July 25, 2011 at 8:43 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Emotions run high at vigil for slain trans woman

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 200 people turned out Saturday night, July 23, for a vigil to honor Lashai Mclean, a 23-year-old transgender woman who was shot to death three days earlier in Northeast Washington.

The event took place at the site where police say Mclean was gunned down about 4:30 a.m. near the corner of 61st and Dix Streets, N.E. Among those attending were Mclean’s mother and other grieving family members and relatives.

Deputy D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes, who spoke at the vigil, said later that homicide detectives are pursuing information provided by a witness that the fatal shooting took place shortly after two unidentified males “had some words” with Mclean in an alley shortly before she was shot.

“The motive is still not clear to us,” Groomes told the Blade after the vigil. Groomes said police haven’t found evidence of either a robbery or a hate crime in the early stages of the investigation.

Neighborhood residents and passersby looked on with interest as more than a dozen speakers, including D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander, condemned the murder and called on the community to speak out against violence targeting the transgender community.

“To the family and to the community, I want you to know that we are committed to making sure that justice is done, that this life that has touched many of us will be remembered and the life that she led will be remembered,” said Quander, whose duties include overseeing city law enforcement agencies.

“We will always be reminded that what happens to one happens to all of us,” he said. “Injustice to one is injustice to all of us and that in this society no intolerance will be accepted.”

Several of Mclean’s family members, including her mother, joined vigil participants by sitting in chairs or standing under a tent set up on the sidewalk on an evening when the temperature reached 100 degrees.

The mother, who was not identified by name, became overcome by grief at the conclusion of the vigil and suffered a seizure. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital in a development that compounded the grief of other family members.

Earline Budd with Mclean's mother (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two other male family members were being held by police at the site of the vigil after getting into a scuffle with each other on the street where many vigil goers were standing. Police confiscated a tire iron from one of the two men.

“We’re sorting it all out, but emotions are high among the family,” Groomes said later. “They lost their loved one. You saw the mother, the sisters, aunts and uncles, the loved ones, and they’re very distraught.”

During the vigil, Groomes and Sgt. Brett Parson, former head of the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, called on the community to provide police with any information that may lead to the identification of those responsible for Mclean’s murder.

Parson now works as a patrol supervisor in the Six District, where the incident occurred.

“I know that many of you are hurting right now,” he said. “I know that many of you are angry. And you have a right to be because any time a member of our family is taken from us in such a violent way it should make our entire community angry,” he said.

“I want you to know that we get it. We understand that the anger is not just that Lashai was gunned down senselessly,” he said. “But it’s that Lashai was forced to be in a place and time to be ripe for victimization and that those circumstances have to change.”

Sgt. Brett Parson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Although Parson did not say so directly, he may have been referring to the fact that Mclean was shot shortly after 4 a.m. in an alley near the corner of 61st and Dix Streets, N.E., which is a location well known as a gathering place for transgender prostitutes and the men that patronize their services.

Groomes said police could not immediately determine whether the incident was prostitution related but said investigators were looking into that as a possibility.

“This is an area where there are transgenders that hang out,” she said. “So how do we know that someone filled with hate didn’t come up here and do this?” she told the Blade.

“It’s not clear. Right now we’re not saying anything – we don’t hear anything about hate-bias overtones. So it’s frustration. I mean, what is it?” she said.

Court records show that Mclean was arrested on a charge of “inviting for purposes of prostitution” on Aug. 5, 2010 at 4:45 a.m. on the unit block of K Street, N.E. as part of a sting operation conducted by undercover male D.C. police officers.

Records filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Mclean accepted an offer by the U.S. Attorney’s office to enroll in a court diversion program operated by the local group Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS). The program called for Mclean to successfully complete eight sessions of HIPS’ Trans-In-Formation program, a counseling and self-help program that HIPS created under a federal grant to enable transgender sex workers avoid prosecution when arrested on solicitation related charges and become productive citizens.

Court records show Mclean successfully completed the program and the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed the charge against her on May 9 of this year.

HIPS Executive Director Cyndee Clay said Mclean worked well in the program and the group was pleased to help her. At the vigil on Saturday, HIPS Outreach Manager Jenna Mellor told the gathering she was honored to have known Mclean.

“Every time you talked to Shai you really knew how strong she is,” Mellor said. “And it’s an inspiration to see someone live that strongly every day.”

Earline Budd, an official with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment, and Ruby Corado, a member of the D.C. Trans Coalition, were the lead organizers of the vigil. Both described Mclean as a vibrant, charming, and outspoken young woman who made a lasting impression on everyone who came in contact with her.

Budd and other transgender activists have said workplace discrimination against transgender people often forces young transgender women into prostitution as a means of survival.

Vanessa Crowley of D.C. Trans Coalition (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Trans Coalition member Vanessa Crowley told the gathering that Mclean’s murder was another in a series of violent crimes targeting transgender women in the city in recent years. She noted that Mclean’s murder comes two years after a transgender woman was stabbed to death in August 2009 “in broad daylight” in the city’s Shaw neighborhood in a case that remains unsolved.

“While nothing can bring back those that we have lost or undue the suffering that we share, we can and should confront the daily terror and anxiety that trans and gender non-conforming people face,” Crowley said. “We can do this by building networks of mutual support and solidarity and sustain our efforts to feel safe and to make change.”

Crowley also made reference to an initial police news release that identified Mclean by her legal birth name of Myles Mclean and did not list the case as that of a transgender related murder.

“We must stress once against the absolute necessity for the police and the media to respect Lashai’s gender identity,” Crowley said. “The least we can do is respect her chosen and lived identity.”

Others speaking at the vigil included A.J. Singletary, president of the Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence; Jeffrey Richardson, director of the mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs; Nick McCoy, gay activist and community member of the police department’s Critical Incident Team; Ron Mouton, founder of the local anti-crime group Peaceoholics; David Mariner, executive director of the city’s LGBT community center; Jenna Miller, an official with the local group Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), which provides services to transgender woman involved as sex workers; and Budd and Corado.

Rev. Dyan Abena McCray, pastor of D.C.’s Unity Fellowship Church, which has a largely LGBT congregation, told the gathering in an opening prayer that while the family, friends and community members share feelings of hurt and bitterness over Mclean’s loss, the scripture cautions against vengeance.

“We know that justice is going to reigndown, God,” she said. “We claim jujstice right now…We claim the victory over the adversary right now. He has no power over our lives.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • More lip service from the Metro Police Department. Two years ago another transgender woman was stabbed to death in broad daylight and they still haven’t solved that murder. The transgender community has been marginalized for far too long and it’s time that we as a community find a different solution when one of our own is murdered. The M.P.D. just doesn’t care.

  • @Trans Woman: Brett Parson is not only a police sergeant, but a member of the LGBT community with a long record of proving his commitment and working to build trust and cooperation and make a difference. Of course there are problems of trust between LGBT people and police–that is why GLLU was needed. Brett has knelt over too many of our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies to be told glibly that he doesn’t care. I understand the anger, but burning bridges cannot possibly help us. Murder investigations can be extremely difficult. People are often afraid to come forward, for one thing. There are also problems with the interface with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But there are good officers who have worked hard to make a difference, and dismissively saying “the MPD just doesn’t care” is terribly wrong and misguided. Our anger needs to be more constructively channeled.

    Speaking of murder investigations, DC Trans Coalition has slammed Lou Chibbaro for what they call speculation for referring to the murder spot as “a location well known as a gathering place for transgender prostitutes and the men that patronize their services.” Did they check police records as Lou routinely does before they lobbed that charge? Is it that we want an investigation unless it brings out information that we don’t want to hear? Yes, of course news reporting and police investigation are two very different things; but the people doing them do not deserve hasty denunciations when they are trying to do their jobs. Please, it is in these awful, wrenching moments that we most need to exercise restraint. We need to keep struggling forward.

  • Trans Woman’s remark was not inaccurate, Rick. Nor was it glib. I didn’t take Trans Woman’s remark as anything but a legitimate expression of frustration with MPD’s well-chronicled poor leadership *at its highest levels*.

    As I’ve noted many times before, that does NOT apply to MPD’s rank and file officers and their closest district PS commanders across the city, nor to Brett Parson, whom I know and admire, nor to GLLU’s central unit– which has been willfully decimated by Chief Lanier going on five years now.

    There is a chain of command, and all line officers will do their duty, or else. Chief Lanier’s management techniques are well-known. That said, the responsibility buck stop with Lanier, too.

    I seriously doubt Trans Woman was directing her remarks at MPD’s rank and file officers across the city. Nor should she be expected to know of Brett’s history and persona with many in DC’s LGBT community. But it is a VERY serious problem if the trans community doesn’t feel they have a safe haven to report harassment and hate crimes at GLLU central, away from the watchful eyes of their tormentors.

    Brett Parson is a great, professional cop, first and foremost. He has a tough job, and he does it well, as he always has. He spoke the truth, and I have absolutely no doubt that he and MPD rank and file officers understand completely– and with great depth– the anger and frustration expressed by Trans Woman.

    Back to the case itself, I’ve asked the question before… if MPD’s commander were so serious about getting help from the general public regarding this homicide, why did they not publish MPD’s dubious initial press release to ALL of its EIGHT MPD listservs– not just its tiny MPD-SLU listserv?

    Why do the chiefs continue to use the MPD-SLU listserv as a closet for LGBT-related crimes, news and information? It just casts further doubt on Chief Lanier’s claims that she has “improved and expanded” GLLU services across the city.

  • @Brian, of course there are problems with MPD, as I said. We have a lot of work to do. Some of us are meeting with Chief Lanier next month to try to press ahead. But Trans Woman wrote, “The M.P.D. just doesn’t care,” and that’s a sweeping generality that ignores and falsifies the efforts of some good cops that deserve respect. If we don’t at least pause to give due credit, we tacitly discourage others from bothering, because we’ll attack them no matter what they do short of solving everything with a magic wand. As to what Trans Woman can be expected to know, excuse me but we all have a responsibility to do our homework before making assertions.

  • Rick, we just disagree as to our interpretation of what amounts to a letter-to-the-editor soundbite excerpted from Trans Woman’s larger commentary.

    Respectfully, I do read Trans Woman’s comment differently in its context. I believe she was directing her sentiments to MPD’s leadership. Now, they are not the words you or I would have chosen, but I believe that comment represents what a very large segment of the LGBT community is feeling about MPD’s leadership.

    MPD is as professional a PD as they come. It is world class. Our nation’s capital attracts the best and brightest in many fields. Law enforcement is no exception. The FBI’s training facilities at Quantico is a big draw, too.

    MPD’s rank and file is highly intelligent, highly educated, highly trained, highly motivated and not at all thin-skinned. They ARE pros. The body of our police department is stronger and more talented than the sum of the chiefs who head it. There is everything to be proud of in that.

    The simple truth, however, is that the LGBT community has lost faith in MPD’s leadership. Accordingly, too much community trust in MPD has been lost as a result. And for good reason.

    Whatever her intentions, for several years, Chief Lanier has repeatedly said one thing with respect to her support for GLLU and SLU, and done another. There is absolutely no reason to believe that anything she promises now to strengthen GLLU central, won’t drift to the back burner and be diluted to nothing once again.

    Trust is the essential glue which binds a community to its police force. It is not likely that the LGBT community will suddenly regain their trust in MPD (which took many years to RE-build, after all) if Lanier remains as Chief.

    That’s how fragile community/ police trust is. When a significant segment of the population loses trust in its PD, it is time for new leadership, lest that mistrust continue to grow and adversely impact the city’s public safety more and more.

    Chief Lanier is extremely talented and highly capable, but not anymore for this city, at this time. Another city, perhaps with similar public trust issues, could easily benefit from her considerable talent, however.

    We need to rebuild GLLU central while continuing GLOV’s excellent training for officers throughout MPD’s districts. And we will best and most quickly achieve that with new leadership at MPD.

  • Brian, that’s fine, but it doesn’t refute my point.

  • Mclean was a prostitute and a drug addict one is enough to get you killed in this town she was killed because of that, this sure in the hell was not a hate crime people, save your compassion for innocent victims!

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