Kiesha Jenkins of Philadelphia was killed Tuesday night, making her (at least) the 21st transgender woman to have been killed in 2015.
Police told The Philadelphia Inquirer that a car dropped Jenkins off in North Philadelphia’s Logan neighborhood, far from the 22-year-old’s home, at approximately 2:30 a.m. There, she was surrounded and attacked by five to six men, police say, one of whom shot her twice in the back. Jenkins was brought to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Officer Tanya Little told The Advocate that authorities are exploring anti-trans bias as a motive for the killing. “We will leave no stone unturned,” the Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson said.
“We don’t know if it’s potentially a hate crime, or a robbery,” homocide Capt. James Clark told the Inquirer. “We really don’t know.”
Jenkins was a graduate of West Philadelphia High School and a student at Temple University, Philadelphia Gay News reports. A close friend, Arielle Page, told the Inquirer that she will remember Jenkins’ wit and “energetic spirit.”
But, as Page, who is also trans, added on a sobering note: “I thought—that could have been me.”
Neither gender identity nor sexual orientation are protected under Pennsylvania hate-crime law, according to the Human Rights Campaign. This means that, should state investigators conclude that Jenkins was killed because she was trans, her killers will most likely not be charged with committing a hate crime.
While reporting on an attack on two gay men in Philadelphia for MTV News in 2014, I learned about House Bill 177. The legislation, proposed by chief sponsor and state Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, would have provided legal protection for victims on the basis of their gender identity, sexual orientation, and other means of self-identification. A month after speaking with Boyle, that bill was dead.
In order for Jenkins’ death to be investigated as a hate crime, federal authorities would have to intervene. A similar situation played out in Charleston, S.C., after a white supremacist shot and killed nine congregants at an historic black church in June.