a trans person was killed, but misgender her as “a black male in his 20’s who appears to identify as a female.”

Community members have identified her as Cathalina Christina James. According to police, she was shot at a Quality Inn on the 8300 block of Dix Ellis Trail around 1 pm on Sunday.  Advocates say James was visiting Jacksonville from New York.

Police say they suspect a man who fled the scene in a beige vehicle. No other information has been released.

James’ death comes less than a month after an unidentified trans woman survived a shooting in Jacksonville. Her boyfriend, Ronald Diquan Bost, faces charges.

In February, Celine Walker, 36, was killed in her hotel room, and on June 1,  Antash’a English died in a drive-by shooting, both in Jacksonville.

The multiple trans homicides in one city account for a staggering percentage of the country’s total trans murders this year. So far, 13 trans people have been killed in the US, three of them in Jacksonville, more than 23 percent of the nation’s trans homicides.

Police, however, have insisted that the murders are separate incidents.

“At this time, there is no evidence or information gathered that leads us to believe there is any such pattern or trend involved with these murders,” Melissa Bujeda, a public information officer for JSO, told INTO.

All three homicides remain unsolved.

But LGBTQ advocates are growing increasingly frustrated and terrified. Several organizations say they have been trying unsuccessfully for months to reach JSO to assist in the investigation and help the department be more sensitive to the trans community.

Jimmy Midyette, a staff attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, says he again sent lengthy emails to Sheriff Mike Williams and his staff about supporting trans victims.

“The fact is that they’re being re-victimized by an agency or department that’s just not communicating the reality of their lives very well,” said Midyette. “So of course I have reached out to the folks that I believe can make a change, and I’m still hoping to speak to them soon.”

The Coalition for Consent likewise reached out to JSO, said organizer Elias Joseph, but never got a response.

“It definitely feels like there is someone targeting the trans community here in Jacksonville,” they said. “There’s no support, and there’s no justice for any of these victims.”

LGBTQ youth organization JASMYN and Equality Florida have also contacted JSO. Neither has received a response.

On Monday night, JASMYN will meet with its youth to help them process the string of violent incidents. On Tuesday, trans advocates will host a press conference calling for action, and they plan on flooding the City Council meeting to demand action.

But those advocacy efforts may do little to alleviate the very pressing fears of LGBTQ people living in Jacksonville right now.

David Herrell was friends with English, the second homicide victim.

“I know a couple of friends that are like, ‘Hey, I’m scared to go out of my house,’ like they have literally been ordering in,” Herrell said. “If they go to work, they go to work and go home. I know one transgender woman, she actually asked her job to change her schedule from the night shift to the day shift because she uses public transportation.”

For people like Rev. Dr. Stanley McCallister of Lighthouse International Church, the violence raises bigger questions. McCallister and his husband Elder Byron T. McCallister have been doing youth outreach in the early morning hours in areas of Jacksonville where queer youth hang out, and they’ve started a gun buyback program.

But McCallister wants to know what the police and the city are doing to alleviate the violence.

“Where is our voice?” he asked “This is now the third time in the space of 60 days that you all [police] have misgendered a person. Where is the sensitivity training? Why does the Mayor not have an LGBTQI++ Office?”

Image via Getty

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