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‘You have to show up’: Community allies press Dallas police officials on crimes against transgender women

Kaden Brown didn’t want to go to the Resource Center alone Thursday. As a black, transgender woman, she always fears attending public events. Now, after Muhlaysia Booker’s death, she’s even more worried.

“But you have to show up. If we aren’t here, we are going to continue to attend vigils,” said Brown, who brought her boyfriend along to make her feel safer. “It’s like a war out here.”

Brown, 25, was among more than 150 people who attended a Dallas police LGBTQ community outreach event Thursday at the Resource Center, which offers social and health services to transgender people.

The town hall meeting began with a moment of silence for Booker, a 22-year-old transgender woman who was found fatally shot Saturday on a street in Far East Dallas.

Before Booker’s death, the meeting had been expected to be similar to one conducted a year ago, but horror over her slaying brought new urgency to longstanding concerns for transgender people.

Police Chief U. Renee Hall, her top commanders and Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot were on hand to try to address those concerns.

The chief said her department “stands in support” of the LGBTQ community and has placed a priority on training its personnel on overcoming implicit bias, adding that unconsciously characterizing members of a group can lead to unfair treatment.

Brown said she generally trusts the police but has felt unfairly profiled before.

“I feel like in the black community, we are not taken seriously, but we are often a target in our communities for robberies, murder, sex,” she said.

Others at the meeting also expressed concerns about unequal police protection and urged the department to improve LGBTQ outreach efforts in communities of color and in southern Dallas. Thursday’s town hall was one of three the department has planned, including one in southern Dallas.

Creuzot emphasized that his office was ready to prosecute whoever is responsible, and police Maj. Vincent Weddington reiterated investigators’ plea for the public to report any information that might help solve the crime.

Booker’s death was one of several brutal attacks on transgender women of color in recent years in Dallas. But attention to her case has been especially intense because it followed intense publicity over a video of her being punched and stomped April 12 in east Oak Cliff.

Then, Booker suffered a concussion and a broken wrist and told police her attackers hurled homophobic slurs at her.

Edward Thomas, 29, was indicted on an aggravated assault charge in the attack. Police named two other suspects in Thomas’ arrest warrant affidavit, but they have not been charged.

Police have said they do not think Thomas is linked to Booker’s slaying, and his attorneys have said he had “absolutely nothing to do” with her death. They also have said the April 12 attack was not a hate crime.

Thomas, who had been free on bond, was booked back into jail Monday. Court records show his electronic leg monitor recorded him at unapproved locations 13 times on May 16, the day he was indicted on the aggravated assault charge.

Police announced Tuesday that Booker’s killing bore similarities to two other attacks on transgender women in the last year — an October slaying and an April stabbing in which the victim survived.

Police say investigators have not found links among the attacks, and relatives of two of the victims have said they doubted the cases were related.

In two of the three cases, the victim had been in the area of Spring Avenue and Lagow Street in South Dallas just before the attack. Federal authorities are helping to determine whether the cases meet standards to be prosecuted as hate crimes.

With police offering no new details on the Booker investigation, people at Thursday’s event said they were worried about the safety of transgender people in Dallas.

“People need to be compassionate, let people live their life,” said Marquel Smith, Brown’s boyfriend.

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