A transgender woman attacked in Harlem, New York last week died on Thursday after being declared brain dead and taken off life support. Police are treating the death of Islan Nettles, 21, as a hate crime.
Nettles was walking with transgender friends early on August 17 when they met a group of men opposite a local police building. Police say a fight ensued after the men discovered the group was transgender and local man Paris Wilson, 20, was arrested at the scene.
Wilson was charged by prosecutors in Manhattan with assault and harassment. Prosecutors say more serious charges could be brought after police received allegations homophobic language was used, with a hate crimes team now investigating. The death has been ruled a homicide and a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner’s office said Nettles was killed by “blunt impact head injuries”.
The criminal complaint Wilson presently faces says a police officer found Nettles “unconscious on the ground with a swollen shut eye and blood on her face”. Wilson is accused of punching Nettles to the ground and then repeatedly hitting her while she lay there.
Nettles was interested in a fashion career, working as an intern for local fashion firm Ay’Medici. “Fashion became a definite decision for my life after my first show with my hand designed garments in highschool”, she wrote on LinkedIn, where she described herself as “anti-violence”. She has previously instructed fashion at Harlem Children’s Zone, undertaking studies at New York College of Technology and the Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School.
Her mother, Dolores Nettles, told press Nettles and her friends were subject to transphobic insults. “They were called faggots, they were called he-shes, she-males, things of that nature,” she said.
Daniel L. Squadron of the New York State Senate said yesterday in a statement “Islan was 21 years old — 21 years old. And her life and future were stolen from her. Let’s be clear: intolerance, discrimination and hate have no place in New York or anywhere.” He called for the passage of a related bill he supports, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.
Wilson is presently free on bail, with a court hearing scheduled for October 4.