Mother of Fatally Beaten Transgender Woman Calls for Justice
HARLEM—The mother of Islan Nettles, the transgender woman who died Thursday after she suffered a fatal beating, recalled her as a "handsome man and a beautiful woman."
But she also painfully recalled the condition in which she died and called on police to bring her attacker to justice.
"He knocked my baby out on the floor. He was out cold and he kept beating and beating and beating. Half of my baby's brain is missing out of his head. His eyes is closed shut," mom Delores Nettles said.
"He deserves life in prison because he took a life," she said about suspect Paris Wilson, 20.
Police say Wilson beat Nettles, 21, unconscious and bloody in the early morning hours of Aug. 17 after Nettles and a group of transgender women friends came across Wilson and a group of men near Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 148th Street.
Once the men discovered that Nettles and her friends were transgender, they began beating Nettles while homophobic slurs were being yelled, according to police. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
But Delores Nettles said that she was told by Islan's friends that Islan was with two other transgender women when a group of eight men began following them up the boulevard and hurling homophobic insults and slurs.
"They were taunting them. They were saying f--, hatred slurs, like gay, she-male," she said.
At some point an argument broke out.
Wilson allegedly struck Islan Nettles, who also went by the names Vaughn Nettles and Alon Nettles, in the head with his fist, according to the criminal complaint.
"Once on the ground, the defendant continued to strike (Nettles) in the face," the complaint read.
A police officer from the housing bureau's Police Service Area 6 precinct, which is located across the street from the incident, saw Nettles "unconscious on the ground with an eye swollen shut and blood on her face," according to the court papers.
Her mother says Islan was battered almost beyond recognition. She says doctors had to remove a portion of her skull and then a piece of her brain due to swelling.
One eye was closed shut and when she opened her other eye, it was so filled with blood that she could not see the pupil.
"I would rather have him have life in prison because my baby suffered. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my baby and that's hurtful," said Delores Nettles.
Islan Nettles was first pronounced brain dead on Tuesday but doctors continued to do more tests at her mother's request. After Islan did not respond to cold water being poured in her ear, her mother says she made the decision to remove life support Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, the Medical Examiner's office declared Islan Nettles' death a homicide caused by blunt impact injuries to her head.
"I was hoping that my baby could pull through," said Delores Nettles outside of her apartment building in Harlem where her mother, sister and two other daughters were gathered.
Delores Nettles said she knew that Islan, the second oldest and only child born male of her seven children, might be gay when she was about 9 years old.
At 14, she says she came out as a gay male. It was about three years ago that Delores Nettles said Islan came to the realization that she was a woman. She fully supported Islan's decisions about her own sexuality.
Friday afternoon, the proud mom showed pictures of Islan when she was living as young gay man and later in posed shots after she decided that she was a woman. Pictures of Islan when she was younger showed a smiling adorable child.
"He was a handsome man and a beautiful woman," Delores Nettles said, crying.
She said Nettles had completed part of her gender transformation but was hoping to have children of her own one day. Delores Nettles said Islan had officially changed her name on her birth certificate.
"I accepted him no matter what because I loved him. At the end of the day that was my baby, no matter what. I didn't care if he was gay," said Delores Nettles before breaking down in tears.
"It hurts, oh it hurts," said Delores Nettles.
Wilson is free on bail but prosecutors are investigating upgrading the initial misdemeanor assault and harassment charges.
Authorities said another person walked into a police precinct station house following the attack and made "incriminating statements" to cops. They did not reveal the identity of the second person or say whether that person had been questioned by prosecutors.
Islan Nettles' dream was to become successful in the world of fashion design.
"Making my way into the Fashion industry has been my target since middle school," she wrote on her LinkedIn page.
"Fashion became a definite decision for my life after my first show with my hand designed garments in high school at the 11th grade."
She also said she worked at Harlem Children's Zone as an assistant photographer and fashion instructor and took courses at New York City College of Technology after graduating from Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School in Harlem in 2009.
"She was just a loving person who loved fashion," said Islan Nettles' older sister Domenique Nettles, 23.
"He would tell me how to dress sometimes," Delores Nettles recalled.
Politicians around the city and LGBT rights group condemned Nettles' death.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project decried the incident, citing statistics that show there were 25 documented anti-LGBT murders in the United States last year. About 73 percent of all anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were people of color and almost 54 percent were transgender women.
"An attack against one person, or one community is an assault against all New Yorkers. We ask all New Yorkers to come together, to embrace our differences and to denounce hate violence," read a joint statement from Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn and Harlem council members Robert Jackson and Inez Dickens.
Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio also denounced Nettles' death on Twitter.
“This is a horrifying and painful moment for our city. Ms. Nettles' murder was crime rooted in hate and ignorance," said de Blasio.
“Make no mistake: The denial of fundamental rights to transgender New Yorkers fuels the appalling violence this community continues to face," he added.
Islan Nettles' family is still struggling with her death. The family was outside of the building in Harlem where she sometimes lived.
Friends and neighbors struggling with disbelief came by to ask if what media outlets were reporting was true and to deliver condolences and cards. Her grandmother couldn't hold back tears.
"I want my baby to get justice," said Delores Nettles before heading off to make funeral arrangements.