Oklahoma Black Trans Woman DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson Fatally Shot in Los Angeles

DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson
DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson

Another transgender American has died by violence, at least the 16th this year.

DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson, a Black trans woman who was experiencing homelessness, was fatally shot by a security guard at a Ralphs grocery store in Los Angeles August 7. She was in her late 20s. Her death and her identity are just now being widely acknowledged.

Police said she confronted the guard and was wielding a fire extinguisher and then a screwdriver, according to the Beverly Press, a neighborhood news outlet. But “DéVonnie’s family contend that she was not the aggressor and have been demanding more investigation into her death,” Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents reports. No charges have been brought against the guard.

Her case is “eerily reminiscent” of the death of Banko Brown, a 24-year-old Black trans man who was shot to death by a guard at a Walgreen’s in San Francisco in April, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents notes. The guard was not charged, but Brown’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Johnson was an artist who had moved to Los Angeles from Tulsa, Okla., in 2020 to proceed with her transition. Friends said she “loved music, comedies, hanging with friends, and giving back to her community,” according to Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

Her mother, Sirena Johnson, recently appeared on the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles podcast to call attention to her daughter’s death and the issues surrounding it. The family also has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to bring Johnson’s body back to Tulsa for burial.

“In yet another shocking example of the epidemic of violence facing Black trans women, we join together to mourn DéVonnie,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release, which cited the rash of anti-trans legislation and rhetoric in the U.S. this year.

“Again, we must ask — how did this happen?” Cooper continued. “What could have been done differently? Why is one of our sisters dead? We are again seeing examples of how our society seeks to dehumanize Black trans women. Her name was even omitted from most media reports of her death. But we will not forget her name. Her name is DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson, and her life has meaning.”