Police arrested two men Friday in the deaths of two transgender women killed less than two weeks apart in Charlotte, N.C.
Both women were killed in hotels. Jaida Peterson, a 29-year-old Black trans woman, was shot to death April 4 in a room at the Quality Inn on the west side of Charlotte, The Charlotte Observer reports. Police have ruled her death a homicide. Another Black trans woman, Remy Fennell, 28, was found fatally shot Thursday at the Sleep Inn. They are at least the 14th and 15th trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming people to die by violence in the U.S. this year.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg County police have now announced the arrests of Dontarius Long, 21, and Joel Brewer, 33, according to the Observer. Both are charged with murder and other offenses, including conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. The FBI, which helped local authorities in the investigation, is looking into hate-crime charges. There is evidence that the two suspects went to and left the hotels together, although it's unclear how they were connected to the women.
Before the arrests, because of similarities in the crimes, police and local activists urged trans women to take extra caution, especially if they are involved in sex work, as the two victims are believed to have been. Police said today they are confident they have all the suspects in the women's deaths. "Our streets are a lot safer," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings said at a news conference announcing the arrests.
However, there is still an epidemic of violence against trans Americans, particularly Black women. "These deadly hate crimes stem from a culture that vilifies and demonizes Trans people, especially Trans women," said a statement issued by LGBTQ+ Democrats of Mecklenburg County earlier in the week. "We must have enforceable, legal protections that ensure Transgender people have equal access to housing, jobs, and services, rather than the continued marginalization that limits their opportunities and safety."
Peterson was memorialized at a vigil in a Charlotte park April 9. "That was my first best friend and first person I could ever talk to," Tawanda Barnett, who had known Peterson since childhood, said at the vigil, according to the Observer. "I just don't know how to get it together. ... I just can't believe something like that happened to my friend. She didn't deserve that." Peterson, Barnett recalled, was always smiling and making jokes.
"People just find it easier to kill us because socially, we're at the bottom of the totem pole," said Brittany Battle, another friend of Peterson's. "No matter what her gender was, a human life was taken away. She has a family and friends and people who love her."
Peterson's mother, Mary, said simply, "My heart is breaking."
National groups mourning Peterson's death include the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition. "In the last week, we've learned of the deaths of two Black transgender women, including Jaida," said a statement from Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. "This violence is alarming and unacceptable. Her life should never have been cut short. We need everyone to speak up, affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter and take action now in order to end this violence. Jaida had family, friends and a community who cared about her and loved her, and our hearts go out to them."
"This long-standing epidemic of violence against the trans and nonbinary community must end," added Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the NBJC. "The surge in anti-trans murders this year reflects the devastating effects of rampant transphobia. With these harrowing instances of deadly violence and introduction of anti-trans legislation throughout the nation, trans and nonbinary people of all ages are under attack and in danger. We urge local, state, and federal officials to pass legislation that will protect the trans community from the oppression, marginalization, and brutality they currently face."