Like Dallas, Memphis, Tennessee, cannot shake the reputation for violence. The assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in April 1968 will always haunt the city that bills itself “The Home of the Blues/The Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll.”
Four savage attacks against transgender women of color in Memphis reinforce the reputation Memphians would rather forget, and focus the attention of the nation on the terrible price transgender Americans pay for being true to themselves. Tiffany Berry, 21-years-old, was shot three times in the chest by a man who “did not like the way she had touched him.” Berry’s February 16, 2006, murder was a grim prelude to the murders of 20-year-old Ebony Whitaker on July 1, 2008, and 43-year-old Duanna Johnson on November 9, 2008. Johnson made national headlines when her beating by two Memphis Police Officers was captured on a jailhouse video camera earlier in the year. At the time of her murder, Johnson was pursuing a $1.3 million lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department. All three hate crime murder victims were African American transwomen. On Christmas Eve 2008, yet another African American transwoman, Leeneshia Edwards, was shot in the jaw, side and back in a near-fatal attack.
Anti-transgender violence is on the rise throughout the United States. Attacks like these could happen in any city in the country. Ironically, Memphis is served by a liberal Jewish congressman with a 100% rating by the Human Rights Campaign, and the police department is submitting to sensitivity training by LGBT experts. Yet Memphis bears a special responsibility for extending and protecting civil rights.
In March 1968, Memphis garbage workers began carrying placards bearing “I AM A MAN” to underscore their humanity in the struggle for dignity and living wages. After Dr. King’s assassination, that slogan became famous throughout the world, signifying the determination of black people to win their freedom. Four decades later, with the election of America’s first black president, a newer version of that slogan needs to be invented to highlight the struggle of transgender people of color who face violence and indignities of every kind: “I AM A HUMAN BEING.”
Dr. King wrote in his famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Gay, Bi, Lesbian, Trans or Straight, the freedom and security of all of us depends on the freedom and security of any of us. That makes all of us, on the eve of a new presidency offering hope, inextricably involved with what is happening to our trans sisters in the streets of Memphis.
regarding the hate crime murder of Sean Kennedy.
We’ve quoted the article in full.
“Sean Kennedy’s Murderer Up for Early Parole”
by Jim Burroway
The Box Turtle Bulletin
January 5, 2009
Last June, we asked what a young gay man’s life was worth. A judge in South Carolina concluded that it was worth about a year and a half. That’s the sentence that Stephen Moller received for the death of Sean Kennedy. Sean, 20, was attacked outside a Greenville County, S.C. bar on May 16, 2007. Witnesses said that Moller shouted anti-gay epithets at Kennedy before attacking him. Sean died of his injuries.
Moller was originally charged with murder, but the grand jury reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter. Moller pleaded guilty to those reduced charges and was sentenced to five years, reduced to three, minus seven months for time served. Moller’s attorney said that when all is said and done, Moller will probably serve about a year and a half. With credit for time served, he was due to be released in September 2009.
Well, now it’s possible that Moller could be out of prison as early as February. A web site set up in Sean Kennedy’s memory, Sean’s Last Wish, is asking for your help:
The parole board is currently conducting an investigation to decide whether to allow him to have a parole hearing, so it is critical that they hear from you that Stephen Andrew Moller violently murdered Sean Kennedy and should serve the remainder of his sentence!
Please consider writing a letter to the parole board and ask them to deny Stephen Moller parole and serve out his sentence. In your letter, please remind the board of the violent and unprovoked nature of Moller’s offense and the pain and suffering it has caused in the lives of Sean Kennedy’s family and friends. If you have the time, please write a personal letter by hand or by computer, as those will be the most effective, and if you knew Sean or his family personally, please include that information.
Also, please let Elke know if you send a letter and if possible, send her a copy of the letter, so she can have copies to take with her to the parole hearing.
Be sure to include Moller’s full name and ID number:
Stephen Andrew Moller – SCDC ID # 00328891.
Send your letters to:
Department of Probation Pardon and Parole Services
2221 Devine Street, Suite 600, PO Box 50666
Columbia SC 29250
Please forward to your contacts, friends and family.
Thank you for all of your support!