On Tuesday afternoon, local Philadelphia news channels reported that an arrest warrant has been issued for a man named Akhenaton Jones in the brutal murder of Dominique Fells, a Black transgender woman known as "Rem'mie.” Fells’ body was found on June 8 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, alongside the Schuylkill River. She had suffered from stab wounds, trauma to the head and face, and both of her legs were severed. Friends had reported seeing her arguing with a man shortly before her death; Jones, 36, is an acquaintance of Fells, 27. Police recovered a cutting tool inside the home and also discovered blood, according to NBC Philadelphia.
The arrest warrant comes after a massive outcry over multiple Black trans women who were recently killed. Over the course of 24 hours, Fells was killed, as was another Black trans woman named Riah Milton. Milton, 25, was found shot multiple times in Liberty Township, Ohio on June 9. She was misgendered and deadnamed by the media following her murder. Just a few days later, the Trump administration reversed health protections for transgender people. Back on May 27, Tony McDade, a trans man, was shot and killed by the Tallahassee Police Department; he was also initially misgendered by the press.
This past weekend, tens of thousands of people gathered to mourn the lives of Black trans people who have been lost to violence. On Saturday, 2,000 people in Boston showed up for a “Trans Resistance Vigil and March” for Black trans lives on what would have been the 50th anniversary of Boston Pride.
"This is not a Pride. Unfortunately, we're not celebrating happy things," Chastity Bowick, executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts, said at the march. "So it's time to put your fighting face on, your fighting shoes on, and get ready to march." On Sunday, 15,000 people gathered in New York City for the “Brooklyn Liberation” march, and thousands gathered in Los Angeles for a Black trans lives matter march, too.
The sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman found dead in her cell in Rikers Prison in 2017, spoke at the New York City event. “Black trans lives matter! My sister’s life mattered!” Brown said in her speech. “My sister is not here to fight for herself, but I’m here. We’re here, and they’ve got to make room for us. And if they don’t, we’re taking it.” Organizers of the march were shocked at the massive turnout; at a rally for Polanco organized shortly after her death, only 600 or 700 people showed up.
“The violence that’s affecting Black trans women and Black trans folks is finally getting the attention that it deserves,” Eliel Cruz, director of communications for the New York City Anti-Violence Project and an organizer of the Brooklyn march, told the New York Times.
While the Brooklyn Liberation march was being planned, the need to explicitly recognize the violence suffered by Black transgender people became readily apparent. In 2019, at least 26 trans and gender non-conforming people were killed nationwide, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Ninety-one percent of the known victims were Black women.
“Cis folks of the Movement 4 Black Lives, the larger queer movement, and feminist movement have long failed Black trans people. It's time for a reckoning on your collective silence and inaction,” trans writer and activist Raquel Willis said on Twitter. “You act as if you’ll get to what’s happening to us one day, but our lives can’t wait! And the thing is, the same transphobia that fuels your inaction, your silence, is the same transphobia that brutally attacks us. It’s a spectrum of violence.”
In regards to the ongoing investigation into Fells’ murder, police have not released other details. Tatyana Woodard, a transgender activist and Community Health Engagement Coordinator at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, told Action News that she was fielding a lot of phone calls from people in the trans community who were scared after Fells’ death. "Right now as a Black trans woman I'm upset," she said. "I don't think it's enough attention on when things happen like this.”
Police believe the suspect, Jones, is not currently in the Philadelphia area, but law enforcement officials hope that he will turn himself in before they're forced to search for him, according to Action News. Police have not released any further details regarding the murder and whether or not they believe it was a hate crime, though advocates are clear in taking a strong stance to protect Black trans lives, which are among the most high risk individuals in the country for facing attacks like these.
"It's a risk to be to living in our truth, and live who we want to be and authentically," Woodward said.