Friends, community organizers, and city and state elected officials attended a May 12 vigil for Sophie Arrieta Vasquez, a Latina trans woman who was shot to death in Brookhaven.
On May 4 at 8:15 a.m., officers responded to reports of a shooting at the Atlantic Brookhaven Apartments at 100 Windmont Drive, according to a Brookhaven Police Department press release. Upon arrival, Vasquez, 36, was found suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in the doorway of the apartment she lived in. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
While the BPD said it does not believe Vasqeuz’s killing has any relation to her being transgender, organizers at the vigil spoke about the violence and discrimination faced by trans women, and particularly trans migrant women and trans women of color.
“This is not an isolated incident,” said Li Ann “Estrella” Sánchez, executive director of Community EsTr(El/La). “Sophie is not the first trans woman to be killed this year, or any year.”
Community EsTr(El/La), which helped put on the vigil, is an organization that advocates for the rights of transgender and gender non-confoming immigrant communities in Georgia. Vasquez was a member of Community EsTr(El/La).
The vigil was held by the pool area in the Atlantic Brookhaven Apartments. About 30 people attended, and gathered around a table that was covered with the transgender flag and set up with candles, flowers and photos of Vasquez. Sánchez spoke in Spanish, and Jesse Pratt López, founder and co-director of the Trans Housing Coalition, translated for her.
“[Vasquez is] a trans migrant woman from Costa Rica with dreams, with a drive to succeed, exist and resist, and to be seen as the woman that she was,” Sánchez said.
The vigil included speakers, songs, and food and drink. Brookhaven Police officers were in attendance standing by the entryway. State Rep. Matthew Wilson, who represents parts of Brookhaven, and Brookhaven City Councilmember Joe Gebbia both attended. Organizers asked Wilson if he would like to say a few words, but he declined, apparently in favor of letting others speak. Wilson later declined to comment, and Gebbia could not be immediately reached.
Sánchez talked about Vasquez’s life and told a story remembering a time Vasquez helped a trans woman who was just getting out of a detention center. Sánchez said she put a call out on Facebook asking for clothes to help the woman, and Vasquez responded.
“Sophie was the first person to respond and offer her help,” she said. “This wasn’t the only time. She offered her help multiple times. She may not have been the most visible person in the community, she had her own life, but she was there and she showed up for her sisters.”
Sánchez spoke about the discrimination that trans people face, and asked the crowd at the vigil to offer support and solidarity for the entire community.
“We are not here to victimize ourselves,” she said. “We just want you all to accompany us and this movement, and actually be in solidarity with us. We could be your neighbors, your family members, your aunts, your sisters, your mothers, chosen or not. We could be your family.”
In its press release, the BPD said at this time it does not believe Vasquez’s killing has any relation to her being transgender. BPD spokesperson Lt. David Snively said the department has no other information to share publicly about the crime at this time, but has been in contact with Vasquez’s family. The immediate family did not attend the vigil, but Vasquez’s sister spoke on the phone to thank everyone for coming.
In the police report for the incident, the BPD did not state that Vasquez was trans and used her “deadname.” A deadname is the name given at birth to a transgender or non-binary person, and using someone’s deadname can be an accidental or intentional way of dismissing their gender identity. In its press release, the BPD clarified Vasquez’s name and gender, saying it did so after receiving inquiries about why those facts hadn’t been released. The press release still used Vasquez’s deadname and put Sophie in quotation marks.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group that tracks killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people, at least 23 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed so far in 2021. Last year, the HRC reported that 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed, which is the largest number on record since the HRC began recording in 2013.
According to the HRC’s website, some of the incidents they’ve reported involve clear anti-transgender bias, while in other cases being transgender may have put the victim at risk in other ways, such as facing “unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and/or survival sex work.”
Despite the murder taking place on May 4, a press release was not sent out about the incident until May 12. According to Snively, the delay allowed investigators to work on the case and “preserve access to witnesses, evidence and suspects.”
“By [May 11] we had begun receiving media inquiries and would ordinarily have made a press release then,” he said in an email. “However, we held the release for one additional day because our investigators were working on leads that might have been compromised by a large public announcement.”
At the vigil, community leaders called for justice.
“We will not let Sophie’s death go in vain,” Sánchez said. “We are demanding accountability for the person who committed this crime.”