By Arturo R. García
Basketball fans are well-acquainted with stories about a local star who never got to show their skills outside the neighborhood courts.
And make no mistake, Tayshana Murphy was on her way to bigger things. As Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams wrote:
Mention a court in New York City — West 4th, Rucker, Orchard Beach — they don’t just know of Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy. They know her. She possessed that killer crossover and played “man strong,” as Taylonn, her father, likes to say. Tayshana loved contact. “Babies,” she called the girls who helplessly bounced off of her when she drove to the rim. She played taller than her 5-foot-7 and with a fierceness that contrasted against her gentle, hazel eyes.
Those eyes sized up Shannon Bobbitt of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever this summer.
Bobbitt conducts a clinic every year outside the Harlem projects where she grew up. The clinic is a way for children to see the footsteps she laid for them to follow. Bobbitt had heard of Tayshana and that she could ball. She probably had no idea that the high schooler was itching to test her skills against the professional.
“She’s fast as hell, Pops,” Tayshana told her father of Bobbitt. “But she’s so little. She can’t handle me. I’m too big for her.”
Murphy’s story came to a premature and violent end on Sept. 11, when she was shot and killed in the Grant Houses project where she lived. Initial reports said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity stemming from a feud between residents of the Grant Houses and the nearby Manhattanville Houses – a story her family refuted.
Three men have been arrested and charged in connection with Murphy’s murder: Tyshawn Brockington and Robert Cartagena, who allegedly shot her, and Terique Collins, accused of delivering the murder weapon. But since her death, details have emerged adding more layers to the tragedy.
Less than a month after Murphy was killed, WABC-TV reported that homophobic graphitti had been written and drawn on the wall near the stairwell where it happened. Yet, as Mecca Jamilah Sullivan observed in The Feminist Wire, Murphy’s sexuality and how that may have factored into her death was not being talked about:
The D.A.’s indictment press release doesn’t mention the homophobic comments or the possibility that anti-gay hate played a role in the crime. Even the New York Times article on the Grant-Manhattanville feud, which quotes another 18-year-old woman as Murphy’s “girlfriend” leaves the issue of homophobic hate silent, focusing instead on Murphy’s foreshortened basketball career. One exuberantly homophobic blog even goes so far as to say that the love of basketball turned Murphy gay. The message of all these sources is clear: Murphy wasn’t really a black lesbian; she was an athlete. And her loss should be mourned accordingly.
According to Bridgette P. LaVictoire at LezGetIt, the hate speech on the wall opens up another possibility.
“Even if Tayshana was not lesbian,” LaVictoire wrote after the graphitti was found, “there is always the possibility that she was murdered for just appearing to be lesbian, and because of a view of women that puts such an athletic woman into danger because of a patriarchal view that women should be far more submissive an far less athletic.”
It’s important to note that Murphy’s family hasn’t commented on her sexuality. But Sullivan’s point stands: coverage of the case has not mentioned whether authorities intend to prosecute her murder as a hate crime. (All three defendants have pled not guilty.) And stories reflecting on her life, whether at her wake or at an event named after her, have kept the focus primarily on the court.
Though the family’s right to privacy is unimpeachable, it may have opened the door for another, more problematic narrative to emerge: the New York Post reported this week that Murphy was part of a female gang, pointing to it as an example of “good girls recruited by neighborhood gangs into lives of violence, where carrying weapons and committing crimes is as commonplace as shooting a free throw.” There’s no source mentioned other than some mysterious “cops,” and the bulk of the article focuses on a whole other case.
But the story is already getting posted verbatim on other sites. If it gets enough momentum, it’s not hard to imagine that in a trial it could be used as a way to paint Murphy as an Angry Lesbian Gangbanger – to define her life by hate, and put her sexuality, however she defined it, on trial as much as the men accused of killing her.