In the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 8, Amber Monroe of Detroit became the 12th transgender woman of color to be killed in 2015—and that number is a conservative estimate.
“[Amber] loved to dance,” Bre Campbell told Fusion. Campbell is a trans activist from Detroit living in Washington, D.C., where she’s a fellow at the National LGBTQ Taskforce. She knew Monroe from the Horizons Project, which specializes in HIV/AIDS prevention and care for adolescents at Wayne State University.
“She would always come to my groups," Campbell said of Monroe, who was 20 at the time she was killed. "She kind of looked up to me a little. She told me a lot about her life. She was just funny, really funny.”
Campbell recently started the Trans Sistas of Color Project, an organization that promotes the voices and stories of transwomen of color in Detroit to educate the communities that these women live in and to advocate for their lives and livelihoods.
“The thing that hurt the most,” Campbell said about Monroe’s death, “was knowing how much potential she had to do good in the community, without having the resources.” Campbell had hoped the Trans Sistas of Color Project would help provide those resources.
“She was very goal-oriented,” Campbell said of Monroe. “Every time she said she would do something, it would get done.”
“Amber was my niece in the scene,” said Lakyra Dawson, who described herself as Monroe’s “gay aunt.”
“We were very close. I met her a year or two ago, before she started transitioning. I met her at Palmer Park. We also hung at the Ruth Ellis Center,” a social services agency a couple miles southeast of the park. The center serves runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth—especially those who fall under the LGBTQ umbrella.
“Amber was a firework,” Dawson said. “She was young, full of life, like all the young girls are. Fearless. She was a cool person. She cared for everybody.”
Dawson sometimes slipped into the present tense when talking about Monroe. It had not yet been two days since her death. “She likes to vogue. She just started learning. She walked a couple of balls.”
“Everybody is devastated,” she said.
Accounts of Monroe’s death differed, though everyone agrees on the time and place: early Saturday morning at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and 6 Mile Road, halfway between Palmer Park and the Ruth Ellis Center.
“From what I’m hearing, she was standing on the street with some friends,” Campbell said. “Someone drove by and was shooting. I’m not sure if they were shooting specifically at her or at the group.”
Dawson said that, to her knowledge, Monroe was alone. “She got into a little altercation with a client,” Dawson explained. “She was trying to jump out of the car and she was shot in the back.”
Dawson told Fusion that she "and a different girlfriend were on John R [a nearby street]" at the time Monroe was killed. Still, she said that she didn’t get the news until 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.
“This was actually [Monroe’s] third time being shot, but she wasn’t comfortable going to the police the first two times,” trans rights activist Cherno Biko told Autostraddle yesterday.
Dawson confirmed this: “She had two other incidents before. The police here…they’re assholes." Dawson said that trans women of color in her community can't predict how they'll be treated by law enforcement should they seek help, especially if they're involved in sex work. “You better be lucky they ain’t trying to run your name and take you to jail.”
Cherno Biko—who broke the news of Monroe’s death on social media—emphasized how this latest murder is part of a large, and disturbing, pattern of violence against trans women of color. “This year has been extremely difficult,” she said. “In the first eight weeks of the year, there was a trans woman of color that was killed every week.”
Biko criticized mainstream media depictions of these murders. “They use mugshots of the girls and pull up their criminal history,” Biko told Fusion, explaining that this tactic suggests that these women somehow deserved their deaths. She also said that she "made an intentional decision to use [Amber Monroe’s] chosen name and preferred pronouns” when she broke the news.
The National LGBTQ Taskforce, where Bre Campbell is a fellow, helps record the murders of trans women of color. According to their reports, 12 trans women of color were murdered in both 2014 and 2013. With Monroe’s death, 12 trans women of color have been killed this year—and it’s only August.
In 2013, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were trans women and that 67 percent were trans women of color. In 2014, they reported that trans women were also 5.8 times more likely to experience police violence and 6.1 times more likely to experience physical violence from the police.
In response to this disproportionate experience of violence and discrimination, the National LGBTQ Taskforce started the Stop Trans Murder campaign, which calls attention not only to deaths but also to lives lived in the face of pervasive and structural oppression. According to the Taskforce, one in four trans people have experienced violence. They frame the campaign in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
In Detroit, Amber Monroe’s friends and family continue to try and make sense of her senseless death.
“I’m still in a state of shock,” Lakyra Dawson said. Still, she saw in this experience something larger: “We really have to find some better outlets. Different ways to protect girls like me. We have to start with discrimination. Twelve is a big number.”
Molly McArdle is a contributing writer at Brooklyn Magazine and a native of the District of Columbia.