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The Unsolved Murders of Chicago’s Transgender Community: A Call for Justice and Accountability

This article highlights the disturbing trend of unsolved transgender homicides in Chicago, focusing on the case of Tatiana Labelle and the broader systemic failures within law enforcement. Despite over 300 transgender people being murdered nationwide between 2010 and 2021, Chicago's clearance rate remains alarmingly low at 14%. The piece underscores the urgent need for improved police accountability and community-driven initiatives to protect and support transgender individuals.

Tatiana Labelle’s family has waited two agonizing years for answers since she was brutally beaten to death and dumped in a garbage bin in Chatham. Despite their pleas for justice, no arrests have been made, and the Chicago Police Department has provided little in the way of updates. Labelle’s case is one of at least 14 transgender and gender-nonconforming people murdered in Chicago since 2016, with ten of those cases still unsolved.

The stark reality is that most law enforcement agencies do not specifically track transgender homicides. However, researchers have recorded over 300 transgender people murdered nationwide between 2010 and 2021. While the national clearance rate for homicides hovers just above 50%, Chicago police have only cleared 14% of transgender homicide cases during this period. This alarming disparity raises serious questions about the effectiveness and commitment of local law enforcement to protect and seek justice for the transgender community.

A Community in Mourning and Seeking Answers

The family of Tatiana Labelle is not alone in their grief and frustration. Her sister, Shameika Thomas, has expressed the emotional toll of the prolonged wait for justice. “It’s just something I can’t shake,” Thomas told the Sun-Times. “I can’t let go without answers.”

Labelle’s disappearance in March 2022 prompted Thomas to drive from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Chicago to file a missing persons report. Days later, the news broke that a transgender woman had been found murdered on the South Side. Thomas knew immediately it was her sister. “I was so heartbroken,” she said. “I fell apart. For someone to beat her and throw her in the garbage, like trash, like she didn’t have no family or nobody that loved her.”

Initially, detectives were responsive, but as time passed, communication dwindled, leaving Thomas and her family feeling abandoned by the very system meant to protect them. “They feel like when (victims) are transgender or out on the street, they feel like nobody really cares about them,” Thomas said. “But they also have families.”

A Pattern of Neglect

The data compiled by the Sun-Times reveals a troubling pattern: all 14 victims identified since 2016 were Black or Latinx and were killed in neighborhoods on the South and West sides of Chicago. All but one were trans women. Charges were filed in only four of these murders.

Transgender rights activist Zahara Bassett, who knew some of the victims personally, remains haunted by the violence and the lack of closure for so many families. “Just hearing that number is alarming,” Bassett said. “It’s a forever cycle of trying to heal, continuously trying to move forward with no answers.”

Bassett, the founder and CEO of Life is Work, a West Side-based nonprofit providing housing assistance, workforce development, HIV testing, and other services to trans people of color, emphasizes the need for more substantial results from law enforcement. “We’re not paid to investigate; we’re paid to support and erase any barriers that people may be going through…trying to be advocates for them and uplifting their voices,” Bassett said. “But it’s the police’s job to investigate these murders.”

Systemic Failures and Community Efforts

The apparent lack of urgency from the police when investigating the murders of Black trans victims is a recurring concern among advocates. “The problem that I have with the Chicago Police Department is that they prioritize what they want to prioritize,” Bassett stated. “If an officer gets shot, all hands are on deck. Why are not the same priorities given when a Black life is taken? When a Black trans woman is murdered?”

In response to inquiries about the low clearance rate for transgender murders, the Chicago Police Department claimed that gathering information and evidence “can often take time to piece together.” They encouraged relatives to work with family liaison officers for updates on investigations.

Despite these guarantees, the mayor’s office received a low grade on a report card evaluating its efforts to protect trans people, which was published in the spring of 2022 by the Brave Space Alliance, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, and other LGBTQ+ community leaders. Although Chicago has since elected a new mayor, tangible actions to address violence against the transgender community remain elusive.

Honoring the Legacy of Transgender Activists

Among those lost is Elise Malary, a beloved member of Chicago’s trans community, who was found dead on an Evanston beach just a day before Labelle’s body was discovered. Malary’s death remains a mystery, with no determination on whether it was an accident or homicide.

Malary was a founding member of the Chicago Therapy Collective, a nonprofit aimed at alleviating health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community. Her colleagues continue to honor her legacy by pushing for systemic change and greater protections for transgender individuals.

In recognition of her contributions, a section of Catalpa Avenue near Clark Street has been designated “Elise Malary Way,” with plans for a pedestrian plaza to be named in her honor. This tribute underscores the community’s commitment to preserving her memory and advocating for the rights and safety of transgender people.

RELATED: Transgender Self-Defense: Empowering Yourself for Safety and Confidence

The Role of Research and Data in Seeking Justice

Research from organizations like Florida State University has aided efforts to comprehend and address transgender homicides better. Associate professor Brendan Lantz and his team have compiled a database of transgender homicides, documenting demographics and case outcomes.

“We recognize that one of the most important things to do, if we’re going to really have serious conversations about this, is we have to define the problem well,” Lantz said. “To better define the problem, we need better data.”

Their findings confirm the bleak reality that the transgender community faces: the majority of victims are young transgender women who are black or Latinx, and many cases involve “overkill,” which denotes extreme levels of violence and transphobia.

The Bottom Line

According to the American Medical Association, there is still an “epidemic of violence” within the transgender community in Chicago. Families like Tatiana Labelle’s remain trapped in a cycle of grief and unanswered questions, while advocates tirelessly work to support and protect the most vulnerable.

The need for comprehensive and compassionate policing, combined with community-driven initiatives, is more urgent than ever. As the struggle for justice persists, it is crucial to amplify the voices of those affected and demand accountability from law enforcement and political leaders.

For Shameika Thomas, the wait for justice for her sister is a heavy burden she cannot set aside. “I can’t let go without answers,” she said, a sentiment echoed by many within the transgender community who continue to fight for the dignity and recognition of their loved ones.

The hope remains that through persistent advocacy, systemic change, and unwavering support from the community, justice will eventually be served, and the cycle of violence against transgender individuals will be broken.

Transvitae Staff
Transvitae Staff
Staff Members of Transvitae here to assist you on your journey, wherever it leads you.


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