Why won’t judge, DA release Nizah Morris’ records?

This week, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Edward C. Wright denied a request for records by trans attorney Julie Chovanas relating to the Nizah Morris case. During the hearing asking the Office of the District Attorney to release Morris’ records, Wright said, “We all have to live together in harmony in this city.”

Nizah Morris, a Black trans woman, received a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police at 3:15 a.m on Dec. 22, 2002. Only 10 minutes later, passing motorists found Morris with a fatal head wound. Elizabeth Skala, the officer who gave Morris the courtesy ride, dropped Morris off three miles from her home, instead of at her doorstep. Before the ride, Skala called off medics who would have taken Morris to a hospital due to intoxication.

The police department misplaced Morris’ homicide file in 2003. Eight years later, some records were found in the Archives Unit, though many are still missing.

Given this knowledge, PGN wonders what Wright meant in his statement, “We all have to live together in harmony,” and why this affected his ruling.

For years, the LGBTQ community has been curious about police involvement in the Morris case. We have a progressive DA in Larry Krasner, who is an advocate for transparency, and yet his office refuses to release Morris’ records. What harmony could be displaced from whatever truth is gleaned? And what harmony even exists for Black trans women in 2019 when the Human Rights Campaign reports 20 trans women of color have been violently killed this year.

“Harmony” might be a word that those outside of this community think has been achieved among queer folks, police, non-LGBTQ members and the government. But many LGBTQ people still live in fear. They are still discriminated against, bullied, suffering economic hardships and disowned and isolated from their families. It takes decades and hard work for “harmony” to be achieved, if it’s even possible. To begin to work toward harmony, the DA and courts need to provide the LGBTQ community with the truth about what happened to Nizah Morris on Dec. 22, 2002.