Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Trans stabbing victim mourned at rally

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Participants at the Trans Liberation Tuesday rally outside San Francisco City Hall lay down in a "die-in" to remember stabbing victim Taja DeJesus and other trans people lost to violence. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Dozens took part in a "die-in" outside San Francisco City Hall Tuesday at a rally attended by more than 200 people as police continue their investigation into the stabbing death of a Latina transgender woman in the Bayview neighborhood.

The mourners at Trans Liberation Tuesday used the rally to call attention to violence against transgender women of color in San Francisco and other cities.

Meanwhile, friends said that Taja DeJesus, 36, who was found dead February 1, was a "beautiful," deeply religious person, but she also suffered harassment and housing problems similar to what many trans people face.

Stabbing victim Taja DeJesus. Photo: Michelle Cornwell

A police summary said officers responding to the scene found DeJesus in a stairway in the 1400 block of McKinnon Avenue.

A Bayview police station newsletter said, "officers were provided with the unit number and were informed that the suspect was still inside." They found DeJesus inside the unit "with multiple stab wounds." Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene.

"The suspect had fled prior to the officers' arrival, but is believed to have been identified," police said.

Days later, citing unnamed police sources, SF Weekly reported that the suspect had hanged himself in the 4000 block of Third Street Monday, February 2.

According to the medical examiner's office, the man has been identified as James Hayes, 49, a "Bay Area resident with no confirmed address at this time."

Officer Grace Gatpandan, a police spokeswoman, said Tuesday afternoon, February 10 that she couldn't confirm whether Hayes was the man suspected of killing DeJesus, but she said police know who the suspect is, and he "is not a threat to public safety."

The investigation remains "open and active," said Gatpandan. The case is not being investigated as a hate crime.

Danielle Castro, 39, a transgender woman who knew DeJesus for over a decade, said, "She was just very light-hearted, funny, and just a beautiful, gentle soul."

DeJesus was also religious, said Castro.

"She would always say, 'God bless you,'" she said. "It was like her faith was central to her."

Jen Arens, a social worker at the Salvation Army near where DeJesus was killed, said she'd known DeJesus for almost three years.

"She just showed up one day" and told people at a Bible study, "I want to tell you my favorite scripture verse," said Arens. The passage involved women saving the world and the other women in the group "just loved her after that."

DeJesus "was definitely one of those people who would always put others first, always," said Arens, who fought back tears as she spoke.

"She was brilliant, and I'm not just saying that," she said.

DeJesus was seen frequently at community events and forums.

Nikki Calma, a transgender woman, is the program supervisor for Trans: Thrive, a drop-in center that's a service of the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center. Calma said DeJesus was "part of the Trans: Thrive community."

"She's a very outspoken person," Calma said, referring to DeJesus in the present tense. "She loves to talk about important issues," including discrimination against transgender women of color and health disparities.

In October 2013, DeJesus spoke briefly with the Bay Area Reporter as she attended the first-ever LGBTQ Connect event, which was designed to help low-income and homeless people find services, at the city's LGBT Community Center.

DeJesus said she'd found referrals for food pantries and a volunteer position at a local food bank, and she called the event "excellent."

 

Poverty, harassment

While people who knew her praised her outgoing nature, they also said DeJesus had struggled with poverty and harassment.

Some who knew DeJesus said she used drugs, and Castro said substance use was a way for her friend to cope with transphobia and a lack of resources.

Among the problems DeJesus had faced in recent years was an eviction from a rodent-infested apartment in 2010, San Francisco Superior Court records indicate. Around the same time, she and a neighbor tried to get restraining orders against each other, but neither was successful after they failed to appear in court, the documents suggest.

"Being a trans woman in a world that is not accepting and is permeated with transphobia" was "just so hard" for DeJesus, said Castro, who said she deals with the same struggles.

"For a long time she was marginally housed," said Castro.

Eventually, DeJesus moved into the apartment at 1440 McKinnon Avenue, just blocks away from Third Street, the heart of the impoverished and crime-plagued Bayview neighborhood.

Castro last saw DeJesus last year. She looked "really anxious," she said.

She gave DeJesus a ride home, and the lack of safety in the area came up.

"As soon as I parked, she said, 'We're going to have to keep an eye on your car,'" Castro said. "... To have to live that way when you're already dealing with so much is awful."

DeJesus told Castro "she got harassed" in the neighborhood "all the time."

"People would yell at her and call her a tranny," said Castro. "Guys would constantly harass her and try to objectify and sexualize her."

Castro indicated DeJesus didn't have many housing options.

"She was getting supportive housing," said Castro. "She didn't have money, so she needed help, and that's where she ended up."

On top of her other troubles, DeJesus "had a hard time communicating with people. ... People would keep her at arm's length," said Castro.

Arens said that before Christmas, DeJesus had had problems with her boyfriend, but she hadn't shared enough information "to give any indication one way or the other" about whether the relationship was violent.

April Spears, 38, who owns Auntie April's, a restaurant just a few blocks from DeJesus' apartment, said DeJesus was a "sweet person" but she'd sometimes been in "confrontations" with people in the neighborhood and had been "assaulted a couple of times."

DeJesus was well known in her neighborhood, but many people didn't know much about her.

Anna Strickland, 72, who lives in the apartment below DeJesus', recalled that shortly after DeJesus moved in, the younger woman had come to her asking for food.

Strickland, who wasn't home when the killing occurred, described DeJesus as "a beautiful person" but said she'd taken to "beating against the walls" and causing other trouble, and Strickland had had to call the police. As far as she knew, DeJesus lived alone, and she didn't know whether she had a boyfriend.

Maurice, 30, a neighbor of DeJesus' who didn't want his last name published because he doesn't want people to know where he lives, said he was awakened by screaming for help around the time her body was found.

The night before the stabbing, he'd seen DeJesus "talking to herself" on a nearby corner, kneeling and banging her hands on the sidewalk. He didn't know what she'd been saying.

Terry Anders, 70, said DeJesus had lived in the building next door to his for "at least a year."

"Every time I saw her she was alone," said Anders, and she "didn't seem to bother anybody."

At her building last Friday, February 6, workers dressed in white protective uniforms brought down numerous bags filled with materials from DeJesus' apartment.

One man, who declined to give his name because he didn't have permission to speak with a reporter, said they were taking out "anything with blood on it," including carpet and sheetrock.

At Tuesday's City Hall rally, Castro said that the city needs a commission focused on trans issues "so our voices can be heard, included, and empowered."

Speaking about DeJesus in an interview several days before the event, Castro said, "I don't know if she knew how much she inspired me to be the trans woman I am. I hope she can hear me."

The B.A.R. wasn't able to reach DeJesus' family.

 

 






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