James Dixon will stand trial Wednesday in New York City for the assault and death of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman brutally killed in 2013. Dixon, 25, refused to take a plea deal for the manslaughter charge and if found guilty could face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
"We're hoping for the maximum sentence," said Jennifer Louise Lopez, executive director of Everything Transgender in NYC. "We want this case to send a message to cisgender people that if you keep attacking transgender people, you are going to get the maximum punishment."
The ETNYC will hold a rally Thursday morning (March 31) at 9 am in support of Nettles and to raise awareness for the killings of transgender women in New York and across the country.
"This is a start," Lopez said. "There are other murders that have gone under the rug, here and across the country. We want to bring this to the attention of the police. We are not going to tolerate. We are going to fight tooth and nail for justice and total transparency."
Lopez and the New York transgender community have pressured the New York Police Department throughout the investigation. Detectives originally arrested 20-year-old Paris Wilson before Dixon confessed to the attack. Confusion over the identity of the attacker originally stalled the investigation before Dixon came forward.
"The NYPD has been more responsive," Lopez said. "They know that we are watching. We put pressure on the NYPD to make sure her death was being investigated correctly and fairly."
Lopez admits she will be walking into the courtroom with a lot of questions—including why, with so much evidence, it took so long to prosecute. Or why prosecutors couldn't get hate crime status for Nettles.
"Apparently, hate crime status would have been really hard to get because it wasn't totally clear she was attacked solely for being transgender," Lopez said. "But at this rally, we want to get members of the community to get together and advocate on her behalf."
Lopez encourages everyone, transgender and cisgender, to come to the rally and help honor Nettles. But if there's going to be real progress for women like Nettles, Lopez said that the right community leadership is needed.
"Cisgender people can share our stories. They can show up to our rallies," Lopez said. "One thing we don't want is cisgender people in transgender leadership. Not that they can't be great leaders and allies, but transgender people live this life every day. We need to be seen leading the charge."
The ETNYC rally will take place at the south entrance of the court building at 100 Centre Street on March 31.