The deadly assault of a transgender woman in Harlem last weekend has some New York political figures up in arms, calling for the passage of a state law that has been consistently tabled over the last several years.
The law, known as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), would prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals and expand hate crimes law to include their protection.
The assault occurred Aug. 17 a little after midnight, police said.
Officers from Police Service Area 6 were alerted to an assault in progress on Eighth Avenue between 147th and 148th streets, where they found the victim, 21-year-old Islan Nettles, lying in the street.
They arrested Paris Wilson, 20, and charged him with assault. While Nettles was in the hospital, police learned of derogatory remarks made during the assault, prompting the Hate Crimes Task Force to get involved in the investigation.
According to the criminal complaint filed in court by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Wilson punched Nettles in the head repeatedly until she fell to the ground, at which point he continued punching her in the face.
When she was discovered by police, one of her eyes was swollen shut and her face was covered in blood.
Wilson was out on bail at the time that Nettles succumbed to her injuries and died at Harlem Hospital on Aug. 22. Police said the medical examiner would conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Contingent on the ME's findings, Wilson's charges could be upgraded from assault to something more severe, police said.
That upgrade will be up to the District Attorney's Office, which has emphasized that the investigation "is very much ongoing."
The D.A.'s office also reported that someone other than Wilson went to the police precinct after the assault and made statements implicating himself or herself in the assault.
The D.A.'s office is actively pursuing this and other leads as the investigation continues.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, GENDA's Senate sponsor, decried Nettles' "horrifying and tragic" death, and referenced the recent spate of anti-gay hate crimes in New York City.
"Let's be clear: Intolerance, discrimination and hate have no place in New York or anywhere," Squadron said in a statement. "Each outrage is another call: It's time for New York to send that message loudly and clearly by finally passing GENDA."
State Sen. Brad Hoylman joined the charge as well, lamenting the current state of affairs for transgender individuals in New York.
"The truth is that in most parts of New York, transgender individuals have little recourse to protect themselves from the violence, hatred and discrimination afflicted upon them," Hoylman said. "Ms. Nettles’s death should serve as a wake up call to my colleagues in the state Senate that we need to act now to protect New Yorkers like her, and ensure that she did not die in vain.”
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat