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Awareness vigil planned to honor slain transgender woman

Activists say Tonya "Kita" Harvey is another victim in a nationwide plague of hate and violence.

It's an outbreak targeting transgender people, they say, and transgender woman of color – such as Harvey – are being hit the hardest.

Harvey was killed earlier this month on Buffalo's far East Side. She will be remembered Sunday at a vigil intended to raise awareness of such crimes.

"There's an epidemic with transgender people being killed and attempting suicide due to violence, discrimination and harassment," said Diana Patton, a rally organizer.

Patton said one of the goals of the event is to cast a spotlight on the increase in violent crimes against transgender victims.

One out of every four transgender people has been the victim of a bias-driven assault, and those rates are even higher for transgender women of color, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C.

Harvey, 35, was found fatally shot Feb. 6 on Shepard Street, a dead end near Bailey Avenue and Broadway. She initially was identified by Buffalo Police as a man.  Only later did police and media reports correct their mistake and indicate the victim was a female.

Police have not released any other information about the shooting, possible suspects or their investigation.

"This news came as a shock to her family, friends, and loved ones who recalled her tenderheartedness and good-natured personality," according to a statement from Queers for Racial Justice, one of the groups behind the vigil. "The LGBTQ community in Buffalo also grieved the loss of their sister, friend, and family member."

Earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the Erie County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors are "extremely concerned about a spike in homicides of transgender people across the country and will be, as part of this investigation, looking into whether or not this is a potential hate crime."

Shooting death of transgender woman may be a potential hate crime

While Patton and others welcome the investigation, they point to statistics that indicate most crimes against transgender people go unprosecuted.

In its statement announcing the vigil, Queers for Racial Justice suggested the increase in violence can be traced to President Trump and what the group calls "a political climate that’s deeply rooted in transphobia, misogyny, anti-blackness and racism."

"We will work towards justice for Kita and trans women of color, who continue to be among the most marginalized populations in the United States of America," the group said Saturday.

The vigil begins at 2 p.m. in Niagara Square.

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