After Deoni Jones was stabbed to death in northeast Washington, D.C., in February, unprecedented action by a coalition of witnesses helped put the suspect, Gary Niles Montgomery, behind bars within days. Jones was merely the latest in a long line of transgender women murdered in the city in the past year, yet Montgomery, who is charged with second-degree murder, is the only person to be arrested in connection with any of the deaths. Consequently, activists have called on the Department of Justice to look at whether D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department is intentionally overlooking attacks on transgender people.
Jason Terry of the DC Trans Coalition was among those leading the charge, telling Washington mayor Vincent Gray in an open letter, “There have been more confirmed trans murders in D.C. than any other city in the United States since 2000, yet only about a quarter of these have been solved.” And in March there were three attacks within a 24-hour period that left the victims, two gay men and one transgender woman, with injuries requiring hospitalization.
The Metro police reportedly arrested Montgomery after witnesses to the stabbing stepped forward with information, along with surveillance video, that helped identify the suspect. But, cautions Alexandra Beninda, a board member for the DC Center for the LGBT Community, “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a turning point.” While Montgomery’s arrest is moving this single case forward, Beninda believes the police will have to do more to track down suspects in the other cases. “There have been a lot of other murders or violence that have happened with other members of the community,” she says. “And oftentimes it seems those tend to seemingly get overlooked by the police officer on the street.”
The Department of Justice’s community relations service has reached out to trans activists and LGBT leaders as well as the police department and “offered its services—mediation, conciliation, technical assistance, and training—and continues to explore ways in which to assist the parties in working toward achieving a mutually satisfying resolution as well as building local capacity to solve future concerns,” says spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa.
At a public hearing in February, Metropolitan Police chief Cathy Lanier fought back against charges that she had abdicated her responsibility to keep trans people safe, and the department’s director of communications, Gwendolyn Crump, says the investigation of Jones’s killing indicates that Montgomery might not have even known Jones was transgender. “We abhor any violence against any community,” Crump says. “Every homicide in the District of Columbia is investigated with the same passion and resources. We are pleased that we were able to close this case.”
The arrest “makes people feel more comforted,” says Beninda. “It looks like the police department is a little more focused, but it really does not change the overall pervasiveness [of unease] within the D.C. community, though.”