BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County’s District Attorney says he is putting a Tuesday homicide on the radar of his team of prosecutors and the Buffalo Police Department as a possible hate crime.
The Feb. 6 shooting on Shepard Street in Buffalo killed a 35-year-old transgender woman, and no one has been arrested.
Thursday, District Attorney John Flynn released a statement.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office, along with Buffalo Police, is investigating the death of a transgender woman killed on Shepard Street. The DA’s Office is also extremely concerned about a spike in homicides of transgender people across the country and will be, as part of this investigation, looking into whether or not this is a potential hate crime.
Later Thursday, 2 On Your Side asked Flynn if it’s classified as a hate crime yet.
“We don't know. We're still in the early courses of the investigation. I just put that out there on the radar. I want the community to know that I am well aware of the spike in transgender homicides that have occurred across the country the past two years,” Flynn said.
Although Buffalo Police have not identified the victim by name, the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that covers LGBTQ+ issues and more, reported the 35-year-old victim is Tonya Harvey, a transgender woman of color from Buffalo.
In a new report, the HRC also details that violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, something a woman who identifies as exactly that says she's all too aware of.
“It’s worrisome. It puts many of us in fear because now it's a killer out there,” said a local transgender black woman, who did not want to share her name in this report.
So how can law enforcement determine if Tuesday’s shooting was a hate crime?
“If a victim's status has anything to do with the commission of a crime, that potentially could be a hate crime,” Flynn said.
And a hate crime, according to Flynn, would upgrade the punishment of the crime to a more serious felony.
To get more perspective on transgender issues, 2 On Your Side attended a legislative hearing Thursday about a proposal to ban conversion therapy, where many members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies were in attendance.
Siobhan Fitzgerald-Matson, the Transgender Health Initiative program manager at the Pride Center of Western New York, said it’s been an emotional week.
"I don't think that there's any way it couldn't be a hate crime, simply because transgender women of color are murdered at such an alarming rate that it doesn't...that just doesn't add up,” they said.
The FBI says it is aware of the fatal shooting, but Buffalo Police are the ones investigating it.