Brandy Martell, 37, a Hayward resident, was killed in downtown Oakland early Sunday morning. Martell, who identified as transsexual, was in her car at the corner of Franklin and 13th Streets in Oakland’s city center when she was shot repeatedly through the window and side door. Hers was one of three murders in the city that night.
While some news outlets are reporting that the murder was the result of a botched robbery, Martell’s friends believe she may have been the victim of a hate crime. Another transgender woman and friend of Martell’s—who wants to keep her identity private—was in the back seat of the car. According to this witness, she, Martell and two other transgender women had been socializing in the parked vehicle for several hours. Around 3 am, two men approached the car and chatted with the women briefly, the witness said. Martell and the other women told the men they were transgendered, and after a seemingly cordial conversation, the men walked off, said the witness.
Two hours later, the men reappeared, and one of them stuck the barrel of an automatic weapon into the crack of Martell’s window, according to the witness. According to her, the man shot Martell in the side, and the other women fled as Martell tried to drive away. Martell made it only as far as the intersection before her wounds stopped her. The gunman fired multiple shots into the car, two of which struck Martell, the witness said. The shooter and the other man got away on foot. The other women in the car had been taken away by the police to give their witness statements by the time the ambulance arrived, the witness said.
The Oakland Police Department did not return phone calls regarding this case, and has not released any public statements or press releases.
Martell worked as a transgender peer advocate at the TransVision Center in Fremont, a group that provides medical and psychological support to transgender people in the Bay Area. She will be sorely missed by her tight circle of family and friends, says TransVision Center director Tiffany Woods, who worked closely with her. “Brandy had a serious sense of humor—she could impersonate anyone after five minutes of meeting them,” Woods says. “And she was very close to her family, and very into spending time with them. She was very close to her mom and dad.”
Oakland, like many cities the world over, has a fraught history with hate crimes, particularly against transgender women, who often experience transphobia in the form of job discrimination. Many transgender women have difficulty being hired, and turn to sex work as a source of income, Woods says. (Martell herself was not a sex worker, says Woods.)
Woods hears numerous accounts of assault and violence against transgender people who live in the Bay Area every month. “There are no safe spaces for them, no resources for them, no places for them to go and just be themselves,” says Woods, who is herself transgender. She added that until there is a place for transgender women—especially women of color—in our society, they will be forced to live on the margins and be vulnerable to violence.
Each year, Oakland participates in a National Transgender Day of Remembrance, organized by Woods. Martell was instrumental in organizing the last one, in November, 2011. (Read Oakland North’s coverage of it here.) At the event, the names of hate crime victims from all over the world are read. Many are sex workers, and some are found without identification and no loved ones ever claim them, Woods says.
A vigil was held in Martell’s honor on Sunday night at the scene of her murder. It was organized by members of Occupy Oakland, Woods says, and about 75 people were in attendance. A public funeral will be held next Wednesday, May 9, at 11 am at CP Bannon Mortuary on International Boulevard, and another celebration of her life is also being planned for later in May.
If you have any information about the murder of Brandy Martell, please contact Tiffany Woods through TransVision at Tri-City Center. Click here for contact information.