Transgender Groups Protest Handling of Islan Nettles' Death

By Jeff Mays on January 31, 2014 7:32am 

Slideshow
 Transgender people and their allies attend a protest in front of One Police Plaza to demand a more comprehensive investigation into the murder of transgender youth, Islan Nettles on January 30, 2014.
Islan Nettles Protest
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ONE POLICE PLAZA — More than a hundred protesters gathered outside One Police Plaza to criticize police and prosecutors for their handling of the killing of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who was brutally beaten to death in Harlem in August.

Chanting "transgender lives matter" and holding signs that said "Justice for Islan," protesters, bracing against frigid temperatures Thursday, said they feel the NYPD did not investigate the death well and that the district attorney's office was not doing a good job of prosecuting the case.

"I feel like someone got away with murder," said Delores Nettles, Islan's mother.

She said delays in updating the initial misdemeanor charges against initial suspect Paris Wilson and in collecting evidence and witnesses have led to no one currently being charged or in custody for Islan's death.

"It's terrible but I have no choice but to wait," Nettles said.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment on the criticism, citing an ongoing investigation of the case. NYPD officials also said there is an "active investigation" being conducted by the "NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force."  

Nettles, 21, was with two other transgender women friends in the early morning hours of Aug. 17 when they ran across Wilson, 20, and a group of men at Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 148th Street, according to police.

After discovering that Nettles was a transgender woman, police say a fight broke out. Nettles was knocked to the ground and then pummeled as she lay unconscious while homophobic slurs were hurled, police said.

The incident occurred just across the street from a police housing bureau station.

Nettles' mother took her off life support at Harlem Hospital on Aug. 22.

All charges against Wilson, who had been attending college upstate and did not have a criminal record, were dropped in November after prosecutors said they were not prepared to bring the case before a grand jury because of confusion over the identity of the person who actually attacked Nettles.

Wilson's mother brought another man to police who confessed to the crime after her son was arrested, the NYPD said. Police officials did not believe the confession of the second man, who said he was too intoxicated to remember much.

Wilson's attorney has proclaimed his client's innocence, saying that he never laid a hand on Nettles.

Sources familiar with the investigation say that prosecutors are still working the case and have made "incremental progress."

But Thursday's protesters said the only progress they will be satisfied with is when somebody is charged.

"When people are beaten to death in the street it takes their power away," said Carl Siciliano, executive director of The Ali Forney Center that serves LGBT homeless youth. Islan Nettles had been a client.

"When police fail to take that death seriously it takes away their power," he added.

The case is even more significant because transgender women of color face violence at higher rates, transgender activist Lourdes Hunter said.

"If this was a young beautiful white woman we would not be out here in this brisk cold fighting for justice," Hunter said.

Nala Toussaint, 23, a transgender woman who works as a youth coordinator with the Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York, said the situation surrounding Islan Nettles' case leaves her feeling vulnerable.

"You feel like they are saying transgender lives are disposable," said Toussaint. "Why do I have to feel inferior?"

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