(CBS) — Advocates are renewing their call to end violence against transgender people after two black trans women were murdered this week – Riah Milton in Liberty Township, Ohio, and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells in Philadelphia.
Advocates say transgender people are at heightened risk for fatal violence, especially transgender women of color. Fells and Milton are believed to be the 13th and 14th transgender or gender non-conforming murder victims in the U.S. this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The advocacy group said it’s possible other cases have gone unreported.
The FBI reported a significant increase in hate crimes motivated by gender identity bias between 2017 and 2018, the most recent year for which federal hate crime data is available.
“As our country faces a long-overdue reckoning with the violence and indignities that black people have dealt with for centuries, we must affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.
“And we must do everything we can to ensure that we create policies and laws that lift up our transgender siblings and communities where transgender people are not targeted for who they are. Today, we mourn alongside Dominique’s and Riah’s loved ones and call for all of us to confront transphobia,” David added.
In Southwest Philadelphia, Fells’ body was found just before 7 p.m. Monday on the banks of the Schuylkill River, local station WPVI reported. Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small told the station that the woman had suffered stab wounds and trauma to the head and face, and her body was found with both legs severed.
Police have not identified a suspect and they are asking the public for tips. In a statement, the Philadelphia Police Department’s Office of LGBT affairs said the pain of losing a member of the city’s LGBTQ community “is especially deep as we are in the midst of Pride month-a season typically filled with joy and celebration for many in our community.”
“As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives. Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered,” the statement said.
Investigators in Butler County, Ohio, have made two arrests and are still searching for a third suspect in the death of Milton early Tuesday. Sheriff Richard Jones, in a news conference, said Kaleb Tooson, Tyree Cross, and an unidentified 14-year-old girl lured Milton to an area near a park to rob her and steal her car. At some point, there was a fight and Tooson allegedly fatally shot Milton. Tooson also accidentally shot and injured himself, was treated at a hospital and arrested along with the girl.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office has issued a warrant for Cross for robbery and complicity to murder in Milton’s death, and for unlawful sexual contact with the teen girl, who is charged as a juvenile.
In a tweet that has since gone viral, Milton’s sister, Ariel Mary Ann, said local media had initially misgendered the slain woman. She tweeted using the hashtags, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter and #SayHerName.
“So my birth sister, Riah, was tragically murdered yesterday,” the tweet read. “Like me, she’s also trans. The news has been misgendering her as well as other people and I want to make sure that she’s remembered in death like she was in life,” she wrote.
In a statement she tweeted, Ariel Mary Ann said the stories of her sister and other slain transgender victims are “tragic and heartbreaking, but these stories need to be told.”
“It may be a sad song but we’re gonna sing it again,” she wrote. “I will continue to fight and push for the voices of black transgender women to be uplifted until the day I die. We deserve to be heard, to be loved, and for our very existence to be acknowledged.”