Mel R. Groves was a victim of such deep systemic violence.
For the last few days, all I have been thinking about is how this culture of transphobia, racism and cissexism ultimately led to Mel’s murder.
I think a lot about how his immediate family turned their back on him the moment he came out as trans, a fact not to be disputed because they have undeniably been absent from his life for the last five years.
Since he was 19 years old, Mel had to deal with persistent discrimination, poverty, homelessness, victimization and criminalization.
Mel was discriminated against while he was at Tuskegee University, and he felt that blatant transphobia inside and outside of the classroom. Professors refused to use his chosen name and pronouns. He was just 19 and 300 miles away from home, but university housing denied him safe and affirming housing.
While he lived off campus, Mel was the victim of numerous transphobic assaults. Over and over, he’d been beaten up, robbed, threatened and worse. He had to leave school, where he had a full scholarship because he couldn’t make it work. He needed time to just survive and meet his basic needs. He needed safety and security that he just didn’t have.
Mel was on the streets periodically. He had his demons, but please let us not pretend like they came from nowhere. Mel had very little resources in his position. Which shelter was he going to go to? Which national organization was he going to turn to? His own community was struggling to survive around him. Where could he go? What was he supposed to do?
I think a lot about how his interactions with the police only exacerbated everything that he had going on. Black cis men regularly talk about how horrifying it is to be in the custody of a system that doesn’t see value in them. Mel interacted with a system that didn’t and doesn’t see humanity in him, with officers who brutally abused him not only because he was a black man but because he was a black trans man.
Mel embodied resilience.
Up until Monday, Mel was a survivor of all that violence, all of that transphobia, all of that cissexism. Mel did his best in this world that was so determined to kill him every step of the way. Every day, he kept getting back up. Every day, he kept waking up to a world where he felt depressed, disregarded and dehumanized. He persevered through an experience that would have irreparably broken anyone.
In the last few months of his life, Mel was able forge a better life for himself with the support of Que Bell and The Knights & Orchids Society (TKO). Mel was in school again and working, hustling to get housing and documents together. For a time, there was nothing but forward movement, with the momentum getting stronger every day. Even when things started to fall apart again, Mel still kept resisting. He kept surviving. Bleeding to death behind the wheel of his car, he fought to live, to see another day, to see all of us in his chosen family one more time.
Mel wore the scars of a survivor when he should have been an adolescent, a young man safe and secure in college with an affirming and uplifting family at home. He should have been playing sports with friends, scrambling to get assignments in on time and hustling for a little extra pocket change to buy the latest video games. He should have had a university that protected him, a state that stood by him and a country that defended him.
Instead, Mel was a victim of violent transphobia, racism, and cissexism. A war was waged against Mel by a culture that devalues black trans lives, a culture that threatens every black trans person. It is a tragedy that this system which has for so long been killing some of the most vulnerable people in US society — our black trans youth — will continue to take our youth from us, just like it took Mel.