Chicago’s transgender community is facing an “epidemic of violence,” an often uphill struggle for justice and accountability

CHICAGO (WLS) — Many transgender and gender nonconforming people in the Chicago area are searching for answers amid what the American Medical Association has called an “epidemic of violence.”

More transgender people have been killed in Chicago than any other US city since 2020, according to data analyzed by the I-Team. The killings of transgender women, especially black women, continue at an alarming rate.

Jerry Nicholas wants to know if his daughter is among those statistics.

On January 17, 2021, Sherry Nicholas’ body was found on the floor of her room at the Grand Regency of Jackson Park Supportive Living facility on Chicago’s South Side.

Nicholas claims Chicago police didn’t take the death of his transgender daughter seriously from the start because of her identity.

In police body camera video obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, an officer can be heard asking employees at the facility if the death was due to natural causes. An employee said they didn’t know.

Nicholas said authorities misgendered his daughter and ignored evidence of foul play.

In an email to Nicholas, CPD stated that a thorough investigation had found no evidence of murder and the case was closed. The cause of death is unclear in the autopsy report.

But a mysterious note said to have been written to the Nicholas family, which read: “Call the news people,” fueled her father’s speculation.

“She was lovely. She will be missed forever. I can’t bring her back,” Nicholas said through tears.

The latest data shows there have been eight murders of transgender people in Chicago between 2020 and now, and suspects even more cases have gone unreported. All victims are women of color.

Brendan Lantz, the director of Hate Crime Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University, is working with a team to compile a database to capture cases and findings.

“We’re seeing geographic concentrations in certain states and certain cities, with Chicago being one of the cities with the most transgender homicides in our database,” he said.

The Chicago area is still plagued by three deaths this year.

Martasia Richmond was found stabbed to death on a porch in July. Daniel Burley, who is described as her partner, is facing murder charges. Lawyers say he acted in self-defense.

In March, the remains of Tatiana LaBelle were discovered in a trash can on the city’s East Side. In this case, no arrests have been made yet.

And a day later, the body of transgender activist Elise Malary was discovered in Lake Michigan in Evanston. Evanston Police said the investigation is still open and the department is working to follow up any outstanding leads and will investigate additional leads as they become available.

Her death is listed as a drowning, but the coroner’s office could not determine if it was an accident or homicide.

“The clearance rates in our data are well below the national average for non-transgender homicides, and Chicago’s clearance rates are much lower than what we also see for trans homicides nationally,” Lantz said.

Victoria Kirby York, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said the Chicago numbers were worrying.

“This definitely shows that there’s a pattern of neglect and a lack of interest in really sending a clear message that it’s not okay to murder transgender women, especially black transgender women, in the city,” York said.

National and local activists are calling on police to stop gender misidentification and take the crimes more seriously, including labeling the killings as transgender.

“Definitely something that’s important for communities to know where the differences are and for figuring out if there’s a serial killer out there,” York said.

For over a week, Chicago Police Department officers told the I-Team they wanted to do an interview for this report, but never provided anyone to speak on camera.

Transgender activists are more accommodating. LaSaia Wade is CEO of Tha Night House.

“Most often, if not always, trans people are murdered by someone they care about or someone who is doing survival sex work there,” she said. “And we don’t usually talk about that.”

Four of Chicago’s eight cases have resulted in indictments, including the murder of Courtey Eshay Key, who was shot and killed on Chicago’s South Side on Christmas Day 2020.

William Truss, 62, is accused of killing Key after he allegedly asked her to have sex. Truss will plead not guilty, according to his attorney.

Key’s support network said the arrest is making progress but more is needed.

“She left her footprint in your soul, in your heart,” said Malik Pullum, Key’s former boyfriend, “It’s a win, so now we’re united.”

Jerry Nicholas said he had his own little win. The Civilian Bureau of Police Accountability recently referred Nicholas’s complaint to the newly launched mediation pilot program, where his concerns will be discussed.

“They could put that right and show the LGBT community that they care about them too. That’s what I want,” Nicholas said.

A spokesman for the Supportive Living Facility told the I-Team that they would be fully cooperating in the investigation of CPD. And community activists said that if there were more social acceptance and economic acceptance, deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people could decrease.

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