We want justice for Brandy

May 16, 2012

ABOUT 70 people came out to Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on May 13 to protest violence against transgender people in the Bay Area. The protest came two weeks after the shooting death of Brandy Martell, a 37-year-old African American trans woman who was shot in her car in downtown Oakland.

While police have yet to release information about the case, friends and community members are pushing for the murder to be considered a hate crime, claiming that Brandy was targeted due to her gender identity. Brandy's friends say that talked to a man who found out that Martell was trans. According to eyewitnesses, the man then left, came back later and murdered Brandy in front of her friends, who were also in the car.

There were several previous actions around Brandy's tragic death. On May 6, supporters held a vigil where she was killed, and over 200 people attended her funeral. On May 9, 100 people marched from 13th and Franklin to the new community center for transgender folks in downtown Oakland.

The tightly knit trans community is leading these rallies. The community is out and vocal. As Erin Armstrong said, "We're strong and proud and beautiful. We're your sisters and brothers and coworkers and neighbors and people sitting next to you on the bus. We ARE everywhere, and we belong everywhere. And we will stand together and not let our people be attacked."

Also present in solidarity were participants from the Occupy and Decolonize Oakland movements and members of the City of Refuge Church from San Francisco. Brandy worked at the Tri-Valley Medical Center in Fremont and had many friends from there. Breanna McCree, who knew Brandy for 20 years, talked about her memories, "Brandy was helping the community. She was a helpful, hilarious, loving person. She always used to say that when she passed away, no one would care. If only she could see how many people are here, and her funeral was packed."

The continued vigils and rallies show that even beyond funerals, people want to come out loud and proud against the oppression and violence that transgender people face in our society just for being who they are.

At the May 9 rally, Brandy's sister Talishia Massey told Brandy's friends and activists: "I appreciate everything you've done. We've got to stand up." Later, Talishia talked about how Brandy grew up in Oakland near Lake Merritt and in Hayward. "Brandy was honest and respectful, a loving cheerful person," she said. "I don't know why it happened, the killer didn't try to hide it at all. It doesn't make sense, maybe he thought that no one would care, and he would go unrecognized."

TRANSGENDER PEOPLE, especially African Americans, face harsh oppression for their identity.

According a 2010 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, Black transgender people reported the highest levels of discrimination among all transgender people. Among Black trans people, 34 percent reported a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Half of those who said they attended school expressing a transgender identity or gender non-conformity faced harassment. According to the survey, 15 percent reported being physically assaulted at work, 46 percent said they were harassed at work, and 14 percent were sexually assaulted.

At the demonstration, Morgan Bassichis talked about the broader issues of transgender oppression and strategies for fighting them. As Bassichis said:

We are not grieving just for Brandy. We are grieving for all the trans people whose lives were ended by murder, by domestic violence, by homelessness, by loneliness. But we have to look for the root cause, people's lives are not ended in a vacuum. We live in a society that prioritizes the police, ICE, the military, instead of community...This is not just about hate, it's about oppression. We need to ally ourselves with larger struggles--queer people with others struggling for getting housing instead of police.

There has been a struggle around Brandy's death, just as there were protests a year ago following the assault against a transgender person in the Mission in San Francisco.

There is potential for turning the anger and sadness into a movement to fight to stop future death and misery. These rallies show that trans activists and those in solidarity with them won't let this kind of violent oppression stand. Justice for Brandy Martell!

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