Queer people of color lost to police violence remembered in Sheridan Square

Andy Jean addresses the vigil participants in Sheridan Square on June 1. (Photo by Donna Aceto)


With LGBTQ Pride Month kicking off just as the city and the nation are convulsed with anger and protest over the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as many as 1,000 LGBTQ New Yorkers and allies gathered in Sheridan Square on June 1 to remember LGBTQ people of color lost to police violence, as well as other Black Americans who died at the hands of police.

The crowd takes a knee during the June 1 vigil. (DONNA ACETO)

The 5 p.m. vigil, which ran more than an hour, was billed as a “peaceful demonstration,” where participants were asked to “wear masks” — and the event was successful on both scores. The gathering included remarks from activists as well as out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman and the reading of names of queer and other people of color killed by police in recent years.

Hoylman, in his remarks, discussed the need to repeal a loitering for the purpose of prostitution statute often used to target transgender women of color and dubbed the “walking while trans ban,” as well as 50-a, a provision of state law that shields details about the performance evaluations of police officers from public disclosure.

State Senator Brad Hoylman. (DONNA ACETO)

Among the other speakers were the singer Mila Jam, Elisa Crespo, a transgender educational professional who is seeking a Bronx City Council in the 2021 election, Marti Gould Cummings, an activist and drag artist seeking a Manhattan Council seat next year, and costume designer Andy Jean, who often goes by the moniker Miss Jean.

Participants observed the organizers’ request that they wear masks to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. (DONNA ACETO)

Those gathered for the vigil were reminded that George Floyd was not the only recent victim of police violence. On May 27, the same day that Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, police in Tallahassee, Florida, shot and killed Tony McDade, who was believed to have been the assailant in a fatal stabbing. According to police, he also had a gun and “made a move consistent with using the firearm against an officer,” at which point an officer fatally shot him. No witnesses corroborated the police account and the Tallahassee police did not respond to Gay City News’ questions about the fatal incident.

Participants observed the organizers’ request that they wear masks to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. (DONNA ACETO)

In June of last year, Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a transgender woman, was found dead in her “restrictive housing” cell at Rikers Island, with the cause of death attributed to seizures caused by epilepsy. An attorney for her family said her medical condition was “well-known” to officials at Rikers, where she had earlier suffered seizures. The family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.

Elisa Crespo. (DONNA ACETO)

In April 2019, NYPD officers killed shot 32-year-old Kawaski Trawick, a Black gay man who was a member of the local queer ball scene, firing four bullets at him after, authorities said, he “suddenly jumped to his feet” when he was tased in his Bronx apartment. Kawasi had earlier phoned the fire department to report a fire in his apartment, and separately neighbors called police, apparently due to his behavior not to any fire they saw. When fire fighters and police arrived, they found no fire but Trawick was holding a knife and broomstick. When he refused to drop the weapons, police tased him. Advocates for his family argued that the incident possibly stemmed from emotional distress on Trawick’s part that should have been handled in a non-violent manner.

Another gathering commemorating transgender people of color who have died violent deaths is planned for this afternoon at 5 p.m. outside the Stonewall Inn. A flyer for that event includes pictures of Tony McDade and Nina Pop, a Black transgender woman found stabbed to death in her southeast Missouri home on May 3. Among the organizers for today’s event are Decrim NY and the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.

Demonstrators take a knee outside Sheridan Square on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Demonstrators take a knee outside Sheridan Square on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Photo by Tequila Minsky
Photo by Tequila Minsky

This story first appeared on gaycitynews.com.