Even after this summer’s series of historic protests and marches led by trans women of color, the murder of Black and Brown trans women continues unabated. During this long summer, the number of deaths of transgender women has climbed ever upward to at least 28, higher than the entire number killed in all of 2019. These include the recent brutal stabbing of 32-year-old Tiffany Harris in New York City and 24-year-old Queasha Hardy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Their deaths underscore why the American Medical Association last year labeled the killing of transgender women “an epidemic.” And they point to why it is clearly time for unprecedented action to stem the tide of blood in trans communities of color. The good news is that there is a way to do it.
One way to lower the levels of extreme violence against trans women of color is to center the economic justice of Black and Brown trans women. The essential point here is that for many trans women, anti-violence and economic well-being are one and the same.
A key trend in the murders of trans women is that they are overwhelmingly committed by people who know these women. In Harris’s case, local news reports say that she was in a relationship with the man whom police wish to question about her death. In case after case, Black and Brown trans women are killed by their partners, neighbors or clients. This pattern of intimate partner violence mirrors that of cis women of color, especially Black women, who suffer some of the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the country. And high levels of intimate partner violence correspond with high levels of economic insecurity.
Never miss another storyAccording to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Victims of Crime, women who make between $15,000 and $24,000 a year report a third more incidences of domestic violence than those who earn above $75,000, and those who earn under $7,500 report violence at 12 times the level of those who earn more than $75,000. These numbers point to the fact that intimate partner violence is, among other things, an economic issue. This is partly because abusers target low-income women, and many of these women lack confidence in the current criminal legal system to address the violence they face.
Given that transgender people, as the 2015 National Center for Transgender Equality data shows, are more likely to be low-income earners and twice as likely to be unemployed, the economic precarity of trans people is a perfect storm for exposure to higher rates of violence and death.
In order to make serious headway to decrease violence, we have to get serious about economic empowerment. To be clear, we need a fundamentally different system overall to promote economic justice and fairness. But within current constraints