She was not just "another transgender woman killed." Her name was Elisha Walker. And the circumstances of her slaying highlight, among other things, the ways in which legislation fails to protect trans lives.
Walker's mother, Rhonda Alexander, told The Salisbury Post that her daughter was a "free spirit" who was "always funny and doing something to make people laugh." The 20-year-old Salisbury, N.C., resident was planning to move in with a friend when she went missing last November.
Walker's remains were found buried in a shallow grave in Johnson County on Thursday, The Guardian reports. Initial reports from police and many media outlets misgendered her. News of her death initially spread beyond the local level thanks to the efforts of people like artist and advocate Sophia Banks on social media.
Latin Kings gang member Angel Dejesus Arias, who Alexander told the Post was Walker's lover of eight months, has been arrested and charged with Walker's murder. Arias has also been charged with felony larceny of a motor vehicle.
It is unknown at the moment whether or not Arias killed Walker because of her gender identity. Even if that is proven, it is unlikely that Walker's slaying will be classified as a hate crime without federal intervention.
Forty-five states have some sort of hate crime legislation on the books, according to the Human Rights Campaign. These laws offer legal protections to groups already vulnerable to hate or bias-related violence. Of those 45 states, only 16 offer protections on the basis of gender identity. North Carolina is not one of them.
Since North Carolina has no hate crime law specifically protecting transgender people, it is unlikely that Arias will be charged with anything else beyond murder and felony larceny of a motor vehicle.
The federal government could step in and launch a hate crimes investigation into Walker's death, similar to what happened after a white supremacist shot and killed nine congregants of an historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The state charged Dylann Roof with murder, while the shooter's 33 federal charges included committing hate crimes.
Hate crime legislation is important because it recognizes that some acts of violence aren't isolated, that an attack against a member of a group endangers every other member of that group. Without such laws, it becomes harder to connect the dots between one transgender woman's murder and that of another. It's only August, but the number of trans women who were slain in 2015—the majority of whom were women of color—has already exceeded the number of trans women killed in 2014.
"Even as we are seeing an increase in transgender visibility through a range of inspiring national media stories, including Caitlyn Jenner's, the levels of violence and harassment transgender people face—particularly transgender women and transgender women of color—constitute a national crisis," HRC staff member Laya Monarez told The Guardian in a statement.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.