There Is a Disturbing Trend Hurting the Trans Community

June 23rd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Police officials in George County, Mississippi confirmed Monday that a suspect was charged in the killing of Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old transgender girl found dead this month.

The state Department of Corrections held 28-year-old suspect Josh Brandon Vallum on $1 million bail. He reportedly stabbed Williamson sometime before June 2, according to BuzzFeed News.

A George County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman told ATTN: that the details of the case were still emerging, and that no motive was clear yet.

"We are still actively working this case, it's a very important case and we want to make sure we do everything by the book," Sonna Pierce told ATTN:. "We're going to find justice for Mercedes."

The Sun Herald reports that Vallum, a convicted felon and a longtime member of the Latin Kings street gang, knew of Williamson's gender identity, but it was unclear if that was a motivating factor in the murder. Vallum reportedly told his father on June 1 that he had killed someone, and that the body was in a densely wooded field behind their house, in George County, Mississippi. Police found Williamson's partially decomposed body the next morning.

According to the BuzzFeed News, Williamson was living in a rented trailer with Jeanie Miller about an hour southeast of where her body was found, in Theodore, Alabama. Miller was not Williamson's mother, but told the Herald she thought of her like a daughter.

"I was overprotective because she was closer to me than my own daughter," said Miller.

Williamson's mother, identified by the Herald as Jeanie Garner, could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

BuzzFeed notes that Williamson's death marks the ninth confirmed homicide of a transgendered person in the U.S. this year. In May, London Chanel marked the eighth transgender homicide, and in February, ATTN: reported on the death of 33-year-old Michelle Yasmine Payne, a transgender woman from the Los Angeles area who was stabbed to death, then set on fire. Payne's death marked the third US death of a trans woman of color in less than 17 days at the time.

According to a recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, overall anti-LGBT violence has been on a decline, but hate-motivated violence towards transgendered people increased 13 percent last year. In a March open letter from the same organization, violence against LGBTQ people was called an "epidemic."

As violent incidents against transgendered people increases, however, states still lag in implementing laws to protect them against hate crimes. According to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Mississippi and Alabama are two of the 13 states that do not consider gender identity or sexual orientation a factor under state hate crime laws.

To learn more about anti-transgender violence and how to stop it, check out this Human Rights Watch's report.