Double slaying of trans teens prompts vigils, calls for action (The Washington Blade) 08/16/02
Vigil Marks Loss of 2 Transgender Teens (The Washington Post) 08/14/02
Transgender Teens Killed On D.C. Street (The Washington Post) 08/13/02
Payment received in Hunter settlement (11/17/00)
August 23, 2002
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
live at 50th & C Streets, S.E., where
Tyra and Stephanie and Ukea were lost.
The streetcorner that D.C. forgot
It's a long way from Dupont Circle to Marshall Heights. On a hot August evening, as people are filling the sidewalk cafes of 17th Street, a small crowd of family, neighbors, activists, and officials gathers across town in a vigil for the teenage victims of a gangland-style murder.
It is eerie that on virtually the same spot, seven years and five days earlier, a gravely injured Tyra Hunter lay struggling for breath as the Fire Department's Adrian Williams said, "This bitch ain't no girl, it's a nigger," and laughed at her as he withdrew emergency care. She was transgender, and her life didn't count.
Here at 50th and C Streets Southeast, two of the corners are occupied by abandoned apartment buildings. Beside the one at the southwest corner where we are standing is another, and behind that another. Their broken windows stare back at us like empty eye sockets. They announce our arrival in the land of the lost.
Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis were 19 and 18 years old when, early one morning, someone drove up and executed them in a hail of bullets. 40 hours later, a phalanx of television cameras watches as Earline Budd takes the bullhorn and remembers her fallen young friends from Transgender Health Empowerment. Two mothers speak of the children they have lost.
Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign talks about the courage it took for Stephanie and Ukea to ignore the cruel voices of their peers and simply be themselves, without shame.
I fear that some will blame the victims. It is easy to pass judgment, to say that these kids should have known that they could not safely be "out" in that environment. But this was where the victims lived. What were they supposed to do, hide under the stairs?
Their killers robbed them of so much -- of their chance to develop their gifts, of their chance for love, achievement, joy, struggle, disappointment, and wisdom.
A shredded flag is flying at Nalle Elementary School across the street. Sometimes bodies are found in its playground. When Earline gives me the bullhorn, I say that Stephanie and Ukea are our sisters, that our community lives in Marshall Heights as well as Dupont Circle.
I say our flag is tattered when human beings can be treated like this in our nation's capital. I gesture toward the abandoned buildings and call them unacceptable. When Mayor Williams arrives, he pledges to rebuild the neighborhood in the teens' memory.
I recall visiting the similar devastation of the Valley Green public housing development in 1994 with Carol Schwartz during another mayoral campaign. Since then, it was razed and the beautiful homes of Wheeler Creek Estates have taken its place. Change doesn't happen by itself. Investors must be found, incentives created, plans drafted, deals made.
At Wheeler Creek there is a mix of homeowners and renters, many of whom had lived at Valley Green. They returned to a beautifully designed and landscaped assortment of homes in a place that previously had seen block after block of dreary, project-style buildings that were slums-in-waiting the day they were built.
A Marshall Heights grandmother gives a quick tour of the war zone. I remind the Mayor of the Wheeler Creek success, and he agrees that the same is needed here. But these buildings have been like this for ten years, and no one has done anything about them. Good intentions are not enough.
This toddler, who dropped his soccer ball while Jubi Headley of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force was speaking, isn't old enough to know that he shouldn't run behind the abandoned buildings. He isn't old enough to worry about gender nonconformity. He hasn't learned to hate.
For the sake of that child and his playmates, we need to see that the Mayor keeps his promise to rebuild. He can start by tearing down the eyesores looming over this deadly intersection. Rebuilding will take a lot more than that, but there is no excuse for these buildings to be tolerated for one month longer. We owe the children better than to forget them when the vigil and the funerals are over.
The killers must be brought to justice, but we must also work to prevent the same crime from recurring. Let us make some noise for those who no longer can.
Richard J. Rosendall is a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.