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"Horrific spike" in fatal violence against transgender community

At least 21 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed so far in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That marks the most violent deaths in the vulnerable community at this point in the year since the advocacy group began tracking them in 2013.

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Shakie Peters St. Helena Parish Sheriff

Transgender and gender non-conforming people face a heightened risk of fatal violence, and Black transgender women are especially vulnerable because of a "a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny," according to the Human Rights Campaign. Advocates are using the phrase "Black Trans Lives Matter" to raise awareness about anti-transgender violence amid nationwide demonstrations protesting systemic racism and police brutality, with thousands participating in rallies last month in New York and across the country.

In July alone, the Human Rights Campaign recorded at least three deaths. Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for HRC's Trans Justice Initiative, said in a statement that the "horrific spike in violence against our community must be an urgent call to action for every single person in this nation."

"This is the deadliest period we have on record. While we are still awaiting facts on the ground, it is clear that members of our beloved community are being killed because of who they are," Cooper said. "Racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia are destroying lives and taking away our loved ones."

Shakie Peters, 32, was found dead in Amite City, Louisiana on July 1 after someone called the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Department to report finding an unidentified body along a rural road. The department, which referred to the victim by a male name in a statement, said a person of interest from another parish is being investigated. Dylan Waguespack, board president of Louisiana Trans Advocates, told CBS affiliate WAFB-TV that family members identified the victim as a trans woman who used the preferred name Shakie Peters and referred to herself with female pronouns. The sheriff's department released no details about how Peters died and did not respond to a request for comment from CBS News.

Bree Black, a 27-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot dead July 3 in Pompano Beach, Florida. A Broward County Sheriff's detective told reporters that Black, also known as Nuk Cameron Breon, was shot multiple times in the street in short walking distance from her home. Investigators say there were hundreds of people out celebrating the July 4 holiday at the time of the killing, and believe there are eyewitnesses who have yet to come forward. No suspects have been identified in the case.

On July 4, Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old White non-binary person who worked at a veterinary clinic, was fatally injured when a car drove into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against police brutality on a closed freeway in Seattle. The driver has been identified as Dawit Kelete, and his lawyer has called the incident a "horrible, horrible accident." Kelete has been charged with vehicular homicide.

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Bree Black Broward County Sheriff

The transgender community saw more violence in June. Brayla Stone, who HRC identified as a Black transgender girl, was found slain in Arkansas June 25. Police said the body of the 17-year-old Stone, who lived in North Little Rock, was found in a vehicle on a walking path in nearby Sherwood, according to CBS affiliate KTVH-TV. 

The Sherwood Police Department is investigating the death as a homicide, but has not released information about how Stone died or whether a suspect has been identified. The department has not returned requests for comment from CBS News.

And on June 29, 22-year-old Merci Mack, a Black transgender woman, was found shot to death in the parking lot of a Dallas apartment building. Dallas police last week arrested Angelo Walker and charged him with murder in Mack's death. According to an arrest affidavit, a witness said they saw Walker firing shots at Mack as he chased her through a parking lot, and shooting her multiple times while she was on the ground. The witness told investigators Walker shot Mack because Mack was planning on releasing a video depicting the two together.

Dallas police told CBS News they could not provide more information about the video, a motive or whether they were investigating the case as a hate crime, citing the ongoing investigation.

On June 9, Riah Milton, a Black transgender woman, was shot dead during a robbery in Liberty Township, Ohio. One day earlier, another Black transgender woman, Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, was found dead along the banks of a river in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small told a local television station that the woman had suffered stab wounds and trauma to the head and face, and her body was found with both legs severed.

In a statement, the Philadelphia Police Department's Office of LGBT affairs said the pain of losing a member of the city's LGBTQ community "is especially deep as we are in the midst of Pride month—a season typically filled with joy and celebration for many in our community."

"As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives. Dominique Rem'mie Fells' life mattered," the statement said.

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Merci Mack CBS DFW

Advocates say it's likely more killings of transgender or gender non-conforming people have gone unreported. Those that are reported can be difficult to track because law enforcement and the media sometimes misgender and misidentify victims by referring to them with their names given at birth, advocates say.

"It's traumatizing whenever we see (a killing) because we think, 'will they be honored in their death?'" Natahalie Nia Faulk, a friend of Shakie Peters who is also transgender, told the Advocate. "It's a personal violence and whenever we die, often police or others don't recognize the life that came before it."

Faulk remembered Peters as the life of the party in an interview with the paper.

"Shakie was a very independent person and very loyal to her friends," she said. "She was full of laughter and an abundance of life."

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