Update, Aug. 10, 2018: This story was updated to reflect that an arrest was made in the non-fatal shooting of a 23-year-old transgender woman.
Aea Celestice, a black transgender woman living in Jacksonville, Florida, has the most basic of plans for the next chapter of her life: She hopes to get out of town before someone kills her.
Celestice, 32, has good reason to worry. Over the past six months, four black trans women in the city have been shot, three of them fatally.
Celine Walker, 36, was shot to death in her room at an Extended Stay America hotel near the University of North Florida on the night of the Super Bowl, Feb. 4. On June 1, Antonia “Antash’a” English, 38, was killed outside an abandoned home north of downtown. And on June 24, Cathalina James, 24, was gunned down in a room at a Quality Inn on the city’s south side.
The cases have left Celestice and others in Jacksonville’s transgender community rattled but it’s been the handling of the investigations by authorities that’s stirred outrage. In public statements and official documents, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly identified the victims as men, refusing to call them by the names they chose to use in their lives.
While an arrest has been made in the shooting of a 23-year-old trans woman, all three murders remain unsolved, and the insistence on referring to transgender women as men has left Celestice wondering just how much effort is being made to find the killer or killers. She wonders whether anyone outside of her community cares.
“There doesn’t seem to be a concern for anybody,” Celestice said. “I guess other people have other things going on in their lives than being concerned about a trans woman getting murdered.”
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