01 February 2014

What Happened To Nizah Morris?

Back in the days of the Civil Rights movement, it was not uncommon--especially in places like Alabama and Georgia--for police officers to offer "courtesy" rides to African-Americans who "appeared" to be "inebriated" or who "seemed" to be in "distress."

That would sound benevolent had some of said African-Americans not mysteriously died while in custody, or simply disappeared.  

Apparently, similar things still happen, and not only to African-Americans, and not only in the Deep South.

Three days before Christmas in 2002, transgender woman Nizah Morris died in a Philadelphia hospital from a subdural hematoma, the result of traumatic blows to her head.

Morris had been out drinking when a concerned bar patron called an ambulance for her.  She turned down the opportunity to go to the emergency room and instead accepted a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police officer Elizabeth Skala.     

Morris never made it home.  Skala claims that Morris asked her to drop her off at a corner two minutes away from the bar where she'd been drinking--but 45 minutes from her apartment.  A minute after Skala left her at the corner of Chancellor and South Juniper Streets, a motorist (according to his testimony) found Morris, naked from the waist up and bleeding from her head, lying on the street. 

Now, here's where things get interesting. 

 Another witness reports having seen her body on the street fifteen minutes later and a police officer pulling a jacket over her face as her body was loaded into the ambulance.  The ambulance attendants said they loaded her body at the same time--3:30 a.m.--the first witness (the motorist) claims to have found it.  The officer on the scene says the ambulance didn't depart until 3:45.

If these accounts are even remotely accurate, why was there such a delay in embarking for the hospital?  And why did the officer pull the jacket over Morris's face as if she were already dead?  Finally, why wasn't the police report released until 2011--nearly a decade after Ms. Morris' death?  And why did it take a freedom-of-information request from Philadelphia Gay News to make that document see the light of day?

Are you surprised to learn that her family thinks the police murdered her?  

I agree with them.  Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like.  But I've found that people who so label other people have not--or don't want to admit that they have--been subjected to abuses of power.  I know:  I was once such a person.  

Whether I'm proved right or wrong, I hope that the true story of Nizah Morris's death is disclosed, and that her family finds the peace she didn't have in those last moments of her life.

(Thanks, again, to Kelli Busey of Planetransgender.)


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