The body of 21-year-old Poe Black was discovered in the Sonoran Desert on May 11, 2021 near Slab City in Niland, California. Also known as Oliver Jackson, Poe was a resident of Slab City, an unincorporated collection of camps frequently occupied by homeless folks and others who purposefully chose to live outside of conventional communities.
Originally from Nashville, Tenneesse, Poe identified as “mixed Indigenous” according to friends and was part of the Wyandotte Nation according to sources. It is undetermined if Poe had enrolled in the tribe, but his friends explain he was active in Indigenous activism and committed to Native issues. Poe also identified as transmasculine and a trans man. The official documents from the Sheriff’s Department describe him as nonbinary and white.
There have been no arrests or suspects identified that we know of. There has also been no media coverage at all by Southern California media. Nothing which is stunning for such a horrific crime, both for Poe’s sake and for the safety of the other residents of the camps. I’ve been writing these memorial posts since 2013 and I’ve never found zero coverage before – poor coverage, misgendering, deadnaming, yes. But never just no mention of a brutal crime like this. I’ve been struggling to understand. And it has left me struggling to report on a story for which I am vastly unprepared to do justice.
According to friends, he was last seen on May 6 wandering around alone after his partner and other campers relocated. On May 7th, they claim a “huge amount of blood” was found at the nearby hot spring, but the campers were not informed about that discovered until several days later. Around two weeks later, local sheriff investigators came to the camp with photographs of Poe’s body, seeking someone to confirm his identity.
One friend said Poe was “stabbed 7 times, including several times in the genitals and then his body dumped in a nearby canal.” Early reports from Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA implied Poe had been sexually assaulted, but that will have to be confirmed by autopsy results.
If this happened to a white 21-year-old in an affluent suburb, if a killer who engaged in such barbarity – the response would be 100% different.
Poe’s family has confirmed his death and held a private vigil in Tennessee, but they do not wish to be contacted. Sadly, the public notice from the police and his family have chosen to use his deadname. So please let me clarify.
His name was Poe Black and he also went by Oliver Jackson as his family name. Recently, Poe had been identifying as Legion. Poe’s identities were multitudinous and while perhaps not officially diagnosed or legally recognized, his life and his death do matter. No one can erase or overlook the fact that Poe Black lived and that his death has been a great loss to his friends and family, as well as his camp neighors and, hopefully, to all of us who want our queer homeless youth to find safety and security.
Poe is the 31st trans, nonbinary or gender nonconforming person reported killed in 2021. He is the 4th trans man. Twenty-seven of these neighbors have been BIPOC. Two were Indigenous. In total, there have been thirty-one murders or suspicious deaths in the first 154 days of 2021, an average of one death every 4.9 days. 20 of these victims were under the age of 30. So far. That we know of as many deaths go unreported or unacknowledged. Note – in this summary, I include suspicious deaths that as you can read below are often later confirmed homicides.
Poe lived in the Slab City camps in Southern California. You may have recently seen the movie Nomadland starring Frances McDormand. It won three Academy Awards and dozens of other film accolades. I thought it was a great movie, but I am aghast that we live in a society where characters and characterizations are lauded while residents of The Slabs go without acknowledgement of their right to simply be alive. The contrast has been haunting me for days. Aghast makes me sound naive, but I’m still puzzled that no one cared enough to write even a simple news bullet point.
In that movie, there are 2 or 3 scenes with a young man who came to mind when I saw a photo of Poe. His name is David and he is a 23 -year-old young man. He’s not an actor, but he could be Poe. How do we not make the connection from a hugely impacful movie to the lived experiences of people around us?
In a just world, Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao would say something publicly about Poe’s death. That they use their bully pulpit to speak up for homeless trans youth of color who are otherwise literally erased. An Academy Award winner’s tweet might spur the investigation and reporting that will find justice for this young man and bring comfort to all the kids like him.
Rest in power, Poe. Your work on all things social justice from an intersectional lens, your creativity, and your brutal self reflection on your own life, disabilities, and experiences have left deep impressions on everyone around you. I am so sorry we repeatedly failed you. I hope you can forgive us.
May your memory be a revolution.
Our list of transgender, gender, and non-binary neighbors lost to violence in 2021. Please do not copy or share this list without attribution.
- Tyianna Davarea Alexandra – Chicago, Illinois. January 6, 2021. Age 28.
- Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín – Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. January 9, 2021. Age 21.
- Dominique Jackson – Jackson, Mississippi. January 25, 2021. Age 30.
- Bianca ‘Muffin’ Bankz – Atlanta, Georgia. January 21, 2021. Age 31.
- Fifty Bandzzz – Baton Rouge, Louisiana. January 28, 2021. Age 21.
- Alexus “Kimmy” Braxton – Miami, Florida. February 4, 2021. Age 45.
- Chynaa Carrillo – New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. February 18, 2021. Age 24.
- Jeffrey ‘JJ’ Bright – Ambridge, Pennsylvania. February 22, 2021. Age 16.
- Jasmine Cannady – Ambridge, Pennsylvania. February 22, 2021. Age 22.
- Jenna Franks – Jacksonville, North Carolina, February 24, 2021. Age 34. **
- Diamond Nicole ‘Kyree’ Sanders – Cincinnati, Ohio. March 3, 2021. Age 23.
- Rayanna Pardo – Los Angeles, California, March 17, 2021. Age 26. ***
- Aidelen Evans – Port Arthur, Texas, March 2021. Age 24 ****
- Dominique Lucious – Springfield, Missouri, April 8, 2021. Age 26.
- Jaida Peterson – Charlotte, North Carolina, April 4, 2021. Age 29.
- Remy Fennell – Charlotte, North Carolina, April 15, 2021. Age 28.
- Tiara Banks – Chicago, Illinois, April 21, 2021. Age 26.
- Natalia Smüt Lopez – San Jose, California, April 23, 2021. Age 24.
- Tiffany Thomas – Dallas, Texas, April 21, 2021. Age 38.
- Iris Santos – Houston, Texas, April 23, 2021. Age 22.
- Jahaira M. DeAlto – Boston, Massachusetts, May 2, 2021. Age 42.
- Keri Washington – Clearwater, Florida, May 1, 2021. Age 49.
- Danny Henson – Baltimore, Maryland, May 4, 2021. Age 31.
- Whispering Wind Bear Spirit – York, Pennsylvania, May 4, 2021 Age 41
- Sophie Vasquez – Atlanta, Georgia, May 4, 2021. Age 36.
- Serenity Hollis – Albany, Georgia, May 8, 2021. Age 24.
- Oliver “Ollie” Taylor – Gervais, Oregon, May 19, 2021. Age 27.
- Thomas Hardin – York, South Carolina, May 2, 2021. Age 35.
- Poe Black / Oliver Jackson – Slab City, Niland, California, May 11, 2021 (estimated). Age 21.
We are also still monitoring these suspicious deaths from 20/21 (in addition to the 44 documented killings.)
- Fendi Mon’ezah Armstrong – Lithonia, Georgia, November 11, 2020. Age 39
- Kimberely Patricia Cope – Athens, Georgia, December 27, 2020. Age 40.
- Natasha Keianna – Detroit, Michigan, January 12, 2021. Age 37.
- Bonaire ‘Bonnie’ Black – Atlanta, Georgia, December 31, 2020. Age 19.
- Koko Nia Labeija – Chicago, Illinois, Found June 2020, Identified April 2021, Age 19
- Haven Bailey – Villa Park, Illinois, May 24, 2021. Age 25.