07 December 2014

Don't Talk To Me About "Bulding Bridges" With The Police

Now that thug, I mean NYPD Officer,Daniel Pantaleo got away with murder, I mean was acquitted by a grand jury, I don't want to hear anything more about improving the transgender (or lesbian or gay or any other) community's relations with police.  It's simply not possible. 

So you think I'm being extremist and incendiary.  Well a report from Al-Jezeera---Yes, Al-Jazeera--provides confirmation of something I've been saying for years:  The cops profile trans people.  I'm sure the NYPD has a file on me as I write this.  And I'm sure they put something in it that said I was complicit in the abuse I reported to them two years ago, or at the time I was stopped-and-frisked.

Andrea Ritchie, an attorney specializing in police misconduct says, "I think most people are familiar with racial profiling.  But I think people are less familiar with how gender is really central to policing in the United States."   It's based, she elaborates, on expectations of "how women are supposed to look, how men are supposed to look, how women are supposed to act and how men are supposed to look".  

When people don't conform to those expectations, the police "often read that as disorder and perceive that person as already disorderly, already suspicious and already prone to violence," she says.

In other words, cops expect us to be criminals.  And, as I discovered, they simply can't deal with it when they realize one of us isn't.  

What exacerbates the gender profiling is that poverty and homelessness are considered criminal acts, rather than states into which too many of trans people fall because of bigotry or because they ran away from home rather than endure more beatings and other abuse from classmates and family members and thus didn't get the education or skills necessary for the workplace.

Sometimes simply being in the path of the cops means that you will get harassed, arrested, beaten or worse.  As Dean Spade, an attorney and one of the founders of the Sylvia Rivera Law Projects put it, being trans means "you're more likely to be poor and on the street, which puts you in the path of police."

A black man I know was explaining to me that he learned, at an early age, that if he's pulled over, he should turn on the light inside the car and put his hands on the steering wheel--and make sure his license is on the dashboard.  "The light is so they can see that no one is in the back seat," he explained "and that my hands are on the dashboard.  And the license is where they can see it, so they don't get anxious about me reaching into the glove compartment."

He insists that such actions are necessary to ensure that worse things don't happen.  But law-abiding young black men have been doing such things for a long time, and it seems that the police only continue and amplify their harassment.  And he, whether he realizes it or not, has internalized the notion that he is a criminal until he proves himself otherwise.

I don't want to see things come to that for trans people.  If I am not doing anything criminal or even merely offensive,I should be left alone.  And if I am being victimized, I should be helped. My expereinces with the police have shown me that they seem to think otherwise and that, if anything, they are turning the fact that I do, mostly, what most people do every day and the fact that I went to them for help as reasons why I am a potential criminal.  I cannot count such people as allies, as people with whom I--or any LGBT person--should cooperate.

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