Courtesy of Mikal.
At least 22 transgender Americans were killed in 2018. In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, read all of their stories here.
Thirty-one-year-old Shantee Tucker was widely known as someone who got along with everyone. “She could be friends with anyone, from the homeless man on the street to the fashion stylist,” said Samantha Jo Dato, former logistical coordinator of the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference and a leader in the Transgender Women Of Color Collective, who had known Shantee for a decade.
On September 5, Shantee was shot eight times on Old York Road in Philadelphia, making her the 19th known transgender person killed in the United States in 2018.
“She’s really like a local legend,” said Dato, who wasn’t in the city at that time, but heard of how the community rallied together after Shantee’s death. “You didn’t realize how many people’s lives she touched, and then the outpour happened,” she added, noting that Shantee’s vigil was well attended by the city’s trans community.
“Either it’s hot or it’s cold with her and when I say that, [I mean] she didn’t sugarcoat things,” Dato explained.
Old York Road, where Shantee was killed, runs along Hunting Park in Philadelphia, an area that has a history of violent crime and is known by some residents as a stroll for transgender sex workers. Three years earlier, in October 2015, a 23-year-old transgender woman named Keisha Jenkins was killed along that same stretch. At the time, one Black trans woman who has worked Old York Road described it to me as “a war zone,” where your life is always at risk.
Mikal, a young, genderqueer person living in Philadelphia, was close friends with Keisha. Shortly after her death, they shared memories of her with me. Three years later, we spoke again. Mikal had known Shantee for four years. They told me that Shantee and Keisha knew each other, too. “They were great friends.”
“She was the life of the party,” Mikal said, echoing Dato’s depiction of Shantee. “Shantee wasn’t a saint, nor was she an angel. She was human.”
Mikal. Courtesy of the subject.
In her past, Mikal told me, Shantee had the type of temper that could get her depicted as a “hot head.” But, according to Mikal, she had been working hard to straighten out her life just before her death: She was focusing on work, getting a job at a local beauty supply store, and going out less.
“She made a complete 180 in her life,” Mikal said. “It made me and many people so fucking happy, including her.” Mikal said Shantee had grown tired of “the drama” and “the fighting,” she’d experienced. “She wanted better for herself, and she worked hard as hell to become better with every day she was granted.”
For her last birthday, Mikal offered to treat Shantee to a trip to Atlantic City, but Shantee wanted to stay in Philadelphia, so she could have fun that night but rest on Sunday. “That following week, I was told by my gay mother that Shantee was killed.” At first, Mikal didn’t believe it. “Then I went on Facebook, and my world shattered. Even in the most optimistic spirit, I couldn’t get past that my girl was gone.”
Courtesy of Mikal.
So far, no suspect has been charged with Shantee’s murder. The Philadelphia Police Department told Broadly that the investigation is ongoing.
Shantee is not the first trans woman whose violent death has rocked the trans community in Philadelphia. In 2002, a Black trans woman named Nizah Morris sustained a fatal head wound while in police custody. Morris’ mother was awarded $250,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, and in the years since, the PPD’s role in her death has been characterized by The Daily Beast as a “cover up.”
In 2013, a Black trans woman named Diamond Williams was brutally killed and dismembered. Five years later, this past May, Charles Sargent was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for the killing. At his trial this March, Judge Diana Anhalt reportedly told Sargent, “Diamond Williams was an important and valuable part of the world. And you wiped her away. I hope I don’t remember you but I will always remember her.”
Dato, who used to work Old York Road herself, said the area is a frequent site of violence for transgender women, and, unless someone dies, sex workers rarely call the police for help. That’s in part because of a fear of being arrested, which impedes their ability to make a living and could expose them to violence in prison. In place of external support, the trans women who work the streets in Philadelphia have harnessed their own whisper networks to warn one another of safety risks. At one time, Dato said a group of women attempted to create a “hot sheet.” It was meant to be “a list of license plates, descriptions, incidents, things that we wanted to present to the police for more protection and things like that,” Dato explained. “To let people know that there were actual crimes being committed.” But, she said, it never came together.
“Usually, I have to fix something before I can mourn something,” Dato told me, explaining the impact this kind of violence has had on her. “Burying your friends and having that moment that you have to put your emotions aside to get the paper to change their name, or overseeing a vigil or candlelight service… It left me with PTSD.”
Dato has worked in community services for years, but Mikal, who is still just in their early 20’s, is still processing the fact that they’ve lost more than one of their transgender sisters this way. “I don’t think I can look at another one of my sisters’ obituaries or give my final goodbyes,” they told me, still grieving Shantee’s death. “It pained me badly to see her resting body in a coffin. She looked so peaceful. She looked asleep.”