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A trans Detroit woman who was shot because of her gender identity is finally getting justice, thanks to a creative judge who classified it as a case of “ethnic intimidation based on gender.”
Kimora Steuball was buying cigarettes at a Mobil gas station on July 23 when she says Deonton Rogers started harassing her. Rogers allegedly called her the n-word and, when she told him she was trans, he pulled out a gun.
“He was like, ‘Well, I’ll kill you,'” Steuball testified. “I’m transgender. I know what transgenders go through. We go through this everyday. Getting attacked, guns pulled out on us, shot at, robbed. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I was terrified for my life.”
She tried to grab the revolver from his hand and it went off, shooting her in the left shoulder.
A convicted felon, Rogers wasn’t legally allowed to be in possession of a gun, but his attorney claims he didn’t mean to fire it. “My client never intentionally fired a weapon and, in fact, he was leaving the building.”
But the prosecution says his intent was clear.
“This was a hate crime,” says assistant prosecutor Jaimie Powell-Horowitz. “This man attacked another individual because she was transgender.” But Michigan law doesn’t recognize gender identity (or sexual orientation) in its hate crime law. Admitting “there are no protections, unfortunately, for people in the LGBTQ community,” Judge Willam McConico agreed with prosecutors that because Steuball’s gender was at issue, the case could be classified as “ethnic intimidation based on gender.”
According to the Michigan Penal Code, a person is guilty of ethnic intimidation “if that person maliciously, and with specific intent, intimidates or harasses another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, gender or national origin.” It’s a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine of not more than $5,000 or both. And regardless of the verdict, the victim can also bring a civil suit for damages and emotional distress against their attacker.
Roberts has also been charged with felonious assault, felony firearm possession and other crimes.
Michigan saw a 29% increase in reported hate crimes in 2016, giving the state the fourth highest rate in the country. According to the FBI, most victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity.
In 2016, the Detroit Police Department and Fair Michigan launched the Fair Michigan Justice Project (FMJP), a special task force that investigates crimes against the LGBTQ community and helps with the prosecution of offenders. The initiative was sparked, in part, by the murder of trans Detroit activist Amber Monroe. Last year, another trans Detroit woman was shot by two men, leaving her permanently in a wheelchair.
“We’ve been tracking the LGBT cases in my office for quite awhile when I noticed a national trend ticking upward and even in Wayne County and in the state of Michigan,” said prosecutor Kym Worthy at the time. Activists hope the program can be replicated nationwide.