Murder of transgender woman Brandy Martell raises concerns about hate crime

Brandy Martell

Brandy Martell was shot and killed in downtown Oakland early Sunday morning. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

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.

crime scene

The crime scene, early Sunday morning. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

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.

A vigil was held for Martell on Sunday night. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

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.

14 Comments

  1. I am concerned about this (or any) incident being reported as a “murder” at this stage. As brutal, heinous, and repulsive as this incident was, whether or not it was a murder will be decided only by the justice system. A verdict of murder requires that a series of facts be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Until then this is a homicide, “the killing of one human being by another”.

    • Morgann Blackwood

      John, the very fact that you feel the need to be so calloused when someone has been murdered by pointing out such an unnecessary technicality is frightening. Why should a particular word not be used when, outside of its legal definition, such an action has certainly occurred. A woman, was killed, murdered, was the victim of homicide, whatever. Have a little respect for the dead, will you?

      • Andrew

        “Murder” is a legal term. Pointing this out shows no disrespect to the victim. On the other hand, using the term “murder,” when the facts are not sufficient to support that conclusion, is simply inaccurate and misleading.

      • Felipe

        Morgann, the fact that you immediately are offended at a completely factual statement with no bias is frightening.

        John’s statement is not callous, it is factual. Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human. This has to be determined before assigning a legal term like “murder” to it.

        Please, unwind yourself and stop looking for reasons to be offended.

  2. RaChelle Wilson

    I would like to offer my condolences to Ms. Martell’s family. Also, as a transgendered woman myself I find this deeply disturbing, she and her friends were honest to the suspects and that honesty got them hurt and cost her , her life. We live
    in a society that has so many double standards when it comes to right and wrong, yes in the justice system all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law ,however the definition of murder is when a perrson or people take the life of another person or group of people. To say that it is not is truly rediculous,Ms.Martell was involved in helping those in the community and its a true shame that somebody decided to use her sexual identity as a cause for murder! God be with you Tracy ,Rest In Peace ! Prayers to her family ,

  3. P'

    A human being has lost their life to a violent action … while many may disagree with the lifestyle/gender, it is still a life lost! And family & friends will endure the pain. It is sad that someone felt they had to inflict pain on another, instead of just walking away. As a CHRISTain, I pray for the hated and the haters!

  4. lora

    Why contact the director of her workplace if you have information about the murder? Why not the police to investigate further??

  5. Angela

    This WAS murder!! I am assuming that those who say it WASN’T didn’t read the article. The men met the woman…left..and came back two hours later with a gun; That is forthought..that is malice..that is MURDER! And Lora, the article plainly states that the police were NOT returning phone calls, also, the writer did not contact the workplace about the MURDER; they were contacted about the VICTIM! *idiots*

  6. lg

    I’m always sorry to hear about anyone getting killed in Oakland. But who in the world socializes for several hours in a parked car in downtown Oakland on Saturday night/Sunday morning? What was really going on here? Drugs? Prostitution?

    • Brittany

      Re posting of LG she worked with girls that where trans on the streets

      Re lg
      May 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      I’m always sorry to hear about anyone getting killed in Oakland. But who in the world socializes for several hours in a parked car in downtown Oakland on Saturday night/Sunday morning? What was really going on here? Drugs? Prostitution?

    • ashley

      So your saying that being in a parked car in the morning is a reason to be murdered? oh I see… it was the victims fault for being out late. and I guess anyone out late just has to be a prostiute or a drug user; and even if they were (which I don’t believe) this doesnt exuse the attack. your like the ppl who blam rape victims for dressing a curtain way. it’s sickening that this victim mentality existes

  7. its really sad how certain indivisuals feel that they could just go right ahead and take some ones life. and for the most senseless reason… for just being a transgender. are you freaking serious…… this is 2012 i could just imaging how 2050 is gonna be. thats if i dont get killed by some jerk that just wants to shoot me for looking like a man. whats this world coming 2… sad but true…

  8. Its sad very sad but God is able we need to continue to bend together or devised we fall

    • Joshua Smith

      What? Bend together….Devised we fall? I don’t mean to be rude, however this is why the world is the way is. Lack of basic human intelligence, common sense complete and utter close mindedness. By the way it’s “Together we Stand, Divided we fall”. See what I mean, basic human intellect. Learn it, use it, Love it.

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