James Dixon, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of transgender woman Islan Nettles, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison. Following the hearing, transgender women and activists expressed disbelief and disappointment at news of the sentence.
“From the very beginning, this case has been messed up,” Jennifer Louise Lopez, executive director, Everything Transgender in NYC, said. “To think, you kill one of us and you only get 12 years—likely 9 years with good behavior.”
Nettles, 21, died in 2013 from head and brain injuries after Dixon, 25, beat her against Harlem pavement. Dixon confessed to police he flirted with Nettles and then attacked her when he learned she was transgender.
“Just because you don’t know if a woman is trans or not, that’s no excuse to assault her—certainly no excuse to kill her,” Lopez said.
Lopez had hoped for a maximum sentence of 25 years when the trial began, before Dixon changed his plea to guilty. Compared with the time Dixon could have received, transgender women felt that Tuesday’s sentence devalued Nettles’ death and the violence against transgender women across the city.
“12? That’s how much our lives are worth?” Brooke Cerda Guzmán said. “This is not really justice. We don’t feel any safer. If anything, it makes us feel worse. It’s a slap on the wrist.”
While Lopez and others do feel that this case has united the New York transgender community during the past two years, the sentencing remains for them a lackluster conclusion to Nettles’s story.
“Nobody is transgender in a vacuum,” Hannah Simpson said. “Islan Nettles was a budding fashion designer. Islan Nettles was a sister, a daughter, and a vibrant young woman. She is no less worth of safety, or even justice, because she was transgender.”