[image-1] In the wake of a recent assault that left a transgender woman unconscious in downtown Charleston and amid criticism about how law enforcement reported and dealt with the incident, members of the Charleston Police Department and local LGBTQ activists convened a town hall-style meeting downtown Tuesday night to discuss issues facing the city and the LGBTQ community specifically.
In the days after the early morning assault on Aug. 19, the department initially reported it was not motivated by the victim’s gender identity, but walked back that conclusion after further investigation. Subsequent reports determined that the victim, Kendra Martinez, was confronted about her gender identity before she was assaulted. In the initial police report, Martinez is identified by her birth name.
Leaders from local LGBTQ advocacy groups were in attendance, including Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA) executive director Chase Glenn and We Are Family executive director Melissa Moore.
Moore pointed out the sobering fact that the life expectancy of American transgender women is 30-35 years. Martinez, the woman who was assaulted on Ann Street, is 34. [image-2] Addressing the packed Arthur Christopher Community Center, police Chief Luther Reynolds said, “To see this kind of response shows me this is a healthy community that is highly engaged.” The chief went on, “I have no patience for bullying or assault. Whether you are black, transgender, or white, my job is to protect everybody.” Some in attendance remarked about a diminished sense of security along Ann Street, formerly a “safe space” within the community. [content-2] Reynolds explained that the circumstances of the assault delayed assessing whether it was a “bias related incident”: the victim was unconscious when authorities arrived, witnesses had scattered from the scene, and video of the incident took time to obtain. (Reynolds also delivered news during the meeting that the suspected assailant had been arrested.)
South Carolina is one of a few states without a hate crime law.
The chief acknowledged that the department needs to be more sensitive to LGBTQ community members and their concerns, and that a series of trainings are scheduled to help improve relations.
Reynolds also welcomed solutions for proposals from attendees on how better to address issues facing the community in the future.
From there, talks became heated.
Vanity Reid Deterville, a 25-year-old transgender woman, activist, playwright, and student at the College of Charleston asked police directly why they put out a statement indicating that the assault was not motivated by the victim’s gender identity before they had all of the facts. [content-1] Charles Francis, Public Information Officer for the department, answered, “When I got the incident report, there was nothing in there that said she was a transgender.” Colleen Condon, president of the AFFA board and a former member of county council, swiftly intervened, saying that the term “transgender” is an adjective and that Francis’ use of the term as a noun is offensive, just like it would be offensive to refer to someone as “a black,” or “a white.” Reynolds acknowledged on behalf of the department that they have more work to do.
One person in attendance also aimed Reynolds’ request for solutions back at the department, saying “the work is on your shoulders.”
It was also pointed out that the identity group at the center of the conversation after Martinez’s assault — transgender women of color — was not represented on the mostly white panel.
Officers said they were willing to coordinate future check-ins with community members to ensure accountability and report back on scheduled trainings.