Protesters rally to free Davia Spain

February 8, 2018

MaLychi Casper and Maya Desai report from San Francisco on the emergency response that helped free trans activist and artist Davia Spain.

DAVIA SPAIN, a Bay Area activist, artist and trans woman, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, battery and burglary on January 22. Her arrest fit a pattern in which women, especially Black and trans women, are criminalized for defending themselves against abusive partners.

She was originally housed in a unit meant for men, and with a prohibitively high bail, which immediately put her at risk of further assault.

However, Spain's story ends differently. The day after her arrest, more than 200 community members rallied at the courthouse demanding her release, presenting a petition with more than 1,700 signatures.

She was released and cleared of all charges within five hours. The Bay Area is still celebrating her freedom.

SPAIN AND her supporters assert that the charges were the result of her acting in self-defense against an alleged rapist. Public defender Jeff Adachi, whose office is representing Spain, said Spain was not "the attacker or aggressor" in the altercation. "We're confident that Davia acted in self-defense and is innocent of these charges," Adachi said.

Bay Area Trans Rights and LGBTQ activist Davia Spain
Bay Area Trans Rights and LGBTQ activist Davia Spain (Transgender and Intersex Justice Project | Facebook)

"This was a situation where the encounter occurred and she was forced to defend herself," Adachi told SFWeekly.

The rally in front of the courthouse was organized through social media and word of mouth by Transgender and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), which immediately initiated a call-in and signature campaign.

Within hours, calls filled every available answering machine at the San Francisco District Attorney's office. The next day, the steps were swarming with folks ready to join the campaign to free Davia.

The response to Davia's arrest was no doubt so swift because of Spain's popularity and her extensive connection to an active and thriving LGBTQI+ community in the Bay Area, as well as her work as a Trans Employment Program Associate with the San Francisco LGBT Community Center.

The emergency response to Davia's arrest is also the latest example of the many acts of solidarity being shown in response to attacks since Trump took office--from the defense of Muslims after the travel ban to the #MeToo movement giving voice to the survivors of sexual assault to the defense of immigrant activists facing detention.

The work of TJIGP activists and a huge community response forced District Attorney George Gascón and the San Francisco Police Department to release Davia. Had she walked in alone, Davia almost certainly would still be in jail. Her aggressively high bail--$200,000--alone would have probably been enough.

SPAIN IS among a growing number of trans women of color who have been treated as the attacker and not the survivor in cases of clear self-defense.

Ms. Cambell, a Black trans woman in Florida, had been repeatedly and aggressively sexually harassed for months, when her assailant finally did what he'd been escalating toward and attempted to attack her. Campbell defended herself, stabbing her attacker. She then spent 10 months in prison--and was assaulted three times--before she was released.

CeCe McDonald faced the rest of her life in prison after she was charged with second-degree felony murder for defending herself against a hate crime. An international campaign won CeCe a reduced sentence, and she was freed after 17 months in prison.

These women are not exceptions. In a system that marginalizes and vilifies the oppressed, it is little surprise that trans women receive unjust treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.

Nor are trans women the only women to regularly go to jail for defending themselves, often after years of enduring abuse. A California prison study found that 93 percent of women in prison for killing an intimate partner had been battered by that partner, with 67 percent saying that the homicide was the result of an act of self-defense or defense of their children.

Marissa Alexander spent almost a half-dozen years locked in prison or confined to her house for firing a warning shot that hurt no one. When Alexander tried to use Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law--the same one that helped vigilante George Zimmerman win acquittal for stalking and killing Black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin--she was denied.

Violence toward women is nothing new, but the potential of the present moment to shape and change the conversation is unprecedented. This includes the domino effect created by the #MeToo movement that has brought rich and power Hollywood elites to their knees, and the sustained momentum of the Women's Marches.

We need to amplify the call for reproductive justice that includes transgender folks having access to hormones, and abortion and fertility options, without having to jump through prohibitive and patronizing gate keeping that delays and prevents correct medical intervention for thousands.

We need to argue for single-payer health care and access to abortion, and for those services to be open and welcoming of trans men. We need to win the argument that body autonomy is an inalienable right, as is the right to have a family if someone chooses.

These conversations start in the planning meetings, in Facebook groups and at protests, as activists build the networks and solidarity we will need in the months ahead.

TGIJP is organizing court support for Corrina, who is currently being held in the Santa Rita Jail, on February 8 at 9 a.m. at 5151 Gleason Dr. in Dublin. Visit the "Court Support for Corrina" Facebook page for more information.

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