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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have arrested and charged two men in the fatal shootings of two transgender women in Charlotte-area hotel rooms over the past two weeks.
On April 16, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, working with the FBI, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and Marshville Police Department, arrested Dontarius Long and Joel Brewer and charged them in connection with the deaths of 29-year-old Jaida Peterson, who was shot to death at the Quality Inn & Suites Airport on April 4, and 28-year-old Remy Fennell, who was shot to death at the Sleep Inn on April 15.
Long and Brewer face a host of charges, including murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Both victims were later identified by friends and acquaintances as sex workers.
Police had previously warned members the LGBTQ community, especially those engaged in sex work, to exercise caution, saying that the shootings appeared to be related. They said that members of the transgender community should continue to be vigilant, although they do not believe any other individuals were involved in the murders.
Police have not said whether they believe the killings were motivated by the victims’ gender identity.
Advocates have warned that in recent years, nationwide and globally, the number of transgender women, particularly trans women of color, who have been killed in acts of violence has increased.
“This is a pandemic in our community,” Jermaine Nakia Lee, the program director for State of Emergency, a subcommittee of the Charlotte Transgender Healthcare Group’s LGBTQIA Community Conversation Group, told CBS affiliate WBTV. “These trans individuals are somebody’s children, grandchild. We should care that they’re being wiped out.”
Lee noted that some transgender women are often forced to resort to sex work to survive due to discrimination, lack of acceptance, and a dearth of job opportunities.
“People have to eat, people have to make a living. Sex work is illegal in North Carolina, but it is a way of life for people who can’t find a solid position in society,” Lee said.
National organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition, mourned Peterson and Fennell’s deaths, saying more needs to be done to combat the animus directed at members of the transgender community. Peterson and Fennell are among at least 15 transgender or gender-nonconforming people who have fallen victim to fatal violence this year, according to NBJC.
“This long-standing epidemic of violence against the trans and non-binary community must end,” Victoria Kirby York, the deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement. “The surge in anti-trans murders this year reflects the devastating effects of rampant transphobia. With these harrowing instances of deadly violence and introduction of anti-trans legislation throughout the nation, trans and non-binary people of all ages are under attack and in danger.”
Kirby York criticized police and local media for initially misgendering Peterson following her death, noting that it happens all too often. She also urged local, state, and federal officials to pass laws protecting the transgender community from discrimination, marginalization, and violence, rather than the slew of more than 200 bills introduced in various state legislatures this year seeking to roll back rights or protections for LGBTQ people, specifically transgender youth.
Matt Comer, the communications director for Charlotte Pride, said the organization would continue to stress the importance of safety among transgender women in the Charlotte area, despite the arrests of Long and Brewer.
“The first priority in our minds is to get the word out and ensure everybody in the community, in particular trans women, are staying vigilant and hyper aware and safe tonight and the nights to come,” Comer said.
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