The fatal shooting on July 4 of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, 25, in an area close to where transgender sex workers congregate has prompted a local LGBT-supportive advocacy group to call on police to end their longstanding practice of arresting trans sex workers.
Dodds was found unconscious suffering from a gunshot wound in the neck about 3 a.m. on July 4 along the 200 block of Division Ave., N.E., which is less than two blocks from where she lived with her family at the Clay Terrace public housing project.
She died nine days later on July 13 at Prince George’s Hospital Center after having been on life support since the day of the shooting. Police have said they have yet to identify a motive or a suspect in the case, but say they have no evidence to classify the murder as a hate crime.
During a July 16 vigil held in Dodds’s honor in a courtyard next to her family’s Clay Terrace residence, family members told news reporters that Dodds engaged in commercial sex work at the nearby Eastern Avenue, N.E. strip as a means of survival.
Dodds’s aunt, Joann Lewis, who said she raised Dodds from infancy, told NBC 4 and Post columnist Petula Dvorak at the vigil that Dodds was forced into sex work after being unable to find a regular job due to her status as a trans woman.
“And whenever she went out to turn tricks, her family members always said: ‘Be sure to tell them who you are, what you are,” Dvorak quoted Lewis as saying.
Lewis told Dvorak the family members repeated that warning to Dodds when she left home to go out on the street on the night of July 4 with a supply of condoms in her purse.
Lewis and other family members told news reporters that the family fully accepted Dodds for who she was and pointed out that, while some in the neighborhood were uncomfortable with her, many also accepted her and liked her.
Transgender activist Earline Budd, who organized the vigil, said several young straight men who walked by the vigil told her they were angry that someone took Dodds’s life and that they would have defended her had they witnessed the attack.
Meanwhile, the local sex workers advocacy group HIPS issued a statement last week expressing concern that a longstanding anti-prostitution crackdown by D.C. police that has targeted transgender sex workers has created an atmosphere that forces sex workers to ply their trade in unsafe locations.
HIPS and other local and national LGBT supportive groups, including the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, have called for the decriminalization of prostitution, saying the current policy of arresting sex workers never ends what many call the oldest profession in the world and unfairly targets marginalized people who engage in sex work for financial survival.
“Our city’s emphasis on arrest as our tool for addressing sex work in our city increases individuals like Dee Dee’s risk of violence, impedes the ability of sex workers to report acts of violence, and wastes resources putting individuals arrested through a revolving door of arrest and incarceration,” HIPS said in its statement.
“It is clear that that the Metropolitan Police Department’s resources would be much better used investigating and stopping violent crimes against transgender people and sex workers,” the statement says.
“As a city, we must hold each and every person accountable to ending violence against our city’s most vulnerable populations,” the statement continues. “The police, the mayor, our ANC Commissioners, our neighbors, our families — we must rededicate ourselves to fighting violence instead of wasting time and resources on unnecessary policing and profiling.”
D.C. Superior Court records show that Dodds was arrested twice in July 2014 on a charge of “sexual solicitation” as part of a D.C. police anti-prostitution sting operation in which an undercover police officer approached Dodds along the sex worker strip on Eastern Avenue, N.E.
Court records show that both charges were later dismissed as part of an undisclosed plea agreement with prosecutors. Court observers say such agreements are often part of a court diversion program that sometimes requires a defendant to perform community service work or stay out of trouble for six months in exchange for dropping a misdemeanor charge.
“In the last 20 years, HIPS has collected hundreds of reports of violence against transgender sex workers in the city, many perpetuated by those who swore to serve and protect,” the HIPS statement says.
“Dee Dee Dodds was just 25 years old, with family and friends who cared about her deeply, but a culture of transphobic, racist, misogynist violence took her life far too young,” says the statement. “It is clear to HIPS that the violence against transgender women and sex workers in the District has gone unchecked for far too long.”
A D.C. police spokesperson said the department was preparing a response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on the HIPS statement and on concerns raised by LGBT activists that police didn’t identify Dodds as a trans woman in their initial report on the shooting and their announcement of the case as a homicide.