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The transgender community here in the nation's capital is living on edge after a series of violent crimes this summer. Washington, D.C. police are stepping up efforts to keep people safe, but they are not yet calling the recent assaults hate crimes. The city's transgender community is demanding a lot more action. NPR's Beenish Ahmed reports that violence like this is not limited to the city.
BEENISH AHMED: It's two o'clock in the afternoon on Dix Street in Northeast, Washington. The neighborhood is a popular gathering place for transgender women. But tensions arose when 23-year-old Lashai Mclean was murdered here in late July. Days later, Earlene Budd and Ruby Corado held a vigil for Mclean. Both are activists for transgender rights. This is the first time they've returned to the site since then.
EARLINE BUDD: Oh, my God.
RUBY CORADO: It must have been a huge fire.
BUDD: All the way up. All the way up.
AHMED: The singed and dismembered legs of a teddy bear are strewn across the street, and floral bouquets are charred black. Corado and Budd are shocked to find the makeshift memorial they left behind has been torched. Earline Budd sees the vandalism as an omen.
BUDD: It was a clear message to us that we're not welcome, and that what happened to Lashai could happen to any of us.
AHMED: Days after Lashai Mclean's murder, another transgender woman was shot just one block away. Then on August 26, an off-duty police officer stood on the hood of a car and shot two transgender women and a male friend, wounding one critically. The police officer is a 20-year veteran of the city's force. He's currently in jail, awaiting trial.
The most recent assault took place on September 12th, when a transgender woman was shot in the neck. Although police do not believe these crimes to be related, for Ruby Corado, they signal a culture of hate. She thinks the police need to do more.
CORADO: We have become the target, and someone has to be responsible for it. So on my opinion, it really starts with the accountability of those that are out there to protect us.
AHMED: As we stand on the street talking, police arrive at the vandalized memorial.
ROBERT CONTEE: Once I draw the case numbers - I see you have them. Yeah, so, photographed, taken as evidence. A report will be taken.
We've definitely stepped up patrols over here in this area. We've assigned additional resources.
AHMED: That's D.C. Police Commander Robert Contee. He says...
CONTEE: There are quite a few things that are going on over here, just talking to a lot of people to see if we can gain more insight into the offense.
AHMED: The violence that struck D.C.'s transgender community is alarming, but not unusual.
LISA MOTTET: There is no safe city. There is no safe state for transgender people in the United States.
AHMED: Lisa Mottet is with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a Washington advocacy group. She coauthored a recent study along with the National Center for Transgender Equality. The two organizations polled nearly 6,500 transgender Americans.
MOTTET: Overall, we found that 26 percent of transgender folks had experienced some type of physical assault because they were transgender.
AHMED: And well over half of those polled said they have experienced serious discrimination. This includes being incarcerated, evicted or fired because of their gender identity. Washington, along with other jurisdictions, has extended legal protections to transgender people. Ten years ago, only two states had such laws. Now, 15 states do. But researcher Lisa Mottet says it isn't up to policymakers and police officers alone to curb discrimination against transgender people. It's up to society as a whole.
For NPR News, I'm Beenish Ahmed, in Washington.
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