One year anniversary of the murder of Islan Nettles: How long will we wait for justice?
August 17, 2014
Sunday marks one year since 21-year-old Islan Nettles was brutally killed on a street near her home in Harlem. Nettles, an African-American transgender woman, was a design intern at a fashion company. She was beaten to death in the early hours of Aug. 17, in the shadow of the NYPD Housing Bureau’s Service Area 6 .
Yet she — and transgender people around New York City and the world — are still waiting for justice from the NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney. Activity in the investigation, if there has been any, remains shrouded behind a disturbing veil of secrecy.
Nettles had been walking with a group of transgender friends when they came upon a group of young men who subjected them to catcalls and harassment of a type familiar to many women in New York City.
But the catcalling took a violent turn when the men apparently realized that she and her friends were transgender.
Nettles was beaten badly enough that she needed to be hospitalized. At the hospital, she lapsed into a coma. Four days later, she was brain dead. Life support was turned off. She was gone.
While she was in the hospital, the police arrested her alleged assailant. Witnesses reported that he had pushed Nettles to the ground, climbed on top of her and beat her repeatedly while screaming anti-gay and anti-transgender slurs.
Despite this, he was charged only with misdemeanor assault. Of course, Nettles hadn’t yet died at the time of his arrest, and he therefore couldn’t be charged with anything related to her death. But it was still difficult to shake the feeling that the authorities did not take this attack very seriously.
After Nettles died, charges were dropped against this assailant. The expectation was that new charges would be brought against him stemming from her death.
Those never came.
Instead, it appeared that the investigation lost steam. Explanations floated around. The one most commonly heard was that a second man had stepped forward claiming responsibility for killing Islan, but that he was too drunk to remember it clearly.
The various accounts only compound the sense that prosecuting the man who killed Nettles in what is by all appearances a hate crime simply isn’t a priority for the police and district attorney.
In November, the Manhattan DA’s office stated that it was still “aggressively investigating” Nettles’ death.
But the investigation hardly feels aggressive. It’s been a year and there has been little visible effort spent on finding justice.
For the transgender community — scarred by a long and difficult history of violence and an often uneasy relationship with law enforcement — the vacuum of information makes reasonable community members question whether or not resources are truly being directed towards this investigation.
After a year of claims about their commitment to justice, it’s time for officials to become more transparent about their investigation.
Transgender people, and transgender women of color in particular, face harassment and violence on a regular basis. All too often, crimes committed against them go unpunished.
But their lives matter. Islan Nettles’ life mattered. It mattered to her friends, to her family and to her community.
Every day, I work with many transgender women of color like Nettles who astound me with their strength and resilience in the face of widespread discrimination and violence and seeming indifference from authorities.
Transgender people are gaining more visibility, acceptance and legal protection every day. But violence remains a daily part of life. We must demand accountability from law enforcement and an end to anti-transgender violence and discrimination.
Islan Nettles is yet another trans sister whose life will not be forgotten. Demand justice now!
Rally to Honor the Legacy of Islan Nettles
Sunday, August 17th, 2014 3:30 p.m.
Across from the police precinct, 147th street and Frederick Douglas BLVD