On Aug. 17, 2013, James Dixon, 23, met Islan Nettles, 21, in Harlem, New York. The two began to flirt until Dixon learned that she was a transgender woman. According to what Dixon later told authorities, he went into a “blind fury” and attacked Nettles, hitting her twice. The first blow knocked her to the ground. The second time, Dixon hit her as she already lay on the pavement. Nettles died five days later – after falling into a coma. Her death was a direct result of the physical assault from Dixon, according to the New York Times.
“I just didn’t want to be fooled,” Dixon reportedly said in a videotaped statement. Apparently his friends began to mock him for flirting with a woman of trans experience. He blamed the taunting for his decision to beat Nettles to death.
Following the trial (which received little coverage from mainstream media), Dixon has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. This is shorter than the 17-year sentence that was recommended by the district attorney. Nettles’ family spoke out about the sentencing and expressed different levels of emotion.
“I hope you die,” said Delores Nettles, Islan’s mother, according to Mic. “I will hate you for the rest of my life for taking something that belonged to me. Your mother can see you every day and say ‘I love you.’ I can’t hear that. I’m subjected to seeing my child on a mantle.”
“I had eight children and never thought that I’d have to bury one. I had the best of both worlds with Islan — a son and a daughter.”
Nettles’ death echoed the hypocrisy of the United States’ and trope of equality due to the steadily increasing death toll of trans folks by others in their communities. The criminalization of trans folks, like CeCe McDonald, is another aspect of this conversation which underscores a need for serious change in societal understanding of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.
“While we have a legal resolution in this one case, for many, it does not represent the real justice we are ultimately seeking,” said Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
To learn more about what legislation, activist efforts, and social changes are being enacted for and by trans people, visit the National Center for Transgender Equality.
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