Guerrero calls on OPD
to solve Martell murder
by Elliot Owen
The mother of murdered transgender teen Gwen Araujo used her remarks at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Oakland last week to call on police to solve the killing of a trans woman earlier this year.
During her keynote address, where at times she choked back tears, Sylvia Guerrero looked at Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Officer Johanna Watson, sitting in the front row next to Mayor Jean Quan, and urged investigators not to give up in the murder of Brandy Martell, 37, who was shot in her car on a downtown Oakland street in April.
"I'm asking the Oakland Police Department to get this case solved," Guerrero said. "Brandy needs to have some peace."
Guerrero also urged anyone with information about the April 29 killing to come forward.
"Silence will not bring her justice," she said.
The packed house at the Oakland Peace Center for the November 16 observance greeted Guerrero warmly, as she talked about her family and her daughter Gwen, 10 years after her brutal murder at a house party in Newark.
"She had an amazing life," Guerrero said. "She has made a difference in this world, and I am so proud to be her mom ... For all the trans people in the audience your lives are precious."
An estimated 120 people attended the event, organized by TransVision, a 10-year-old HIV prevention and treatment program for transgender people that's overseen by Tri-City Health Center, a nonprofit community clinic located in Fremont.
This year's ceremony, the seventh in Oakland, was especially painful for the East Bay community as special tribute was paid to Martell.
Martell's murder was the first of a trans-identified person in Oakland since 2003, and also hit TransVision particularly hard. Martell had worked for the project as a peer advocate since 2007 and had also been tasked with helping organize several Day of Remembrance events. Tiffany Woods, TransVision program manager, hired and trained Martell.
"Literally, the last time Brandy worked with us was the Day of Remembrance last year and this year we're reading her name," Woods told the Bay Area Reporter. "When it's somebody you work with, somebody in your own community, it's hard to deal with because it's not just a name anymore."
Quan described the evening as "very, very important" for the community and appropriately representative of the diverse population that calls Oakland home. It was the first time a sitting mayor had attended the Day of Remembrance.
Watson also spoke, and gave an update on Martell's murder case, stating that it's "still an active and open investigation" and that the police department is "still seeking any information." Watson emphasized preservation of anonymity of anyone who called with information and did not want to be identified.
Since 1994, five trans women have been murdered in Oakland. Three of those cases have not been solved; Martell's being one of them.
Central to the event was reading the names of trans-identified people who had been murdered this year across the globe. According to Transgender Europe, a transgender equality organization, 265 reported cases of transgender murders occurred worldwide this year as of November 14. The United States accounts for 11 of those killings. In lieu of reading 265 names, a few from each geographical region in the world were chosen and read to the audience.
The Oakland ceremony also recognizes trans people lost to HIV/AIDS and this year Shakiah Allen, who was a friend of Martell's, was also honored; she died of AIDS-related complications on February 14.
Closing remarks were made by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, the nation's first openly transgender trial judge. She referenced Araujo's murder and the legislative progress protecting transgender people that's been made since then.
"Ten years ago Gwen was murdered," Kolakowski said. "The trial happened in this very county where the people that killed her argued it was her fault. A law has been passed to prevent that from happening again. We've made progress. We've come a long way. And in that very courthouse starting in January, almost every misdemeanor case in South County will come before a transgender judge and I can guarantee you no one is going to be disparaged for who they are."
The evening ended with a balloon ceremony in which attendees wrote the names of deceased trans-identified people on them and released them outside.