Duanna Johnson Murdered

by Cara on November 11, 2008

in bigotry, LGBTQ, misogyny, patriarchy, trans, transphobia and trans misogyny, violence against women and girls

Less than five months ago, I wrote about Duanna Johnson — a transgender woman who was beaten by Memphis police while handcuffed and in custody. She was sprayed with mace, hit with a closed fist by an officer who wore handcuffs around his knuckles, ignored by medical staff, and called abhorrent transphobic names. Her attack was caught on tape, and Duanna dared to speak out against the violence and injustice that was committed against her. And two officers were rightfully fired, but wrongfully apparently not prosecuted.

Now, Duanna is dead. She was shot, and her body was found lying in the street. Just left there.

And I don’t even know what to say.

I’m not going to lay accusations. I don’t know what happened to Duanna, other than that she was murdered, and that her death is a tragedy.  I do know that while Duanna was already at an appallingly high risk of murder due to her being a woman, transgender, a woman of color, and possibly a sex worker (this much has been unconfirmed), the numbers aren’t that high, and the fact that she was murdered less than five months after this incident came to light therefore seems inherently suspicious to me.  I know that due to the factors above, who Duanna was and the bigotry that people direct towards her identity, her murder is likely to not be properly investigated let alone tried with her murderer(s) brought to justice.

And I also know that if the Memphis police have nothing to hide, they better be putting every resource they have into investigating her murder and finding her killer.  Not only because a woman was killed, her body left in the street, and as a human being she deserves no less, but because it’s their own reputation on the line.  (Honestly, it seems appalling to me that there is no one else to investigate other than the Memphis Police Department.)  And while I don’t know who is responsible, I know that the two cops who lost their jobs due to their involvement in Duanna’s beating, as well as those in the force who were close with those officers and may have been outraged at their dismissal, should be at the top of the suspect list.

I am so, so sorry to Duanna and her family.  I can only hope against hope that at the very least, for what little good it does now that she is dead, her murderer(s) will be brought to justice.


1 Rachel November 11, 2008 at 9:28 am


Tennessee State Police? Can’t they investigate, instead of Memphis local?

2 SunlessNick November 11, 2008 at 9:58 am

Damn it. And yeah, I agree about where the suspicion should peak.

3 Melissa November 11, 2008 at 11:01 am


This makes me so sad and so angry. Land of the free and all that shit, right. It is strange when we are in a place where we can be so proud of out country and full of hope one minute and then conversely throwing our hands up at it the next.
We have made some huge steps politically (some forward and some back) but it doesn’t change the fact that if you are a woman, a black woman, a black transgendered woman…the stack against you just keeps getting bigger…

Thanks for posting.

4 Alexa November 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm

Rachel, Tennessee doesn’t have a “State Police” per se. They have a Bureau of Investigation, but I think they only get involved on certain types of cases – I think the local AG has to request them. Don’t know if this is the kind of case they do or not.

I have family that lives outside of Memphis, and have been to the city several times (we lived there for a while). The police department there is notoriously corrupt. I don’t hold out much hope for this to be solved if it did involve one of them.

5 Renee November 12, 2008 at 1:08 am

I am sick, sick about this. I have been thinking about it ever since someone twittered me the news early this morning.
When I posted about her story five moths ago one of the things that made me happy was that she was standing up and fighting back. Though what was done to her was terrible she was refusing to take it lying down. I found myself saying damn right!
I am so saddened that someone has decided to silence her voice. I am so sorry that her last days were so hard. I know that right now we cannot say for sure the Memphis PD had something to do with it but I am suspicious as hell.
The other thing that I have to say is where the hell are our so-called black leaders now? They could barely be bothered to say a word when she was first attacked and now she is dead there is absolute silence. As I said at questioning transphobia this is just as much a civil rights issue as racism, and violence against women. You can bet your ass if Duanna where a straight cisexual black male that, that camera whore Al Sharpton would have been on the first plane. Black people, stop disowning members of our community. I am sick, sick, sick over this.

6 Paul November 12, 2008 at 1:17 am

I am under no illusions that the Memphis PD or even Internal Affairs will seriously investigate the two cops or their buddies in the force – it is the Blue Wall of Silence

RIP Duanna

7 THADDEUS MATTHEWS November 13, 2008 at 10:21 am

I am a local radio talk show host in memphis who has been following this case. I received a call early Monday morning on my cell about 5;45 I didn’t answer the phone but a message was left where a person was whispering stating that Duanna Johnson was dead and that Memphis police were going to state that 3 black men shot her.

What I find strange is that the person knew the ID before Duanna’s name was released. It is my belief that Duanna was the victim of a hit by police. The are that Duanna was killed was on the street where she lived where she would not have been working since all in the area knew what her real gender happen to be.

something is wrong with this case which homicide is not working hard to solve.

8 Cara November 13, 2008 at 10:29 am

Thaddeus, thank you for the info. But we all know Duanna’s “real” gender, and it’s the only one she had. Duanna was a woman.

9 Corey November 19, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Duanna was a friend of mine, and I was truly shocked to hear of such a tragic end to her life. Yet, the fact remains that she, as well as many, countless others, and their lovers have met similar fate.
Although we have made great strides in some areas of the bigotry and hate in this country (“Gobama”), we still have far, far to go. It will be a great day when all men and women are actually viewed as equal.
My heart goes out to the Johnson family. I just truly hope that Duanna’s death does not go in vain. Let it be a pillar- The Corner Stone- in the plight to empower Transpeople and those who love them to seek their rightful place within society, as full fledged, productive members.
I lost a part of me with you girl; you are gone but never forgotten. EVER!

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