‘Mic Dispatch’ episode 21: Trans women homicides; black women tattooists (full transcript)


On this episode of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Serena Daniari heads to Florida to talk with those who’ve lost trans women to violence and police and community members who are trying to combat the issue of violence against trans women. Then, correspondent Chantel Simpson discusses inclusivity in tattoo communities with Ladies of Ink, a collective of mostly black women who are making a name for themselves in the industry.

Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: Nearly a quarter of transgender people killed this year have died in one particular city in Florida. What’s going on here? Correspondent Serena Daniari travels to Jacksonville, Florida, to find out.

Robert Johnson, Antash’a English’s fiance: I don’t have her. I don’t even care how people feel, but you love who you love. So if someone takes that from you, it’s like taking a large piece of you. So now I have to manage without this person in my life.

Daniari: According to human rights advocates, somewhere between 19 and 21 trans individuals have been killed in the U.S. from January to September 2018. Five of these killings have occurred within two districts in Florida. I traveled to Jacksonville to find out why this city in Florida is struggling when it comes to protecting the trans community. I met up with Robert Johnson, who was engaged to one of the victims: 38-year-old Antash’a English.

English, in video clip: Hey, how you doin’?

Johnson: She was murdered on June 1. She was walking along a particular area of a certain neighborhood in the city.Someone drove up on her, got her out, attempted to rob her, a struggle and she was shot in the stomach.

Daniari: What has life been like without Antash’a?

Johnson: It’s hard to explain it at times, but the best that I can say is she meant two moons and three worlds to me. It was one hell of a blow. I mean, honestly, for a while, it was tough to wanting to get up from sleep. I had to force myself to eat, you know.

Daniari (voiceover): Trans women of color face violence at disproportionate levels compared to the general population. The average life expectancy for a trans woman of color in America is only 35 years old. One problem is that local police and media reports initially misgender some of the victims, using their “dead names” — or their names assigned at birth.

Marissa Armstead, resident, Jacksonville, Florida: Once you do that, then you’re already being disrespectful. You are basically laughing at the situation instead of taking it serious. And they’ve gone through whatever they needed to go through to give appearance of a woman, then they should be addressed as “she.” It’s period point blank.

Daniari (voiceover): ProPublica found that out of 85 cases investigated by law enforcement since January 2015, 74 of them identified trans victims by “names or genders they had abandoned in their daily lives.”

Armstead: At first approach, you’re “Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, ma’am,” but then if your ID doesn’t reflect your gender, then it flips the script. So that can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re transgender and you don’t have the resources or the funding to go to the doctor to get your name changed, to get the paperwork that you need to take it to the DMV so they can gender you correctly.

Daniari (voiceover): Deadnaming victims can also interfere with police investigations. Advocates say people in the community may have never known the victim by their birth name, which means — when police are using that name — witnesses who only knew the victim by their chosen name might not know who cops are talking about.

Daniari: What is your hope for the law enforcement in Jacksonville moving forward? What do you want from them?

Armstead: Not just the police department, but everyone as a whole, if we can treat each other like we want to be treated and identify the person or persons in the eye that we see them in, not the one that we want them to be in, everything will be so much easier.

Daniari (voiceover): Many activists are now calling on the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to make changes.

Person at Jacksonville town hall: We were here when the first trans woman was murdered and they misgendered her, and the second and the third, and they come up with narratives about these transgender women’s lives to make it seem like they are at fault for their own murders. I’m tired of it.

Another person at Jacksonville town hall: It’s scary. It’s totally scary for all of us as black transgender women to even come out of your porch, come out to your car. To do anything is scary.

Daniari (voiceover): I met up with Sheriff Mike Williams, who said it can be confusing for police officers to properly identify transgender victims when they are only presented with IDs that aren’t up-to-date.

Williams: When it comes specifically to the misgendering of individuals — so for us, we’ve got a lot to learn and to work through with that, so you got the official documentation path that we don’t really control. Our priority is the victim and the victim’s family and making sure we get justice for them and so, it really is a benefit to go out and identify these individuals as the person they were in the community that they lived in. So, and we’ve been doing that lately, so I think you’ll see more of that.

Daniari (voiceover): The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office recently announced a new LGBT liaison team, which will help facilitate ongoing conversations between law enforcement and the local LGBTQ communities.

Daniari: In light of all the violence, what do you think people in Jacksonville can do to be better allies to the trans community?

Johnson: Understand the person to your left and to your right. Don’t assume. Talk to them. At the end of the day, these people are someone’s child, someone’s cousin, someone’s uncle or aunt, you know. How would you like it if this happened to someone you’re related to, whether you agree with how they live their life or not? How would you feel? You know, you have to apply that to the people you meet everyday.

Daniari (voiceover): For members of the trans community in Jacksonville, emotions and fear run high. While many are continuing to engage with law enforcement about their safety, they’re also leaning on each other for support and affirmation.

Del Toro: It’s very troubling that these murders continue to happen and are going unsolved. We’re going to keep following this story. Did you know that only 1 out of 6 tattoo artists is female? And women of color are even fewer. Ladies of Ink is a group of mostly black tattoo artists who are trying to change that. Correspondent Chantel Simpson caught up with these women to learn more about their mission.

Charity “Cake” Hamidullah, tattoo artist: Before I had a shop, there would be so many people that would come in and refer to me as, like, a secretary or just like, “Hey, I’m trying to get this tattooed. Do you guys have any artists here?” I think when they see my work, they love it and then they see me and they’re — they don’t know what to think.

Simpson (voiceover): Cake is a tattoo artist who has clients across the country. But as a black female in the industry, she’s had her fair share of hurdles.

Simpson: That’s really frustrating.

Hamidullah: It is. For a long time it, like, really bothered me. I’m just no longer angry about it anymore, but rather just trying to open people’s eyes that anybody can be an awesome creative.

Hamidullah: I was thinking, like, you know, having the succulent growing out here and then have that be the color pop.

Jahnicka Campblin, customer: And have the green and this would be the pop.

Hamidullah: Yeah, we totally can.

Campblin: Yeah, I like that stuff.

Hamidullah: That cool?

Simpson (voiceover): Cake’s experience is not unique. Only 1 out of 6 tattooists are female. And women tattooists of color are even fewer. That’s according to the members of Ladies of Ink, a group of black women tattooists, including Cake, who tour the country to be seen and inspire artists that look like them to join the industry.

Kristen “the Butcher” Woodhouse: It kind of feels like a sorority in a way, but a tattoo sorority. Because, you know, in this industry, we tattoo around a lot of men. So for the first time, we get to tattoo around black women. This is like — this never happens.

Campblin: This is my first time being tattooed by a woman, so it’s like, I’ve been waiting for a long time to do it. But I knew that when I met her with my sister that I wanted to book her.

Simpson (voiceover): Ladies of Ink was birthed from an uncomfortable revelation by Lady L, the group’s founder.

Lorri “Lady L” Thomas, founder, Ladies of Ink: I asked my followers on Instagram, I said, “how many black female tattoo artists do you know?” And everybody almost said me, “Just you.” And I said, “Oh, that’s sad.” I’m like, “Out of any place, you don’t know anybody?” It’s almost like we don’t exist and I wanted to encourage other black women who might be interested in tattooing. I wanted to get as many people as I could together to travel because I thought that it would be dope to show them like, “Yeah, we’re out here. It might not be a lot of us, but we’re out here.”

Simpson (voiceover): For the past two summers, the women have packed their ink and embarked on a cross-country tour, stopping in major cities from the East to West coasts. While life on the road has allowed them to bond and network, it’s not always easy navigating an industry that has never seen a group like them before.

Thomas: It’s “queen” with a period right here. [Inaudible] So, like, over 200 people got this tattoo now. It’s basically about self-love and recognizing your worth.

Simpson (voiceover): When developing the group’s mission, Lady L drew from her own struggles trying to make it in the industry.

Thomas: I did not have an apprenticeship. Thirteen years ago when I first started tattooing, it was not a lot of African-American professional tattoo artists, so.

Simpson (voiceover): An apprenticeship is one of the preferred ways to learn the trade.

Thomas: I’d bring my art portfolio and ask for an apprenticeship, they charge, they say “I charge $3,000.” I didn’t have that. Or they’ll say, you know, “We’re not doing it right now.” And I really think it’s basically because I’m a woman and, you know, it’s a male-dominated industry and more than likely because I was black, at the time it wasn’t, you know, you get little stares and stuff like that.

Hamidullah: How you doing?

Amsterdam, owner of Amsterdam Ink: Oh, I missed you.

Hamidullah: I missed you, too.

Amsterdam: I feel like there’s a huge gap in terms of black women in the actual tattoo industry. People feel like black women I guess aren’t as artistic or they can’t do that. It’s pretty much underrated and undervalued. I just think that’s crazy.

Thomas: You know, they just look at it as we’re inferior. We actually had one person — I’m not going to say this person’s name, but they said, “Yeah, that’s fine, you guys can come to the shop and work,” and then I promise you when he saw who we were, he’s like, “It’s not going to work out.”

Simpson: Why do you think that is?

Thomas: It might be because we’re black.

Woodhouse: Black women tattooing and traveling together, and this is going on our third year now and we rock it in every city.

Unidentified member of Ladies of Ink: And it gets bigger and bigger every year. Every year it gets bigger.

Woodhouse: And the support gets bigger and bigger. Like, I love it.

Thomas: We’re really touring to show that no, we’re just as talented and we have clientele and it doesn’t matter whether we are women or not. Like, it’s about talent.

Del Toro: And that’s it for another episode of Mic Dispatch. As always, leave us your comments and see ya next time.

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