As clouds darkened a remarkably warm Saturday afternoon, a sizable crowd filled the Ynot Lot on North Avenue to mourn and celebrate the life of Alphonza Watson, a 38-year-old woman who was murdered in Baltimore last week, making her at least the eighth transgender woman of color killed in the United States this year.
Watson was shot in the stomach the morning of Wednesday, March 22, on 2400 block of Guilford Avenue in the Barclay neighborhood, where witnesses heard gunshots and cries for help before seeing two men speed away in a car from the scene. A reward of up to $2,000 has been offered for information about the killing.
Organized by the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, the vigil drew members of the transgender community, allies, and representatives from local LGBTQ organizations, as well as the police department. Merrick Moses of the Black Trans Advocacy and the Baltimore City State's Attorney Office opened and closed with a guided prayer. Though State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby was not present for the vigil, Moses told the crowd she sends her condolences to the community and takes the crime seriously. Moses then pointed to therapists and counselors from the SAO, Star Track, and Chase Brexton on hand at the vigil to listen to anyone who needed one-on-one support.
"I'm not just sick of the killing, I'm sick of people not seeing the beauty of our diversity," said Monica Stevens, founder of transgender network Sistas of the T. "I'm sick of the dishonest narratives. I'm so sick of the lies, I'm so sick of people not growing the fuck up and talking about who they really are. We pay the price because somebody won't get honest about who they really are at their core."
Ava Pipitone, the vigil's host and executive director of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, offered the mic to attendees, who lamented the rise in outward hatred since the inauguration of President Trump, described violence they'd witnessed against transgender women in the city, condemned the disrespect shown toward and inadequate resources provided to transgender sex workers, and called on continued unity in the face of violence.
Tearing up, Key'Ayshia Tucker of the GLCCB recalled speaking to the young woman who approached Watson after she was shot. The witness said that as she lay on the side of the street, Watson worried about her hair. Taking over the mic, Pipitone mused over the implications of Watson's alleged dying words.
"What happens after you die and you're trans is you get misgendered and erased in death," she said. "How you look when you're dying, that's actually a real fucking concern."
"This isn't something cis people have to worry about, because you're born in the same body you identify as, so there's no threat to your identity after you don't have control over what happens to you anymore," added Stevens.
While Watson has not been misgendered or called by the wrong name by the media, the image used in many reports of her death appears to be a mugshot—another sign of disrespect.
Fourteen transgender people have been murdered in Baltimore since 2005. Last September, Crystal Edmonds was murdered on the 3600 block of Fairview Avenue; her case remains open. In 2014, Mia Henderson, sister to NBA player Reggie Bullock, was found stabbed to death in a Northwest Baltimore ally; a Hagerstown man named Shawn Oliver was charged with her murder after his DNA was found beneath her fingernails. He was acquitted last January.
"Transphobia kills," said Pipitone at the vigil for Watson. "And that's not on us to fix, that's on cis people to fix."