A Black Transgender Woman Was Killed On The Last Day Of Pride
Merci Mack is at least the 18th trans person killed so far in 2020.
A community is searching for answers after the body of 22-year-old Merci Mack, a Black transgender woman, was discovered in Dallas on Tuesday morning. She is at least the 18th trans person to die by violence in 2020, the vast majority of whom have been trans women of color.
Mack's body was discovered in a parking lot of the Rosemont Apartments located in South Dallas at 6:15 a.m with apparent gunshot wounds. While residents of the building allegedly heard shots fired an hour prior, the Dallas Police Department claims that no one made a call to 911.
An emergency response team declared Mack dead at the scene, according to local authorities.
Despite openly identifying as a transgender woman, Mack was deadnamed in initial reports by law enforcement and the local media, such as NBC affiliate KXAS-TV. The Associated Press Stylebook has urged journalists to “use the name by which a transgender person now lives” in their reporting, rather than their discarded legal name. That call has long been echoed by national LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which have published trans reporting guidelines both for police and members of the media.
Representatives with the Dallas Police Department have claimed they were unable to confirm the name that Mack used in her daily life, but have reached out to friends and family to correct the record. In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson said that the department’s “hearts go out to the grieving family who are trying to cope with the loss of their love one.”
“Our detectives, as with all murders, are working diligently to find the perpetrator to this horrible crime,” the representative said.
BuzzFeed News was unable to contact Mack’s family members prior to publication, but friends left messages of remembrance on Mack’s Facebook page. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ groups released statements commemorating her life.
“Another Black transgender woman has had her life stolen from her,” said Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “We cannot become numb to the fact that our community has learned of more killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the past few weeks than HRC has ever tracked in the past seven years.”
Cooper said those who knew her described her as a “young, upbeat soul who deserved to experience a full life.”
Diamond Stylz, executive director of the Houston-based nonprofit Black Transwomen Inc., said that her organization has been assisting police in confirming Mack’s identity. Stylz said that work has weighed heavily on the community after the deaths of at least three other Black trans women during Pride month: 25-year-old Riah Milton in Liberty Township, Ohio; 27-year-old Dominique Fells in Philadelphia; and 17-year-old Brayla Stone in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“We don't like to report the deaths all the time, but we have to. We want to be positive and be fun,” Stylz told BuzzFeed News. “But every week this Pride month — that is supposed to be a time of celebration — we have had to mourn the death of at least one trans person. I don't want to have to do it, but we have to because we care about our sisters and nobody is going to care about them like we do.”
Mack’s death also marks one of at least 11 transgender Texans to die by violence since 2017, and nearly all were Black women. Helle Jae O’Regan, who was white, was stabbed to death on May 6 during her shift at a barbershop in San Antonio.
While Texas holds the distinction of leading the country in trans killings, Stylz said that these deaths have helped strengthen the ties between the Dallas Police Department and local trans advocacy groups. She cited the death of Muhlyasia Booker, a 22-year-old Black trans woman who was killed in May 2019 shortly after a video of her being beaten by a group of men went viral, as a turning point in that relationship. Before Booker’s death, Stylz said police were largely “indifferent” to trans killings, treating them as something that only happens in “New York and Los Angeles.”
“I felt differently three years ago, but then Muhlyasia Booker happened and their tone changed in how they responded to us,” Stylz said. “There was a lot more care.”
As community advocates like Stylz push law enforcement to treat the victims of trans killings with dignity and respect, Stylz says she'd like to see that level of care extended to Black trans women while they are still alive. Transgender people are twice as likely as the average person to be unemployed, and she said numerous studies have shown that factors like job opportunities, rates of poverty, and the social safety nets available to people have a major impact on the level of violence they experience.
These realities led Stylz to create Black Transwomen Inc., which focuses on job training, mentorship, and leadership development for people in marginalized communities, so that transgender women of color aren’t forced into situations that increase their likelihood of becoming a statistic.
“If people have jobs, healthcare, ways to get their mental health together, opportunities for higher education, those things reduce the crime rate,” she said. “Is that going to totally stop every murder?"
"No, but we know that it reduces the probability."