Holding candles and chanting “trans lives matter,” about 60 advocates for Nizah Morris marched through Center City this week.
The Dec. 22 event marked the 12th anniversary of a Center City “courtesy ride” given to Morris by Philadelphia police.
Asa Khalif, a member of the Justice for Nizah committee, led the group on a circuitous route from the old Key West Bar at 207 S. Juniper St. to the District Attorney’s Office, just south of City Hall.
Twelve years ago, an intoxicated Morris was staggering outside Key West. A police car arrived, and onlookers helped her inside, ostensibly for a ride home.
Instead, the transwoman was transported to the area of 16th and Walnut streets, where passing motorists found her lying in the street with blunt-force head trauma.
She died two days later, on Dec. 24, 2002, and her homicide remains unsolved.
Former state Rep. Babette Josephs participated in this week’s march and vigil. She implored the D.A.’s Office to release all records pertaining to the ill-fated ride.
“A 12-year runaround is long enough,” Josephs said. “What happened on that ride that left a human being bleeding on a Center City street? How did that happen in our beautiful city?”
She said transparency in the Morris case would be fitting for “the birthplace of democracy,” and would improve police-community relations.
“The blood of Nizah Morris not only flowed onto Walnut Street, it left a permanent stain on our city,” Josephs added.
Khalif drew connections between police brutality in the African-American and LGBT communities.
“I’m glad the country is finally catching on that black lives matter,” Khalif said. “And this black transwoman’s life matters as well. [District Attorney] Seth Williams needs to realize that we’re not going away.”
Daniel Coll was in the vicinity of Key West when Morris entered the police vehicle. His presence at the scene was corroborated by investigative reports.
Coll told the crowd that Officer Elizabeth Skala wasn’t the only officer involved in the courtesy ride.
“I know there’s more to the story than police are saying,” Coll said. “I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. Beth [Skala] was not alone. After Nizah was helped into Beth’s car, she drove around the block. Then Beth returned with Nizah, and a male officer met them at Juniper and Locust [streets].”
Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Center, also participated in the march and vigil.
“I’m here with other William Way staffers to express our solidarity for trans people like Nizah Morris who faced violence,” Bartlett said. “The community center should be a voice for justice for trans people.”
The center has endorsed a state probe of Morris’ homicide, along with many other organizations.
“Anything that can help clarify the cause of this homicide would be a good thing,” Bartlett said.
State Sen. Larry Farnese (D, First Dist.) recently wrote to Williams, asking him to cooperate with Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane in a probe of the Morris case. So far, Williams hasn’t responded.
On April 1, Williams was asked to lift a non-disclosure agreement with the city’s Police Advisory Commission that prevents the release of dozens of investigative reports in the Morris case.
Williams said he’d consider lifting the agreement. But as of presstime, it was still in place.
Trans activist Aamina Morrison said nothing short of full transparency is acceptable. She addressed the group with a bullhorn, in front of the D.A.’s Office.
“We are screaming for the records, and for some answers,” Morrison said. “We will not keep taking this. We stand here not just for Nizah, but for everyone we’ve lost. We will continue to demand answers because we deserve them.”
The Rev. Jeffrey A. Haskins of Unity Fellowship Church also addressed the group.
“There’s a verse in scripture that says the truth shall set you free,” Haskins said. “I’m urging the D.A. to release the records, so there can be truth and healing. Then we can put Nizah to rest the proper way. When she has justice, what a day that will be.”
After a few minutes, participants left their votive candles in front of the D.A.’s Office and quietly dispersed.