Man Arrested in Shooting Death of Black Trans Woman in New Jersey

Shai Vanderpump, a Black trans woman, was shot and killed in New Jersey on July 30. She was 23 years old.
Facebook/Garden State Equality

A man has been arrested and charged for the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old Black transgender woman in Trenton, New Jersey.

Daniel L. Smith, 36, of Ewing, New Jersey, faces multiple charges, including one count of murder and weapon offenses, for allegedly killing Shai Vanderpump, a trans woman and prominent LGBTQ rights advocate, reports the Trentonian. According to the paper, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Special Investigations Unit apprehended Smith during a traffic stop on July 31. This comes just a day after the same outlet reported that the Trenton Police Department responded to an early morning call that Vanderpump was shot in the face in a home at 55 Kelsey Avenue. That morning, Vanderpump was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

An affidavit obtained by the Trentonian shows that the perpetrator attempted to cover up the incident. Following the attack, Smith called 911 and indicated that “someone pulled him out of bed” and “was shot in the residence,” according to the affidavit. but a witness later identified the suspect’s voice in the 911 recording. Authorities noted that Smith was the only person to report that the victim was shot.

In a statement on Facebook, Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, described Vanderpump as “a fierce LGBTQ advocate,” adding that they are “devastated” by her tragic death.

“[We] will fight to bring justice to Shai and her loved ones. #JusticeforShai,” the post continued.

Officials and advocacy groups believe the attack was motivated by hate and are collaborating on the investigation.

In the wake of Vanderpump’s death, Victoria Kirby York, the National Black Justice Coalition’s deputy executive director, voiced calls for lawmakers to develop policies that prevent anti-trans attacks.

“It is absolutely devastating to have another young, Black, transgender woman stolen from us too soon,” Kirby York said in a written statement. “This epidemic of violence has continued for far too long, without enough action being taken to address it and protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community. What we have seen are attacks on the community in the form of anti-trans legislation across the country, that does nothing more than further the discrimination and oppression the trans community already faces.”

Kirby York added, “Legislation needs to be codified to help prevent violence and prioritize the safety of the trans community. All of us have to fight against the transphobia and misogyny that fuels this violence and stigma that is present and too often accepted in our communities.”

Like many transgender victims, Vanderpump was misgendered by police and in local media reports, which may have delayed advocates from correctly identifying the victim. The slain woman’s relatives slapped on further transphobic bias by misgendering and deadnaming her in a GoFundMe, which was set up in her honor.

In a written statement, Tori Cooper, HRC’s director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, condemned the wave of violence against the trans community.

“The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating,” Cooper said in a written statement. “Shai was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in New Jersey, and her loss will be felt by her friends, family, and local community, as well as the wider LGBTQ community. Her life should never have been taken. Too many transgender and gender non-conforming lives have already been lost. We need everyone, in every state, city, and community, to help bring an end to this senseless violence and stigma that so often impacts Black trans women.”

After a record-high 44 known transgender Americans were killed last year, the spate of deadly violence has spilled into 2021. In April, two Black transgender women were shot to death in hotel rooms in North Carolina. Earlier this year, there were back to back trans murders, which included Davarea “Tyianna” Alexander, who was shot and killed in Chicago on January 6; Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, who died in Puerto Rico on January 9; and Natasha Keianna, who was found dead in an SUV in Detroit on January 12.

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