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Media Should Show More Respect in Reporting About Killing
January 5, 2012
by Jamie Tyroler

Click For Full Size Dee Dee (born Darnell) Pearson was shot multiple times and died on Christmas Eve near 43rd and Troost. Kenyan Jones, an alleged john, was arrested and charged in the killing. Because of the use (or abuse) of pronouns in this sad event, the slaying has received attention from The Advocate and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).

Unfortunately, this is often the case when there is a transgender victim of crime, especially when that victim has not had the ability — or often the financial resources — to get his or her name or gender marker on documents legally changed to reflect the person that they are.  

Dee Dee had lived for some time as a woman, but if you search for “Dee Dee Pearson” on websites for the Kansas City area TV stations or The Kansas City Star, you won’t find anything — at least as of Dec. 30. You would have to search for “Darnell Pearson.” 

Lindsay Moore of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) said that Dee Dee had been living full-time as a woman and therefore should be considered as a woman by the media. 

KCAVP and The Justice Project issued a news release that included the following:

Dee Dee was a friend to many people in the community. KCAVP and The Justice Project offer our sincerest condolences to those grieving this loss. We must stress the absolute necessity for the police and media to respect DeeDee’s gender identity. The least we can do to honor her memory is to respect her chosen, lived identity.

KCAVP and The Justice Project are also concerned by the use of transphobic language in media coverage of this murder. Transphobic language contributes to a culture which sanctions anti-transgender violence. Together, we must challenge institutional racism, poverty, transphobic attitudes, lack of social services, criminalization of sex work, and other policies that jeopardize our security.

I attended a vigil on Dec. 29 at the site of the murder on 43rd Street, just west of Troost. The featured speaker was Alvin Brooks, former Kansas City, Mo., City Council member and a founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.  Flyers were handed out to the 20 or so people in attendance, including several members of the local mainstream media, plus some alternative media, including Tony’s Kansas City blog and Camp. Because I did not personally know Dee Dee or how she lived her life, I didn’t speak up. At times, it was very difficult not to.

Here’s the first paragraph of the vigil’s flyer:

Darnell Pearson was the victim of a brutal homicide on Christmas Eve 2011 that occurred near 43rd & Forest Avenue. He leaves behind a family who loved him dearly. Darnell was Kansas City’s 112tth (sic) homicide of the year. Another case of a senseless killing — Black on Black violence.

This flyer, printed to remember the victim of a violent crime, seemed to me like it was written for a totally different event. The reason that the murder suspect gave for shooting Dee Dee Pearson multiple times was that earlier that day, he had paid her for sex. Later on, he said, he discovered that Dee Dee had once lived as Darnell and wasn’t born female. Turning to the often-used trans-panic defense, he said that he became irate, found a gun, found Dee Dee, chased her several blocks and then shot her. A neighbor said she heard one shot, a pause, then five or six more shots. Yes, Dee Dee and the alleged murderer are both black, but her race seemed to have little to do with her murder. The killing was tied to her being a transgender person, and she also happened to be black.

As of this writing, Jones has been charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. The reason for these charges instead of first-degree murder has not been reported. Several people plan to contact the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office to get clarification and to ask why there aren’t any hate crimes charges — either the Missouri hate crimes law or the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Several people, including me, have been contacting much of the Kansas City media about how they have reported Dee Dee’s murder. Instead, the media have used phrases like “a man posing as a woman” in The Kansas City Star, or Fox 4’s “she was actually a man.”

The Associated Press and The New York Times have both issued style guidelines on how to report news stories concerning transgender people. Both of them say to treat transgender people according to the way that they present themselves.

In this case, that would be like this: Dee Dee Pearson, a transgender woman, was murdered on Christmas Eve.

If you see the use of the improper gender in news stories about transgender people, please contact GLAAD at to report this.

Kansas City Star:

Fox 4: 69059-three-dead-following-violent-holiday-weekend
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