A Philadelphia transgender woman who was attacked by a mob inside her own home says that police officers who responded to her home were “belligerent and unsympathetic” and trivialized injuries she suffered during the attack.
Kendall Stephens, the victim, recently spoke with the Human Rights Campaign about her experience. Stephens, who had just started classes at Temple University, said in the interview that she was in her bedroom studying when she hear what sounded like fighting outside the front door.
Outside, a group of people were engaged in an altercation, and, when one of Stephens’ goddaughters looked outside, one of the people involved in the fight cursed her out. Stephens then went outside to ask the crowd to disperse. When they didn’t, she called 911. A woman in the crowd then started cursing at her and charged Stephens, hitting her in the face and forcing her way into Stephens’s home.
Three other women forced their way into the house, and began punching and kicking her, with one woman picking up a wooden decorative planter and beating Stephens in the face with it. Stephens blacked out momentarily.
Throughout the attack, the women referred to Stephens as a “man” and a “tranny.” Several men also entered the house, also hitting Stephens, calling her the n-word and a “fucking tranny.”
Stephens was able to escape into the basement, where she waited until the crowd left her house. She suffered a broken nose in two places, bruised ribs, a head contusion, facial swelling, a busted lip and gums and broken gum vessels.
When police arrived at Stephens’s home, she said they were “belligerent and unsympathetic,” downplaying her injuries and characterizing the attack as a simple assault, and told Stephens she’d have to make a private criminal complaint.
Even though the woman who first punched Stephens was nearby and continued to yell at her, the responding officers refused to arrest the woman.
“At this time my husband arrived and despite our pleas to make an arrest, the responding officers left without confirming the identity of my attacker nor making any arrests,” Stephens told HRC. “When I went to the police district, I was met with the same hostile energy from the commanding sergeant, who harassed me, trivialized my injuries, and cracked jokes with his subordinates while I bled onto the floor.”
Stephens added that even when a representative from the mayor’s office came into the station to speak on Stephens’s behalf, the commanding sergeant continued to be dismissive of the incident.
She gave up trying to get the charges enhanced and eventually went to the hospital and received treatment for her injuries.
“No one should be in a position to have to advocate on their behalf so fervently when in a state of extreme duress, but this is par for the course when it comes to trans people in just about every interpersonal issue we have to endure,” Stephens said.
Several other black trans women have been killed in Philadelphia in the past few years, with the most recent being Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, who was found dead in the Schuylkill River in June.
“In many instances like mine, the police harm the transgender community in irreparable ways, especially in terms of investigations into the times when we are attacked and murdered, as they often misgender us in the media and on police reports and fail to put forth the same energy and effort into our cases than that of the general public,” Stephens added. “Unsurprisingly, many of our murders and attacks become unsolved mysteries, which only emboldens those who wish to attack us to target us without fear of consequence.”
The woman who initially punched Stephens, later identified as Tymesha Wearing, was eventually arrested and charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangering of another person, criminal trespassing, possible instrument of crime with intention, and conspiracy, as well as ethnic intimidation — the closest that the city of Philadelphia can get to charging someone with an anti-LGBTQ hate crime without changing state law.
In response to the charges, District Attorney Larry Krasner called on state lawmakers to amend the state’s hate crimes law to include protections for the LGBTQ community.
The Philadelphia Police Department responded to Stephens’s interview with HRC, telling the Philly Voicethat it was disappointed to hear about her negative experience.
“We remain disheartened that Ms. Stephens did not have a positive interaction with officers when initially filing her report,” a spokesperson said. “Department leadership has spoken with Ms. Stephens and provided her with information on how to file a Complaint Against Police. As always, we encourage anyone who feels as though the conduct of an officer or officers was inappropriate to file an official CAP so that it can be thoroughly investigated by our Internal Affairs Bureau.”
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office also lamented Stephens’s negative interaction with police and encouraged her to file a complaint with the police department against the officers involved.
“It is always troubling to hear about members of the public having negative interactions with police, especially when the person is a crime victim,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The City’s Office of LGBT Affairs is available as a resource to all members of the LGBTQ community and gladly serves as a liaison between community members and the police as needed — including providing assistance in this case by connecting Ms. Stephens with PPD leadership to address her concerns.”
Stephens told HRC that it is troubling that many other transgender people face violence in their lives, and can encounter similar difficulties when they seek out police help.
“Our personal journey into our gender expressions should be a celebratory experience, especially for a trans woman of color, but it is often anything but that,” she said. “Living in today’s times, with rampant trans murders and unprovoked attacks, members of society have taken the opportunity to exploit our vulnerabilities and put us at even greater risk of injury, diseases and death.
“We need people to be our allies and speak on our behalf if we are to advance in health and prosperity in our community,” she added. “People can help by being cognizant of what we, as trans women, go through on a daily basis, just so we can live in our authenticity. We are not hurting anyone else by blossoming into who we are, yet somehow our existence is considered an affront to others and the reaction is to hurt and kill us. This is unacceptable and we need multiple layers of protection to endure.”
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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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