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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas

I was in the middle of researching and writing up the murders of Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas when I realize I would have to take the hate crimes project I started on Wikipedia beyond Wikipedia. As with Erica Keel and Nireah Johnson, I’d be hard pressed to defend whether they met the standard of “notability” on Wikipedia; basically that it’d be an uphill battle to convince some people that the lives and deaths of Davis and Thomas were and are worth noticing.

It certainly wasn’t recent. And beyond a few hundred people who gathered for a vigil at scene of the murder a few days later, and another vigil a year later, their deaths didn’t spark massive protests. It’s been five years since they were shot to death, with subautomatic weapons, shot at least 10 times each, in the head and the chest, in a neighborhood where Thomas’ mother said everyone knew they were transgender, where both had faced harassment for being transgender.

They died on the same Washington, D.C., street corner where Tyra Hunter had lain dying of injuries from an automobile accident, when emergency responders laughed and withdrew emergency treatment when they discovered Hunter was transgender. The same fire engine company that responded to Hunter’s accident responded to Davis’ and Thomas’ murders, and according to witnesses at the scene, the women’s bodies were dragged from the car. Thomas was dropped face down on the street, and a firefighter later turned her body over with his foot as blood poured from her wounds. You might say they were afforded as much dignity in death as they were in life.

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Here is what happened to Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas.

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comUkea Davis (November 16, 1983 – August 12, 2002) and Stephanie Thomas (November 15, 1982 – August 12, 2002) were young, African American transgender women who were shot to death in Southeast D.C.

The Background

davis_thomas.jpgDavis, 19, and Thomas,18, met one another four years prior to their murder, as members of the Sexual Minority Youth Action League in Washington, D.C., as both were transitioning to living as women. Thomas was adopted at the age of three months, and according to her mother, Queen Washington, began to identify as female around the age of 8 or 9.1) Thomas had an accepting family, with support from her mother and siblings, while Davis was raised by a godmother who objected to her emerging gender identity.2)

Davis identified as transgender at age 153), and Thomas at age 14.4) According to family members, prior to their transitions to living as women full-time, both Davis and Thomas were regularly beaten up and harassed by people who thought they were gay.5) Both dropped out of school due to harassment. The two became friends, and eventually roommates, renting an apartment in the 5000 block of C Street SE.6) Washington had recently bought Thomas a car, because she didn’t like the idea of her daughter walking through their Southeast D.C. neighborhood at night.7)

The Murders

On the night of August 12, 2002, Davis and Thomas were visiting friends in a nearby apartment when they announced that they were going out to buy cigarettes.8) The two of them left at about 11:30 p.m. to buy cigarettes at a nearby gas station. That was the last time they were seen until 3:00 a.m.9) At 3:25 a.m., Davis and Thomas were sitting in Thomas’ Toyota Tercell at the corner of 50th and C Streets SE, less than a block from their apartment.10)

According to police sources, a black vehicle pulled up beside Thomas’ car. An occupant of the vehicle fired upon Davis and Thomas with a semiautomatic weapon, and then the black vehicle drove away. Another car approached, and a man got out to see what had happened. Davis was already dead, but Thomas moaned in response when the stranger nudged her to see if she was alive. The man fled when the black vehicle returned. The gunman got out of the vehicle and shot Thomas again before driving away.11)

Thomas and Davis were each shot 10 times in the head and upper body. By the time medical rescue workers arrived at the corner of 50th and C streets SE, both Davis and Thomas were dead. They died at the same corner where Tyra Hunter, an African American transgender woman, lay dying five days and seven years earlier as laughing fire department medical technicians withdrew emergency care upon discovering Hunter was transgender. 12) Hunter died at D.C. General Hospital two hours later, after also having been denied by denied treatment by a doctor. A civil suit ended in a $1.75 million settlement between the city and Hunter’s mother.13)

The same fire company that responded to Hunter’s accident seven years earlier, Engine Company 30, also responded to the murders of Thomas and Davis. According to witnesses at the crime scene, Thomas’ and Davis’ bodies were dragged from Thomas’ car, and Thomas’ body was dropped face first on the ground. A firefighter later turned Thomas bleeding body over with his foot.14)


Police said officially that there was no clear motive in the murders of Davis and Thomas, but they could not dismiss the the possibility that the murders were a hate crime. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D, D.C.) wrote to police chief Charles Ramsey asking that the murders of Davis and Thomas be investigated as a hate crime. Ramsey responded with assurances that the murders were being investigated as hate crimes, among other possible motives.15)

According to Sgt. Brett Parson, of the D.C. police department’s gay and lesbian liaison unit, said that the nature of the shooting, and the number of rounds fired, suggested the murders were “personal” to some degree.16)Earline said that there were rumors in the community that Davis and Thomas were killed by men who had picked them up without knowing they were transgender.17) According to family members, upon living as women full-time successfully, Davis and Thomas began to be “accosted” by the men in their neighborhood.18)

Washington’s mother said she believed her daughter was killed because of her gender identity.19) According to family members, both Thomas and Davis were “out” about being transgender. Thomas’ mother said everyone in the neighborhood knew Thomas and knew she was transgender.20) Davis’ sister, Rochelle, said Davis was always “up front” with potential suitors about being transgender.21)

The Aftermath

On August 12, 2002, a vigil was held in honor of Davis and Thomas, at the scene of their murder. Attendees included D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birth. Mourner’s left candles, flowers and stuffed animals at the scene.22)

A memorial honoring Davis and Thomas was held on Tuesday, August 12, 2003, in Southeast D.C. Over 200 people attended, including D.C. mayor Anthony Williams and D.C.Police Chief Charles Ramsey. They said that police had identified suspects but were unable to gather sufficient evidence to make an arrest. Ramsey said that police were offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Davis’ and Thomas’ killers.23)

To date, no arrests have been made in the case, and the murders of Davis and Thomas have not been classified as hate crimes.24)

One Comment

  1. I had just moved to SE DC (actually on the border, I lived in Oxon Hill) and this scared the crap out of me. Between that and the sniper, I really contained going out to daylight hours. I love the metro DC area, but it can be pretty tough.

    Around the same time Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas died, Gwen Araujo was also murdered. Gwen’s death was covered around the world, while Ukea and Stephanie’s murder was only covered in the GLBT media. I always wondered why. Even though she was Latino, I have to wonder if her image (young, light skin, and middle class) had something to do with the difference in coverage.