Thursday, April 23, 2009

Justice For A Trans Hate Victim

"I've been tossed around plenty before.
Had this heart of mine broken and more.
I can't find me a reason for sure,
But I've gotten used to bad news." — Used To Bad News, Boston

Finally, justice.

Just from a cursory recall, I can't remember any case involving a trans victim in the United States where there was a life sentence meted out along with the hate crimes (bias crimes) enhancement added. The Angie Zapata murder case and ruling on the killer Allen Ray Andrade was truly a notable verdict.

In a sense, it seems almost wrong to foist upon him this ignoble "first".

Then again, this is something that been a long time comin' for the Trans community of America. So inured we are to being written off as "freaks" or "its" or "objects" in media and in the legal system that I was skeptical that the court in Greeley, Colorado would be able to apply an equal sentence for a case where the victim was trans. In fact, the minute I found out that the judge had instructed the jury to consider "negligent homicide" as one of the verdict options, I was apoplectic and deeply furious. How could this be happening again?

To their credit, the jury in Greeley took little time and arrived at a sentence in roughly two hours time! And the sentence was appropriate: guilty of murder in the first degree, and guilty of a bias crime – the first time the law enacted in 2005 in Colorado had been used and successfully convicted.

For most of the country, even some in the gay and lesbian community, this won't be anything out of the ordinary. However, the trans community has had to watch our own, even in the most heinous of violence, be treated as if we weren't worthy of legal considerations the rest of the country expected. We have been always been casually dismissed as hookers or objects not worthy of full consideration in law as human beings, even when victimized by crimes most brutal.

My knee-jerk reaction on hearing the possibility of a lesser verdict and sentence was immediate outrage. It was time for protest and even use as fodder for our upcoming lobby day to point out the stark inequity in application of law. The jury's verdict defied my expectations. It was a nice surprise, even a mild shock.

That got me to thinking: I've become conditioned to expect inequality. More than a decade of being politically involved and knowing well how "law" is applied when it comes to trans people has trained me to expect the worst. The Gwen Araujo trials, which to most of us was considered a well-investigated case, ended up with woefully inadequate sentences. I'll never forget my initial displeasure at Jason Cazares' (who arguably killed Gwen Araujo) receiving a seven-year sentence.

Adding insult to injury, we had folks from the Horizons Foundation and Chris Daley from the Transgender Law Center chiding our complaints about the sentences, trying to impress upon the trans community that this was a just sentence! That's something I'll never forget. The trans community and Araujo's family both were quite upset with the prosecutors' results of convictions and plea bargains with relatively light sentences. Those who criticized our dismay were playing for political consideration instead of realizing the message that sentence sent to us trans folk: accept whatever you get and be happy, even when it's less than equal.

In a nutshell, the Gwen Araujo trial was a glaring example of how law is unequally applied. We weren't equal, and per some of our so-called allies, it was folly for us to entertain the notion of being equal.

The Angie Zapata case has finally given us a glimpse of how equal protection works.

Will this change my general outlook on whether we're considered equal? Not yet, not completely. This is one instance out of many others that have preceded it. Inequality is still a way of life that we both recognized and battle against.

For the time though, my heart goes out to the Zapata family for staying strong and supportive of Angie's memory. With the carriage of justice, may they now have some peace.

My heart also goes out to the Guerrero family who did likewise for Gwen Araujo's memory. This has to be a time of both happiness for the Zapatas, and also reflection of a true justice that was watered down and incomplete for their daughter, sister, niece. One wonders what they could've done to impress upon the courts in Oakland that Gwen too was just as valuable, just as loved, just as human as these judges and attorneys' family members?

This first just decision is a beginning. But until we're truly equal, it's only a beginning. And being on the downside of all this for all our lives, I remain an eternal skeptic until I see it happening consistently in real life.

"Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both." — Eleanor Roosevelt

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