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District of Columbia

Slain D.C. trans woman honored at vigil

Family, friends gather on street where fatal stabbing occurred

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Earline Budd, executive director of Empowering the Transgender Community, speaks at a vigil for Jasmine Star Parker on Monday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Jan. 16 to honor the life of D.C. transgender woman Jasmine Star Parker at a vigil held on the 2000 block of Gallaudet St., N.E. where D.C. police say she was found stabbed to death at 3 a.m. on Jan. 7.

Among those participating in the vigil were Parker’s mother, brother, and sister, who have expressed their love and admiration for their deceased loved one.

Earline Budd, executive director of the D.C. group Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC), which organized the vigil along with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, told the gathering she knew Parker for many years and observed first-hand how Parker did her best to overcome discrimination and bias as a trans woman of color.

“We’re here today to remember a life taken away from us on Jan. 7, the life of Star Jasmine Parker,” Budd said. “Star was 36 years old. And Star deserved to live. So, today I want to take an opportunity to first of all let there be blessings in this place.”

Budd pointed out that the table where she and others who spoke at the vigil was set up on the sidewalk in front of a tall chain link fence were Parker’s body was found, with her blood still visible on the pavement.

D.C. police said that as of this time, they have no suspects and no known motive for the Jan. 7 homicide. A police spokesperson said the case was not listed as a suspected hate crime, but that could change if new information is obtained. Police are urging anyone with information about the case to call police at 202-727-9099.

A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder.

Police initially identified Parker as Jasmine Star Mack. But family members and Earline Budd have since said that the beloved trans woman was known to the family as Jasmine Star Parker and preferred to be called Star. Parker was her birth surname.  

Budd said Parker’s family informed her that a viewing and funeral service for Parker would be held Friday, Jan. 20, at Meridian Baptist Church at 5354 Sheriff Road in Capitol Heights, Md., beginning at 10 a.m. for the viewing and 11 a.m. for the service.

Among those attending the vigil were members of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit, including Lt. Livio Rodriguez, director of the police Special Liaison Division, which oversees the LGBT Liaison Unit. Budd praised the LGBT Liaison members, saying they have been longtime supporters of the transgender community.

Parker’s mother, Arlene Witherspoon and her brother, Andre Tinsley, told those attending the vigil that Parker was raised in a religious family and she embraced God during many of her times facing hardship.

Parker’s sister, Pamela Witherspoon, was scheduled to speak at the vigil but told Budd she was too emotionally distraught to speak. In earlier interviews with WUSA 9 and the Washington Post, Pamela Witherspoon told how her sister faced hardship from discrimination in spite of her upbeat personality as someone who was “always singing and dancing — just trying to make you laugh,” she told WUSA 9.

“She wasn’t the type of person that did things to people,” WUSA 9 quoted Witherspoon as saying. “I don’t understand why. What did she do to deserve this? I’ll never understand that.”

Members of the community who spoke at the vigil during an open mic session, including longtime D.C. transgender activist Taylor Chandler and Center for Black Equity Deputy Director Kenya Hutton, said the city was not doing enough to address the problems of discrimination and threats of violence faced by members of the trans community, especially trans women of color.

“We have the ability to do more,” Chandler said. “There is no reason why we should be having this vigil for Star. We need to be giving more money to organizations that value Black trans lives.” 

Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, said he agreed that the city should be doing more to address problems faced by the transgender community.

“Circumstances have put Star and many members of the community of D.C. in the danger that they’re in,” Bowles told the gathering. “And that is a failure from where I’m at, my job,” he said. “And it’s something that we are working on with the community.”

Added Bowles, “And this is D.C., the nation’s capital, where we have done more. And we have a record of doing more. And we need to do more,” he continued. “So, I promise we will do more.”

Sebrena Rhodes, the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner representing the area where Parker was killed in the Ivy City neighborhood, said although the area is faced with crime, this was the first known homicide to take place in the neighborhood in a long time.

“I’m sure everyone loved her for who she is,” Roads said of Parker in her remarks at the vigil. “I’m deeply sorry. I live here in Ivy City. We all have to work together.”

Budd told the Washington Blade that the area is known as a place where some transgender sex workers congregate for what Budd and others who spoke at the vigil called survival sex work made necessary when discrimination and transphobia prevent trans women from finding other means of employment.

“Well, we talk about survival sex,” Budd said. “It’s not a secret. And you know, when people ask, what was she doing here, I say what does it matter? What does it matter? The fact that her life was taken, that’s what matters, whether she was here doing survival sex work or whatever.” 

Rev. D. Amina B. Butts, pastor at D.C.’s LGBTQ-friendly New Hope Baptist United Church of Christ, appeared to sum up the sentiment of most of those attending the vigil by calling for an end to the hostility and violence faced by transgender people in D.C. and across  the nation.

“It’s hard to find words of comfort,” she said. “There are no words to describe what has happened. It is a travesty of injustice. It needs to stop,” she continued. “Right now, in the name of the Divine, it needs to stop. We command that it stops.”

(Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)
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District of Columbia

D.C. police release video of person, car ‘of interest’ in trans murder case

Officials seek help from public in Jan. 7 death of Jasmine Star Parker

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(Screen capture via D.C. Metropolitan Police Department YouTube)

D.C. police on Feb. 1 released a video showing what they say is a person and vehicle of interest in connection with the Jan. 7 murder of transgender woman Jasmine Star Parker, who was found fatally stabbed shortly before 3 a.m. on the 2000 block of Gallaudet St., N.E.

The video, which police obtained from a nearby surveillance camera, shows a car driving along Gallaudet Street and then pulling over to the side and parking, with what appears to be a man getting out of the driver’s door and walking in the same direction that he was driving the car.

“Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch seek the public’s information in identifying and locating a person and a vehicle of interest” related to the video and the Parker murder, a police statement accompanying the video says.

Shortly before the release of the video, police said they had no suspects and no known motive for the Jan. 7 homicide. A police spokesperson said the case was not listed as a suspected hate crime, but that could change if new information is obtained.

Parker, 36, was honored at a Jan. 16 vigil held on the street where someone took her life. The vigil was organized by the local group Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Earline Budd, the founder and executive director of ETC, told the vigil gathering that she knew Parker for many years and observed first-hand how Parker did her best to overcome discrimination and bias as a trans woman of color.

Among those participating in the vigil were Parker’s mother, sister, and brother, who expressed their love and admiration for their deceased loved one.

Police are urging anyone with information about the case to call police at 202-727-9099. Information may also be provided anonymously through the police text tip line by sending a text message to 50411.

D.C. police are offering a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone that provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the Parker murder.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police data show 67 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022

Community continues to be hit with most bias incidents in city

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Recently released hate crime data by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department shows that similar to nearly every year since 2011, LGBTQ people in 2022 were victims of a hate crime in far greater numbers than the other categories of victims, such as ethnicity/national origin, race, religion, or disability.

The data show that 45 of the reported hate crimes in 2022 were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 22 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression, bringing the total number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes to 67.

By comparison, the 2022 data show that 30 reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s ethnicity or national origin, 20 were based on the victim’s race, and four on the victim’s religion. Three 2022 hate crimes were reported to be based on the victim’s status as a homeless person and just one reported hate crime was said to be based on the victim’s political affiliation.

The 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022 represent an increase over the 54 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2021. The 2021 data show that 38 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 16 were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression.

LGBTQ rights advocates, as well as law enforcement officials, have said they believe the reported number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities are significantly less than the actual number of such cases because many go unreported.

“While the District strives to reduce crime for all residents of and visitors to the city, hate crimes can make a particular community feel vulnerable and more fearful,” a D.C. police statement accompanying the release of the hate crime data says. “This is unacceptable and is the reason everyone must work together not just to address allegations of hate crimes, but also to proactively educate the public about hate crimes,” the statement says.

Police and prosecutors have also pointed out that a hate crime is not legally classified as a crime in and of itself but instead as a hate or “bias” related designation to an underlying crime such as assault, threats of violence, destruction of property, and numerous other criminal offenses.

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain from D.C. police additional 2022 data showing which underlying criminal acts were linked to the LGBTQ related hate crimes. The Blade has also requested data showing how many of the 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in 2022 resulted in an arrest.

In past years, police data have shown that far fewer arrests are made compared to the number of reported hate crime cases. Past data has also shown that the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecutes significantly fewer hate crimes cases than those sent to prosecutors after an arrest has been made.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that it has dropped a hate crime designation for cases on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prove a motive of hate if the case goes before a trial by jury. Spokespersons for the office have said that when a hate crime designation is dropped, they often continue to prosecute the person arrested for the underlying crime.

A chart showing hate crime data reported by DC police from 2011 through 2022, including all categories of hate crimes, can be accessed at the D.C. police website.

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District of Columbia

Prosecutors drop multiple charges in D.C. gay murder case

One count remains for defendant in 2019 stabbing death of Vongell Lugo

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Vongell Lugo was stabbed to death in 2019.

Without providing a reason, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia requested and received approval from a D.C. Superior Court judge on Jan. 23 to drop four of the five pending charges, including two counts of murder, against the man charged with the Jan. 6, 2019 murder of gay retail manager Vongell Lugo.

Court records show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter V. Roman asked Judge Marisa Demeo to dismiss four of the five charges handed down in an Aug. 20, 2019, grand jury indictment against former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Collin J. Potter, who was 26 years old when D.C. police charged him with fatally stabbing Lugo at least 47 times.

A single charge of First Degree Murder While Armed remains pending. 

An arrest affidavit filed in court states that the murder took place inside Lugo’s Northwest D.C. apartment shortly after the two men met, possibly for the first time, at the Black Whisky bar at 1410 14th St., N.W., and Lugo invited Potter to his apartment.

The arrest affidavit says police arrested Potter on the night of the murder after being called to the apartment building by a neighbor and after observing Potter fully nude standing over Lugo’s nude body that Potter minutes earlier dragged outside the apartment door. Potter has remained in jail since the time of his arrest on Jan. 6, 2019, while awaiting a trial that has repeatedly been postponed. The trial is currently scheduled for April 18.

Court records show that in response to a motion filed by an assistant U.S. attorney on Jan. 18 of this year, Judge Dameo agreed to drop Counts 1 through 4 of the grand jury indictment. Those charges include Kidnapping While Armed, Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances), First Degree Sexual Assault While Armed, and Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances).

Roman’s motion, which the judge approved, called for leaving in place Count 5 of the indictment – First Degree Murder While Armed (Premeditated) (Aggravating Circumstances).

When contacted by the Washington Blade, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to disclose the reason for the office’s decision to drop the four indictment counts.

“We cannot comment on matters not in the public record,” said spokesperson Patricia Hartman.

Prosecutors sometimes drop or lower charges against a defendant in cases like this in exchange for a plea bargain agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lower charge. Doing so avoids a trial, which prosecutors sometimes feel could result in a verdict of not guilty on all or some of the charges.

The public court records in the case pending against Potter do not show whether a plea bargain offer was made prior to the dropping of the four charges. Potter’s defense attorney, Matthew Davis, has not responded to attempts by the Blade to reach him for comment on the case. 

The next court hearing for the case, a Trial Readiness Hearing, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 3. The Blade couldn’t immediately determine whether an explanation for why prosecutors chose to dismiss the four indictment counts would be disclosed at the Feb. 3 hearing.

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