Late in the night of December 22, 2002, Nizah Morris, a Philadelphian trans woman, was found at 16th and Walnut streets injured and unconscious. She later died from blunt-force head trauma at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. In the wake of her death came a maelstrom of controversy and scrutiny aimed at the Philadelphia Police that had offered Morris a courtesy ride to the hospital earlier that night due to her intoxication, but who left her at the corner of 13th and Walnut, three blocks from where she was later found suffering from a serious headwound. But what does this have to do with archives?
In the years following Morris’s death, which the police department deemed an accident despite an alternative decision from the coroner (which labeled the case a homicide), questions abounded regarding the police’s choice to leave Morris for a traffic stop, particularly when Morris needed medical attention. In 2009 and 2013 Philadelphia Gay News presented the District Attorney’s office with the dispatch records for the officer’s traffic stop. The formats between these records differed, but in 2015 the D.A.’s stated that it had destroyed the original copy of the 2009 record following its records-retention policy. Last month, however, the D.A.’s office came forward saying they discovered the original record after all, though did not explain the circumstances of its discovery.
When we discussed retention schedules a few weeks ago, we addressed the potential legal issues surrounding records destruction. In reading this story, considering the circumstances surrounding this particular record which was related to a suspicious death closely tied to the city’s police department, the idea that the District Attorney’s office would destroy a related document strikes me as profoundly unethical. Additionally suspicious, is the fact that they rediscovered this record two years later amid the continued scrutiny regarding this case. The District Attorney’s office is no archives, but it is a government body with a retention schedule that should account for situations like this. The mishandling of records like this really only enables the perpetuation of systemic violence against trans women of color like Nizah Morris.
 Tim Cwiek, “D.A.’s Office Finds ‘Destroyed’ Morris Record,” Philadelphia Gay News, November 15, 2017, http://www.epgn.com/news/local/12778-d-a-s-office-finds-destroyed-morris-record. Accessed 11/16/17.