A lawyer from NY has caused outrage after implying that the murder of a trans sex worker should not be treated as seriously because a 25-to-life sentence should be reserved for killing a “certain class of individuals.”
In 2010, Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, a trans sex worker who lived in Queens, New York, was murdered by 32 year-old Rasheen Everett, who in November was convicted of choking the 29-year-old woman after he discovered that she was born male and had male genitalia. The case details said that Everett had bleached Gonzalez-Andujar’s body and later stolen her personal affects including her laptop and cell phone.
The horrendous crime, and Mr Everett’s history of violence, seemed to suggest that the maximum penalty for second-degree murder should be used. Unsurprisingly, Rasheen Everett’s defense attorney John Scarpa didn’t think so and argued a lesser sentence should be given his client. What was surprising — no, outrageous — is the language Scarpa used in arguing for a lesser sentence.
According to reports, Scarpa told the judge at a Thursday, December 5, hearing:
“A sentence of 25 years to life is an incredibly long period of time judge. Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals? … Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”
Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Butcher reportedly didn’t take kindly to this line of argument, making a point to note, “This court believes every human life is sacred. It’s not easy living as a transgender, and I commend the family for supporting her.”
Everett was then sentenced to 29 years in prison.
Scarpa’s comments have been condemned as highly insensitive and discriminatory. He has since defended the remarks — by misgendering Gonzalez Andujar.
He is quoted as saying, ”He [sic] himself was guilty of attempted murder.” This in reference to Scarpa’s earlier attempts to paint Gonzalez-Andujar as a HIV-positive prostitute who had knowingly endangered Everett and other people she had sex with. “I thought it was loathsome for the judge to say this was a good person.”
Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t the first thing to go badly for Scarpa. During the course of the trial, Scarpa had been caught off-guard when one of Everett’s ex-girlfriends and a witness Scarpa himself had called alleged Everett had also choked her and that this was the reason they had broken up. Scarpa reportedly attempted to shout her down, saying, “And this is your opportunity for revenge.” The damage was done and further compounded when the witness produced photographs of her injuries to further support her claims.
Now the Anti-Violence Project, which attempts to protect LGBT individuals and other minorities from their heightened risk of violent crimes, has called for action to be taken against Scarpa, saying:
“AVP is calling for a public apology by Scarpa for this outrageous statement that says that transgender women and sex workers should be legally devalued by society. This type of speech is tantamount to hate speech and says that LGBT people, and particularly transgender women, are ‘other’ and not worthy of protection. This hate speech is irresponsible and we are also calling on the Queens District Attorney’s office to issue a public condemnation of Scarpa’s dangerous and offensive remarks.
Scarpa may not have been referring to Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar’s trans identity itself — though his misgendering her certainly says he is no friend to the trans community — but he did intentionally attempt to establish that her sex work and HIV status should mean her life is worth less. We must also contextualize Gonzalez-Andujar’s death as a woman who was born male.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, a project that attempts to track LGBT murders as well as those among the HIV affected community, supports existing data that trans women in particular are more at risk of suffering fatal violence. According to the project’s statistics, 44% of LGBT and HIV-affected murder victims were trans women. In 2009, trans women reportedly made up 50% of murder victims in that group. This compounds existing data on the fact that trans women are more likely to face violence and discrimination when compared to national averages.
Indeed, in just the past few days, reports have emerged of two separate cases of violent homicide against trans women in Cleveland, Ohio, with anti-trans bias being explored as a cause, though no arrests have yet been made.
This perhaps demonstrate’s how Scarpa’s callous attitude did not just dehumanize Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, but in turn helped to feed into the kind of bias that continues to dehumanize an entire community. For this, Scarpa should apologize and his words should be thoroughly denounced by the Queens District Attorney’s office because it is only through consistently and vocally challenging these kinds of sentiments that the LGBT community and those who engage in sex work do not continue to be stigmatized.
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