A black transgender woman was killed in a Maryland suburb that borders Washington, DC, on Thursday, just blocks from where another trans woman was killed in March.
Zoe Spears, 23, was declared dead at the scene by police responding to a 911 call in Fairmount Heights, Maryland. She had been shot several times, according to Maj. Brian Reilly of the Prince George’s County Police Department, who spoke at a press conference Friday.
She is at least the 10th trans woman to be killed in the United States this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Ashanti Carmon was killed March 30 about three blocks from where Spears died, and police are continuing to investigate both crimes.
The women knew each other, and Reilly said investigators were working to determine if their deaths were connected. Police have also been speaking with the community of sex workers who work in the area along Eastern Avenue, where both women were killed, Reilly said.
“It’s a very tight group of women that work out there, and these two women did, in fact, know each other, yes,” he said.
Reilly said he was not able to say if Carmon and Spears were targeted as trans women.
“There is no direct link that we see at this point, but that is obviously something we're monitoring very closely,” said Reilly. “It’s unusual that we had two murders like this within a couple blocks of each other."
Spears was close with Ruby Corado, founder of LGBT youth shelter Casa Ruby, who referred to Spears as a daughter in posts on Facebook.
“I want you to look at me and look at me in the face. This is what happens when people in our community get killed,” Corado said through tears in a video posted to her Facebook page.
“The real consequences of violence look just like this. This is what violence does to our community. It’s not just about a killing; it’s not just about losing; it’s about the pain that we suffer,” she said.
Reilly implored the community of sex workers on Eastern Avenue to look after one another and asked them to come forward with any information. Tips may be made to police anonymously by calling 866-411-TIPS.
“It’s a close group that look out for each other, and we ask that you continue doing that,” he said.
Sex work is currently illegal in both Maryland and Washington, DC.
In DC, City Council member David Grosso has put forward a bill to decriminalize sex work in the city, with the aim of making it easier for sex workers to report violence to the police.
“By removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help connect them to the services they need to live safer and healthier lives,” Grosso said in the statement announcing the bill.
Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted about Spears’ death, saying, “The murder of Black trans women is a crisis. We’ll fight this, and we will continue to say their names.”
Presidential candidate Julián Castro also said action on the issue was necessary now.
Warren has declined to comment on decriminalizing sex work in the past. Only four of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates said they agreed that engaging in sex work should not be a crime when asked by BuzzFeed News in May.