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Friday, March 31, 2017

Local Transgender Woman Murdered

Written by  Bill Redmond-Palmer
Alphonza Watson Alphonza Watson

Local transgender woman Alphonza Watson, known to many as “Peaches”, was murdered about 4:15 a.m. March 22nd in the 2400 block of Guilford Avenue in Baltimore. The 38-year-old woman was stabbed in the stomach, and later died from her wounds at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Watson is the eighth transgender woman who has been murdered so far this year in the U.S. Seven were black.

Witnesses told police they heard someone yelling for help, followed by gunshots. Two men were seen running away before getting into what was referred to as a dark-colored vehicle, which then sped away. “At this time, we don’t have a lot to go on,” Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith told the Baltimore Sun. “What we know is that there was apparently some sort of argument that took place.”  Smith said police did not know of a motive in the killing or whether it was related to Watson’s identifying as transgender. No arrests have been made.

Baltimore Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Watson’s death is being investigated as a hate crime. But a spokesperson told the Baltimore Sun that police “don’t have a lot to go on.”

Watson’s mother, Peggy Walker, told the Sun that Watson had come out as transgender in her teens and went by the name “Peaches.” She grew up in Washington, Walker said, but moved to Baltimore about ten to 15 years ago. She described Watson as “the sunshine of our family,” a “caring, passionate” person and “would never do any harm to anyone.” Walker said Watson enjoyed cooking and gardening, and had been a top salesperson at a high-end retail store in Northern Virginia. “She was a very caring, passionate, fun person to be around, always in a talkative and playful mood,” Walker told the paper. “Very close to the Lord. She didn’t belong to a church or anything like that but she always talked about the Lord.”

Several community organizations including Hearts and Ears, the GLCCB, and GLSEN Baltimore all offered opportunities to provide emotional support for community members in need. “I think people of course are going to be grieving,” said Key’aysia Tucker, public health case manager at the GLCCB. She said she’s already heard from several people who expressed concern for their safety. “They are afraid,” she said.

A vigil for Watson, organized by the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, was held on Saturday, March 25th, at the Ynot lot, to celebrate Watson’s life and raise awareness about violence against trans women. The vigil drew trans community members, allies, and representatives of local LGBTQ organizations, as well as the Baltimore City Police Department. Therapists and counselors from the SAO, Star Track, and Chase Brexton were on hand at the vigil to listen to anyone who needed one-on-one support.

There have been 14 homicides involving transgender victims in Baltimore since 2005. Smith said a majority of the cases have been closed. In September 2016, Crystal Edmonds, a transgender woman, was killed on Fairview Avenue. Her case remains open and an investigation continues. In 2014, Mia Henderson, sister to NBA player Reggie Bullock, was found stabbed to death in a Northwest Baltimore ally; a Hagerstown man named Shawn Oliver was charged with her murder after his DNA was found beneath her fingernails. He was acquitted last January.

Maryland’s hate-crime laws do specifically cover gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, unlike 29 other states which do not have specific hate crime protections for trans people, and another four states that have no hate crime laws at all.

So far this year, Watson, Chyna Doll Dupree, Jaquarrius Holland, Ciara McElveen, Mesha Caldwell, Jojo Striker, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, and Keke Collier have been killed. They were all trans women of color.

The recorded rate of murders of trans women of color has been steadily increasing over the past few years: In 2016, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported 23 trans people killed, a record number, and many of them trans women of color. And the year before, the organization recorded 16 murders of trans people; 13 were trans women of color.

While Watson has not been misgendered or called by the wrong name by the media, the image used in many reports of her death appears to be a mugshot, another sign of disrespect. For that reason, no photo has been included with coverage of this story, until an appropriate one has been found.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call police at 410-396-2100, text a tip to 443-902-4824, call Metro Crime Stoppers at 866-7LOCKUP, or submit tips anonymously through the Baltimore police mobile app. If your tip to the hotline leads to an arrest and indictment in the case, then you may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000.

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