James Dixon, 25, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday for the beating death of 21-year-old Islan Nettles. According to reports, Dixon killed the transgender woman because she “threatened” his manhood.
According to his own confession, Dixon met the transgender woman just after midnight on August 17, 2013, on the streets of Harlem. He confessed to police that he was flirting with Nettles, as he was unaware she was transgender. The defendant said he flew into a rage when his friends started to mock him.
— Jamilah King (@jamilahking) April 4, 2016
Dixon admitted he punched Nettles in the face, knocking her down on the pavement. He further admitted punching her a second time as she laid sprawled on the sidewalk. Nettles, a shop assistant at a fashion company, died five days later of head injuries she sustained when her head struck the sidewalk.
Prosecutors later disputed Dixon’s claims that he only punched her twice, saying evidence proves she was hit repeatedly and her head was violently slammed into the concrete.
Three days after the fatal altercation, James Dixon turned himself in to police. According to reports, he admitted he flew into a “blind fury” when he realized he was talking to a transgender woman.
— Out Magazine (@outmagazine) March 29, 2016
Islan Nettles’ violent death caused intense outrage among transgender advocates, with many pointing to the assault as another case of useless violence against people due to their sexual orientation and identity.
Shelby Chestnut, co-director of the Anti-Violence project, said “Across the country, transgender women of color are disproportionately targeted for violence and homicide because of who they are. Right here in New York City we lost Islan Nettle to this senseless violence… her life matters and this violence must end.”
Indeed, Mic.com reports more than 25 transgender women of color have been killed in the years following the death of Islan Nettles.
According to the New York Times, Dixon agreed to plead guilty, per a plea bargain, before jury selection for his trial began. Lead Prosecutor Nicholas Viorst, of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, asked for a 17-year jail term if Dixon pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. However, Justice Daniel P. Conviser only sentenced the defendant to 12 years.
In New York, Judges can overrule a prosecutor’s sentence recommendation in cases of intentional manslaughter. Although the prosecutor suggested a 17-year sentence, Judge Conviser could have chosen any sentence between five and 25 years in prison. Viorst expressed his disappointment in the judge’s decision. However, unless James Dixon files an appeal, it will likely stand.
Transgender advocates, who were present during the hearing, were disappointed that Dixon got an unusually short sentence. According to reports, they threatened to take the case to the United States Attorney’s Office and file federal civil rights charges against the judge. Transgender advocate Mariah Lopez said that “12 years simply was not enough.”
Some transgender women are concerned that Dixon’s sentence will send the wrong message to those that target people with a different sexual orientation or identity. However, others are simply happy Dixon is off the streets. Danielle Carter said, “Just knowing another man will not walk the streets free today, the way other men have been able to when committing these kinds of crimes, brings me joy.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said that he hopes Dixon’s conviction will offer some comfort to Islan Nettles’ family and friends. Delores Nettles said she accepted her child wholeheartedly, although she was sometimes confused about the correct pronouns. “I accepted him no matter what because I loved him… my son was a beautiful woman,” she said.
[Image via Semmick/Shutterstock]