The murder of a transgender woman whose dismembered body was pulled from the Schuylkill this week has shaken her friends and advocates, who say continued violence against transgender people needs to be urgently addressed.
Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells died from multiple stab wounds, and her death has been ruled a homicide, a spokesperson for the city Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday.
Police spokespersons on Friday said the killing of Fells, 27, was being investigated by homicide detectives.
Her body was found in the river near Bartram’s Garden shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, according to police. Her legs were severed and there was trauma to her head and face.
Madelyn Morrison, a friend, said Fells loved fashion, music, people, and “having fun and being vibrant.”
Fells made outfits and wigs for people in her freelance fashion work and also organized the “Rock the Runway — A Trans Empowerment Fashion Show” that took place last year at the William Way LGBT Community Center, Morrison said. “She always showed us these pieces of hers that were so brilliant, so creative.”
Advocates for the transgender community on Friday said Fells’ killing is a strong reminder that violence against black transgender people needs to be discussed among the issues raised during the recent protests over the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“This brings to the forefront a conversation that needs to be had right now,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez, an advocate who last year was the first transgender woman to run for City Council. “Between the pandemic and protests and riots that are bringing a lot of things to the forefront ... we as a country have been failing trans people, particularly black trans people.”
“We have to talk about all the hate and bigotry..... Black trans lives have value,” said Alvarez, who is a community liaison to the Police Department for the LGBTQ community and who posted about Fells’ death on social media Thursday.
The city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, in a statement Thursday, said the murder of trans people is an epidemic.
“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 office said, adding: “The murder of transgender people — especially those of color — is truly an epidemic, and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further."
Mayor Jim Kenney, in a Tweet Thursday night, wrote: “When we say #BlackLivesMatter, that includes Black trans lives. I join our LGBTQ and Black communities in mourning the loss of Dominique Rem’mie Fells. #SayHerName”
According to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which works to achieve equality for LGBTQ people, at least 14 transgender or gender-nonconforming people have been fatally shot or killed this year.
In addition to Fells, another black transgender woman, Riah Milton, 25, was killed in Liberty Township, Ohio, earlier this week.
Morrison, a black transgender woman, said that during this wave of social unrest and change, it’s been disheartening that people don’t want to talk about black transgender lives. “It’s never the right time, and we’ve been dying in the process,” she said. “It’s getting to the point where I’m running out of patience.”
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, who identifies as non-binary, did not know Fells, but has been in touch with people who did. Fells was from York, Pa., and lived in Southwest Philadelphia until several months ago, when she stayed with friends in the city, Muhammad said.
The deaths of black transgender women “are easily dismissed around the larger narrative around Black Lives Matter,” said Muhammad. “We have to talk about these deaths. We have to say their names.”