By Antonia Noori Farzan | The Washington Post
A crowd gathers outside an apartment complex south of downtown Dallas, nervously watching and waiting. Before long, there are screams: A man in a long-sleeved white shirt and heavy-duty gloves appears to throw a slender, pink-haired woman to the ground, then pummels her over and over again as she writhes on the concrete. Dressed only in a crop top and skimpy shorts, she tries to shield her face as others join in and take turns kicking her.
To Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D), and many others who watched the footage that went viral on social media late last week, the brutal beating looked like “mob violence” against a transgender woman.
“Those who did this do not represent how Dallasites feel about our thriving LGBTQ community,” Rawlings said in a statement on Saturday. “We will not stand for this kind of behavior.”
Authorities announced on Sunday night that they had arrested Edward Thomas, 29, for his role in the violent daytime attack, which has been flagged as a possible hate crime. The violent altercation began after the victim was involved in a minor traffic accident at the apartment complex on Friday, a statement from the Dallas Police Department said. During a verbal argument over the accident, a man began assaulting her, and several other suspects joined in.
The victim sustained serious bodily injuries, according to officials. Witnesses transported her to a hospital, where she was interviewed by police late Friday. She reportedly told them that she knew the people who attacked her, and that they had used homophobic slurs during the assault.
Police haven’t said whether Thomas was the man who initiated the attack or one of the individuals who got involved later on. It’s also unclear whether more arrests could be forthcoming. Online records indicate that he is being held in the Dallas County Jail, and that his bond has not yet been set. Officials have not yet said what charges he faces. As BuzzFeed News pointed out, gender identity is not covered by Texas’ hate crime statutes, but federal law allows prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties for violence that targets transgender people.
Relatives have told local news outlets that the victim was 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker. She did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday night, but thanked supporters in a Facebook post on Saturday. That same day, a family member who wasn’t identified by WFAA told the station that she was home from the hospital and recovering with close friends. She had reportedly suffered from facial fractures and had her arm in a sling.
The three-minute video that was posted on Facebook and YouTube on Friday begins by showing Booker standing in the middle of an intersection at the apartment complex as a large number of people look on. She appears to be addressing the crowd, but her words are inaudible.
The video then flips to show the man in the white shirt posing with a man who is filming. “Knock ’em out,” the man in the white shirt appears to say, before the camera flips around again to show the crowd milling around. A few seconds later, he can be seen throwing Booker to the ground and punching her as she tries to protect her face from his blows.
Booker, whose shoes have fallen off, gets up and tries to stagger away. The man appears to follow her, swinging punches at her head. Eventually, she falls to the ground again, and he hits her in the stomach. Finally, a group of women surround her, pick her up by her arms and legs and carry her to a nearby car.
It’s unclear exactly who filmed the video, which had been viewed on Facebook and YouTube more than 136,000 times by early Monday morning. The footage was posted by a user going by the name Taj Mahal and TajTV, who described himself as a blogger and advocate for the LGBTQ community in a follow-up video on Saturday and said that he wanted the video to go viral so that there would be more awareness of violence toward transgender women and accountability for the people involved.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News on Sunday, Taj initially claimed that he had shot the footage, then later said that he had obtained it from someone else. He also claimed that it consists of two videos that have been spliced together. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post on Sunday night.
At least one woman can be heard yelling a homophobic slur toward the end of the video. While it’s unclear exactly how the altercation began, family members suggested in an interview with local television station KXAS that Booker had been targeted because of her gender identity. Pierre Booker, her father, told the station that she had been the victim of hatred in the past, but had never experienced such a violent attack. The ringleader, he said, was a “coward.”
Debora Booker, the woman’s grandmother, added that she would be praying “for these people to find it in their hearts to accept people just like God does.”
As a transgender woman who is also black, Booker belongs to a group that is disproportionately likely to experience a violent attack. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the vast majority of the 128 transgender people who were killed between 2013 and 2018 were women of color. Within the LGBTQ community, black transgender women are the most likely to face deadly violence, HRC has found.
The Anti-Violence Project, a group that tracks hate crimes against LGBTQ people, found that Texas witnessed seven anti-LGBTQ homicides – more than any other state – in 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Last year, a 26-year-old transgender Dallas woman, Carla Patricia Flores-Pavon, was found choked to death in her apartment, though police said that the motive appeared to have been robbery and it was not a hate crime.
“The scary part to me is, if this was the apartment complex where she lives, where does she go home?” Leslie McMurray, the transgender education and advocacy coordinator for the Resource Center in Dallas, told the Dallas Morning News. “Where does she go home and feel safe?”
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