DeVonnie Johnson, the Black transgender woman who was fatally shot by a security guard earlier this month, was honored at a vigil on Thursday. The ceremony was held outside of the Hollywood grocery store where she was killed.
Organized by a group of nonprofits and activists—including APAIT and the Trans Wellness Center—the vigil paid tribute to Johnson’s memory with a somber celebration of life procession. Mourners carried white and pink roses and released white balloons in her honor. “Our community, we know how to nurture each other. We know how to take care of each other,” said Jazzmun Crayton, APAIT associate director and one of the vigil’s organizers. “We may not do it how everyone else does it, but we do it to the best of our ability.”
Johnson had previously been a client of Crayton’s at Casa de Zulma, a supportive housing initiative for trans women in the Koreatown area. “And she did well,” Crayton said. “She did the best she could. It’s tough when there are so many elements working against you to some degree. You’re trying to find your voice and your rhythm and your own beat, but people often don’t see you or hear you or celebrate you.”
Johnson was killed on Aug. 7, just one day after her 27th birthday. She was shot after a confrontation with an armed security guard at a Ralphs grocery store in Hollywood.
“There is nothing—absolutely nothing—in this store that has more value than the life of DeVonnie Johnson,” Crayton said in her speech at the vigil. “Where was your management team to diffuse the situation? Why did no one come to either individual’s assistance?”
Johnson’s mother also attended the vigil with other family members. “It shouldn’t have been a 20-minute altercation,” she said. “If you asked her to leave the store—you shot her out[side] the store. Why are you out the doors?”
Mariana Marroquín, associate director of the Trans Wellness Center (TWC), voiced frustration at the frequency of these tragedies in the trans community. “I was thinking about how many times we have to do this, how many times we get together to honor a life that was taken too soon from one of our sisters,” she said. “That’s why I’m here, to honor her life. Because too many times, trans lives are not validated or honored. We are always fighting for a right to exist.”
“We see the same people every time. We have to beg others to come to listen about what’s happening,” she continued. “And this is not going to be the last time. I’m sure we don’t have to go far from here to find another sister who is struggling with substance use or mental health. You don’t have to go far to find a brown, Black trans woman or trans person who is struggling..”
Meanwhile, Johnson’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help return her to Oklahoma. You can donate here.
“We all stumble, and we fall. We’re human. But oftentimes trans folks don’t get an opportunity to stumble and fall. We stumble, we fall, we get shot,” said Crayton. “That’s what happened here. They dehumanized her. … There was nobody there to protect her, or to say, Hey, I got you.”
TWC provides comprehensive resources and services for transgender and nonbinary people under one roof. The center is the first of its kind in the United States, with six local organizations joining forces to create this new home for radical wellness. To access resources or additional information, please click here.