Merci Mack and the epidemic of violence against Black trans women

Out Magazine
Originally Published: 

On Tuesday, the body of 22-year-old Merci Mack, a Black trans woman, was found in her car in Dallas, Texas. Mack's body was discovered by a passerby, who called the police at around 6 a.m. local time. Out reported that Mack was pronounced dead at the scene and was found with a gunshot wound to her head.

Mack's killing is the latest reported in an epidemic of violence against trans and gender non-conforming people. By the tally of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ rights organization, Mack is the 18th trans person to have been found killed this year. She is also the fourth Black trans woman to have been killed during June alone, which is Pride month. The Dallas Police Department said that detectives have opened an investigation into Mack's killing.

"We cannot become numb to the fact that our community has learned of more killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the past few weeks than HRC has ever tracked in the past seven years," Tori Cooper, HRC's director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement. "Her friends say that Merci Mack was a young, upbeat soul who deserved to experience a full life. HRC is mourning with Merci’s loved ones and are calling for a full, thorough investigation into her death.”

Texas has one of the highest incidences of killings of Black trans women, with NBC News reporting that since 2016, at least 14 trans and gender non-conforming people were killed in the state. "With no community and no protection from friends or other people — let alone authority or the law — then we are often just attacked and disposed of as a result of transphobia and homophobia," said Carter Brown, the founder of the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. "It just feels like we are out here as open targets."

HRC estimates that four out of five trans people who are killed are trans women of color, making Black trans women especially vulnerable to transphobic and racist violence. After the killing of Brayla Stone on June 25 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Cooper said, "As a nation ... we have failed every transgender or gender non-conforming person killed in a country that embraces violence and upholds transphobia, racism, homophobia."

The true number of Black trans women and trans women of color in general who are killed is unknown, however, given the fact that police and authorities often deadname individuals or don't know they're transgender. Trans people are vulnerable to violence and attacks because of someone else's transphobic and heteronormative beliefs, as well as because basic social services and protections are often inaccessible to them. HRC calls this a "culture of violence" driven by racist, sexist, biphobic, transphobic, homophobic beliefs, which then inform policies around "employment, housing, health care, and other necessities."

This lack of resources and social services can impoverish trans people and force them into making survival decisions. Trans people generally experience higher levels of unemployment than cis people — newly enshrined protections not withstanding — and they're more likely to lack stable and safe housing as a result.