"Hate comes in many forms, and self-hate is a driving factor in harming these trans women of color," says special prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
August 21, 2020 09:30 AM
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Paris Cameron

Paris Cameron loved cooking soul food, voguing and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

"Paris was a fireball,” says the 20-year-old's friend, Sunshine Johnson. “She was a loving spirit. She tried to help everybody”

On May 25, 2019, Paris met 19-year-old Devon Kareem Robinson at a Detroit gas station. She flirted with him and invited him to come to a nearby party.

He hesitated.

The gas station — and much of the neighborhood — has surveillance cameras installed as part of Detroit’s Project Greenlight, a crime-fighting partnership which installs real-time cameras at local businesses to help police deter, identify and solve crime. Their entire exchange was on tape.

“He would walk back to her, walk away from her, walk back,” says special prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz of the Fair Michigan Justice Project, which seeks to combat violence against the LGBTQ community.

Robinson walked home, then he changed his mind and went to the party. He had sexual encounters with many people at the party. One witness said he left the party looking a little blank, Powell Horowitz says.

During the trial, the prosecutor showed the jury footage of Robinson spitting and dry-heaving in the parking lot of the gas station before he went home.

“An hour later, you see the figure emerge running toward where the house party was. He kicks in the door and begins just fire indiscriminately killing three people,” Powell Horowitz tells PEOPLE. “Two others survived, but watched their friends die in their arms.”

On June 30, 2020, after being convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges, Robinson was sentenced to three life terms in prison without parole.

“Hate comes in many forms, and self-hate is a driving factor in harming these trans women of color,” says Powell Horowitz.

Cameron was one of 26 transgender women murdered in 2019 in what the Human Rights Campaign has called an “epidemic of violence." To date this year, the numbers are steadily growing, with at least 28 homicides of transgender people, according to data from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“It’s almost always men who identify as straight who are harming trans women. It’s almost always motivated by fear of being found out. They would literally rather kill them than be found out,” Powell Horowitz says.

For more on the surge of violence impacting the transgender community, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

Are more transgender women being killed this year? Or is there just better police work identifying the victims as transgender? In the past, many transgender women were misgendered by police, Powell Horowitz says, making cases difficult to solve.

“If an officer shows up on the scene, and they take the driver’s license -- if the license says "Bill" and they go around the neighborhood saying, ‘Does anybody know Bill?’ But nobody knows Bill, Bill is actually Sheila,” she says. “People are finally starting to realize it’s important you respect gender identity. ... It’s the police and law enforcement community are being more culturally competent.”

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As another transgender woman of color, Johnson says she's frightened.

“I’m terrified,” Johnson, 33, tells PEOPLE. “To know that it’s not safe for me to go out the door — that’s a problem."

She maintains a Facebook page, Long Live Paris.

“I’m going to always keep her memory alive,” Johnson says. “The love we had for one another was unconditional. That young lady was really everything I was trying to be. I miss her every day.”