My first impulse was to write about the fact that today was the National Day of Silence, which was first observed at the University of Virginia in 1996 and has been sponsored by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network) since 2000. If you feel like helping them out, I am sure everyone would be thankful.
But something else has been happening this week as well, out in Colorado. And this thing, a trial in the murder of a young transwoman, demands words, not silence. It has my focus, my attention.
Will it grab yours?
Now way out here they have a name
for rain and wind and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire's Joe
and they call the wind Maria
Maria blows the star around
and sets the clouds a-flyin'
Maria makes the mountains sound
like folks was out there dyin'
Angela Zapata died way out there in Greeley, CO, beaten to death on July 17, 2008 by Allen Andrade, using both his fists and a fire extinguisher.
And now Angie is being killed once again. The memory of her being murdered in a Greeley courtroom by defense attorneys. That is the defense strategy they have chosen. It is not a new one.
I witnessed this sort of thing before. It happened in a courtroom in Fall City, NE, at the trial of John Lotter for the murder of Brandon Teena.
My friend Robin Goldstein reported from inside that courtroom from the past:
the prosecutor was referring to Brandon as Teena and she. And the defense was referring to Brandon as Teena and she. And Brandon's mother was referring to Brandon as her 'mixed up daughter with an identity problem'. And now I really had something to cry about. Because as an attorney I understand that the prosecutor wants a win and in Nebraska the rape and subsequent murder of a woman makes more sense than the rape of a man? By a man? I think the DA thought it was just too complicated to explain and it wasn't really important to the case. But it was important. It is important. But there was no Brandon Teena in the courtroom that day. Not as far as the prosecution was concerned. And not as far as the defense was concerned. And not as far as his mother was concerned. And not as far as the jury was concerned. And at that point I had a second inkling of why we had come. We had come, to sit outside the courtroom. To sit inside the courtroom. To be visible. To be present. To be the living embodiment and memory of Brandon Teena and god rest his soul, never ever again Teena Brandon. To Be or Not To Be. It was no longer a question.
At least this time the prosecutor has accepted Angie as a woman. Brandi Nieto is even using the correct pronouns, most of the time.
But defense attorney Bradley Martin is a real piece of work. Martin referred to Angie by his given (male) name and used male pronouns. He claims this was a clear case of deception and that therefore, Allen Andrade was justified in what he did rather than just leaving her apartment and walking away.
The defense is calling Angie by her given name, which the defendant never knew her by. The defense is claiming that Allen Andrade, a Colorado Sureno gang member (which the jury will not be told about), was so frightened by Angie still having a penis, which he never saw, that he first spent 36 hours with her and then became panicked by her gender. And therefore, I guess, her murder is justified...or at least not a planned event, which might get the defendant off of a first-degree murder conviction.
I can somewhat understand why they is doing that part. But it infuriates me that the defense attorneys have decided that they need to go further, to convince at least one of the jurors (8 men and 4 women) that Angela Zapata deserved to die. Angie is referred to by defense attorney Annette Kundelius as "this person named Angie," when she doesn't choose to use the other name.
Even the judge is struggling. Writing in a court order about trial procedures, Judge Kopcow penned the following sentence, referring to an unrelated court appaearance which she attended with Andrade (and which the jury will also not hear about...even though this would have put the lie to the fact that Andrade did not know Angie Zapata was transgender):
The victim advised (her sister) that she did not want to appear in court by himself.
The jury will hear Andrade's telephone conversation with his girlfriend, where he intoned these memorable words:
"...gay things need to die."
"It's not like I went up to a school teacher and shot her in the head, or killed a straight law-abiding citizen."
In a chilling arrest affidavit, Mr. Andrade said he thought he had "killed it," after striking Ms. Zapata in the head until she stopped breathing.
Emphasis is mine.
The jury will not hear much of the defendant's confession, since it has been ruled inadmissible. Ray Aquilera wrote in the Denver Post:
According to the murderer's confession, while he rifled through her belongings, he realized she wasn't quite dead, and returned and continued to beat her with the fire extinguisher.
But I am certain nobody is going to explain to the jury, to the attorneys, to the judge, to the defendant, to the members of the Sureno gang, or even to the public that Angie Zapata was not gay and that if she had a relationship with a man, it would be a heterosexual one.
The New York Times has a story about the trial, written by Dan Frosch. You may note that they chose the most unappealing photo of Angie that they could find.
I suppose we are supposed to be content that the author used the correct pronouns, or something.
Angela Zapata did not deserve to die just because she needed someone to share rent with and went searching for that someone online. She did not deserve to die because she began her transition when she was fourteen. She did not deserve to die for being a transwoman a couple weeks short of her nineteenth birthday. And she did not deserve to die because she smiled at a man.
Kundelius said, "When (Zapata) smiled at him, this was a highly provoking act, and it would cause someone to have an aggressive reaction."
I'm sure the Constitution and Bill of Rights don't cover this specifically, but I really have to ask: At long last don't we even have the right to smile?
Medallion for Angie