Chicago’s transgender community faces an “epidemic of violence,” an often uphill battle for justice and accountability

Chicago (WLS) – Many transgender and gender non-conforming people in the Chicago area are searching for answers amid what the American Medical Association has called an “epidemic of violence.”

Since 2020, more transgender people have been killed in Chicago than in any other US city, according to data analyzed by I-Team. The killings of transgender women, particularly of color, continue at an alarming rate.

Jerry Nicholas wants to know if his daughter is one of those stats.

On January 17, 2021, Sherry Nicholas’ body was found on the floor of her room at the Grand Regency of Jackson Park Supportive Living on Chicago’s South Side.

Nicholas claims that the Chicago police did not take his transgender daughter’s death seriously from the start because of her identity.

In police body camera video obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, an officer can be heard asking employees at the facility if the death was due to natural causes. One of the employees said they didn’t know.

Nicholas said the authorities abused his daughter, and he said they ignored evidence of foul play.

In an email to Nicholas, CPD announces that a thorough investigation has found no evidence of murder and the case is closed. In the autopsy result, the cause of death is undetermined.

But a mysterious letter allegedly written to Nicholas’ family saying “Call the news people” fueled her father’s speculation.

“She was exhilarating,” said Nicholas, tearing up. “She will be missed forever. She can’t be brought back.”

The most recent data shows between 2020 and now, there have been eight murders of transgender people in Chicago, and suspicions of other unreported cases. All of the victims are women of color.

Brendan Lantz, Director of Hate Crime Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University, with a team to compile a database to keep a tally of cases and outcomes.

“We’re seeing geographic concentrations in certain states and cities, and Chicago is one of the cities in our database with the most transgender homicides,” he said.

The Chicago area still has three deaths this year.

Martacia Richmond was found stabbed to death on a balcony in July. Daniel Burley, who is described as her accomplice, is charged with murder. Lawyers say he acted in self-defence.

In March, Tatiana Labelle’s remains were discovered stuffed in a dumpster on the city’s east side. There are no arrests yet in this case.

A day later in Evanston, the body of transgender activist Elise Mallary was discovered in Lake Michigan. Evanston Police said the investigation remains open and the department is working to follow up on any open leads and will investigate additional leads as they become available.

Her death was recorded as drowning, but the medical examiner’s office was unable to determine whether it was an accident or a homicide.

“Clearance rates in our data are much lower than the national average for non-trans homicide rates, and clearance rates in Chicago are much lower than what we see for trans homicides nationwide as well,” Lantz said.

The numbers in Chicago are alarming, said Victoria Kirby York, executive director of the National Coalition for Black Justice.

“It certainly shows that there is a pattern of neglect and disinterest in sending a clear message that killing trans women, especially black trans women, and women in the city is unacceptable,” York said.

National and local activists are calling on the police to stop misleading victims and take the crimes more seriously, including classifying the murders as transgender.

“It’s definitely an important thing so that communities know where the disparities lie and to help find out if there’s a serial killer out there,” York said.

For more than a week, Chicago Police officials told the I-Team that they wanted to interview for this report, but did not provide anyone to speak on camera.

Transgender activists are more outspoken. LaSaia Wade is the CEO of Tha Night Haus.

“Most of the time, if not all of the time, trans people are killed by someone they care for, or someone they have sex with in order to survive,” she said. “And we don’t usually talk about it.”

Four of Chicago’s eight cases have resulted in charges, including the death of Kurti Ishai Key who was shot and killed on Chicago’s South Side in 2020 on Christmas Day.

William Truss, 62, is accused of killing Key after he invited her to have sex. Truss will plead not guilty, according to his attorneys.

The K Support Network said the arrest process is progressing, but more is needed.

“She made her mark on your soul, on your heart, it’s a victory, so now we are one,” said Malek Pullum, Key’s ex-boyfriend.

Jerry Nicholas said he had his little victory. The Civil Police Accountability Office recently referred Nicholas’ complaint to the newly launched Pilot Mediation Program where his concerns will be discussed.

“They can correct this and show the LGBT community cares about them as well. That’s what I want,” Nicholas said.

A spokesperson for the I-Team supportive living facility said they have cooperated fully with the CPD investigation. Community activists said deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people could decrease if there was more social acceptance and economic acceptance.

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