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Community Seeks Answers From Police Following Toronto Transwoman’s Death

Police maintain that the death of Sumaya Dalmar, a Toronto transwoman of colour, was not suspicious. But that's all they're saying.

by Sarah Ratchford
Mar 25 2015, 6:33pm

Sumaya Dalmar. All photos via Gina Ferrara in the Facebook group In Memory of Sumaya Dalmar

Sunday marked one month since a transwoman of colour from Toronto was found dead, and her community is still waiting for police to give them answers about how she died.

Police say that the investigation is ongoing, and so they're not at liberty to release details of 26-year-old Sumaya Dalmar's death to the public. But they say they don't view her death as suspicious, and they also say they have briefed Dalmar's friends and family on what happened to her. In an interview this week, Toronto Police Detective Constable Kevin Hill reiterated Dalmar's death is not considered suspicious.

But Lali Mohamed, a close friend of Dalmar who helped organize her memorial, disagrees, saying that police have not updated him or others close to Dalmar, and that they have been ignoring his calls. He says that too many questions have been left unanswered.

"I'm disappointed that it's not being treated as suspicious. [I feel that police are] not taking it as seriously because Sumaya was a black transwoman. They're not doing what they should," Mohamed says.

"If Sumaya was a cis blonde woman who was 26, the police would be doing something. It's hideous."

Others in Dalmar's community have also expressed that police aren't investigating her death as closely or as respectfully as they're mandated to do.

Dalmar, also known as Sumaya Ysl, passed away on February 22. Mohamed says no one seems to know for sure what happened. According to an account obtained by Mohamed from an undisclosed source, she was at a party, went home with someone, and was found dead in the morning. One witness said they saw a man chasing a woman who resembled Sumaya down the street near the area where she died.

A week and a half after Dalmar died, Mohamed said police still hadn't called that witness, a claim disputed by police. Lead investigator Detective Tom Imrie, however, declined to shed light on that conversation.

"I don't want to make assumptions or anything like that," he says, adding that the coroner's investigation is still underway. As far as when we can expect that investigation to wrap up? Imrie only says those reports take "a little while."

But for a community reeling with pain, the investigation has taken longer than a little while. Their pain is compounded by the fact that the killing of transwomen of colour happens far too often: at least seven trans WOC have been killed in the US in 2015 alone. Journalist Muna Mire was friends with Dalmar, and she addresses this in a piece she wrote for VICE just after Sumaya died:

"An out and proud Somali trans woman, [Dalmar] was the sort of person who was so authentically herself she gave others around her permission to do the same. But now Sumaya is one of an alarmingly high number of transwomen of color whose lives have come to a premature end so far in 2015.

"To speak of her beauty in the past tense is painful because like Lamia, Leelah, Ty, Penny, Bri, Yazmin, and so many other transwomen of color who have died just this calendar year, she left us too soon."

As Mohamed reiterates in our conversation, it's not a new idea that tensions between trans folk and police run high just about everywhere. In Vancouver right now, for example, the BC Human Rights Tribunal has found that police in that province operate with "systemic discrimination" against trans people. Officers there called a transwoman by male pronouns, and failed to provide her with proper post-surgery care in jail. The Vancouver Police Board will need to pay Angela Dawson $15,000 for damages to her feelings and self-respect, and the force must also implement new policies for serving trans people within a year. In Ontario, Toby's law is in place to protect trans rights, but Toronto's trans population has had a complicated past with police officers, too.

As police haven't released any information about Dalmar's death, Mohamed and others close to her have been forced to speculate about what may have happened to their friend. Mohamed isn't saying he's sure she was killed; only that he can't rest easy that no foul play occurred. He worries her death may have had something to do with bad party drugs, if not outright physical harm. Last summer, someone gave women shoddy substances at a festival, and a young white woman died. As Mohamed says, you can bet the police did something about that.

An aspiring model who loved travelling and fashion, Dalmar radiated love and community, according to Mohamed. Hundreds of people turned up for her memorial last month at the 519 Church Street Community Centre—where she was supposed to start a job in the education and training department the Monday after her death. Alongside members of Toronto's black queer community, people traveled from the US and Quebec to pay their respects.

"She always had the best stories to tell. I think that's what I'll miss most about her," he says. "Sumaya was incredibly funny, sweet and had an unbelievably strong vision of who she wanted to be in the world, working indefatigably to achieve it."

Her friends and community decked themselves out in purple and black clothing, heels, and fabulous hats to honour her at her memorial the week after she passed. As Mohamed says, there was "a lot of beauty and pain in that room."

"Somali queers are a tribe, and it seems like everyone in that community knew her," Mire wrote after she passed.

"Black queers show up for one another in times of need," Mohamed says. "Three hundred Black queers came to mourn a loss at the 519 Community Centre, the largest gay centre in the country."

"We are here, we exist, and we are going to show up for one another when we feel abandoned by those in power." Part of that solidarity involves standing up and saying something in the face of police negligence (or perceived police negligence).

Imrie says he acknowledges Dalmar's community's need to know what happened, but that as a detective, he has to balance that need with her family's right to privacy.

Dalmar's family has not been speaking to media.

Where police statements will sometimes describe at least something about the person who died and the details surrounding their death, the statement they sent out about Sumaya was vague.

"It was an attempt to appease the community. What it did was get the community more upset," Mohamed says.

Imrie says he doesn't feel police have prejudice against trans communities of colour,

though he has seen social media critiques saying that police are not taking the case seriously enough. He says, on the flip, there are "biases against police," and that police are handling this case the same way they would handle any other. He adds that they do have an LGBT consultative committee, as well.

Mohamed says one of the most painful aspects of his friend's death is the implications for his community as a whole.

"I don't want the death of my friends to go unsolved," Mohamed says. "The police need to be held accountable."

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