New Report Highlights Police Hostility Toward Transgender Women of Color
It was broad daylight, Kerri says, when she and a gay friend were stopped by a cop while walking down the street in Jackson Heights. "An officer walks out of the corner store and says [he] heard a report up the street that we were harassing somebody," Kerri said. When Kerri asked who made the report, the officer wanted to take her up the street.
"I said I'm not going up the street. Then [he] started frisking my friend and found two condoms in his pocket."
Read more: New York's Condom Bait-and-Switch
A new report out from the Anti-Violence Project shows that 40 percent of New York City anti-gay violence survivors polled said they had been mistreated by the police in 2012. Reports of police misconduct also spiked by a factor of 10--from eight incidents in 2011 to 78 in 2012--largely because of the AVP's outreach to transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color, according to the organization.
"We receive reports and work with survivors all the time who tell us they were profiled--generally these are transgender women--by the NYPD as sex workers, stopped because of profiling, and searched," Sharon Stapel, AVP's executive director, tells the Voice. "If a condom is found on them, that condom is taken as evidence as intent to engage in prostitution. Many survivors of violence tell us that makes them hesitant to carry condoms."
Kerri, an African-American transgender woman who did not want to reveal her real name, says that in the two years she's lived in New York, she's been stopped 15 times.
"It happens a lot," she says. "Especially with black or Latina transgenders--it's like you have a sticker on your head without even knowing it's there."
Back on that day in Jackson Heights, Kerri says the officer told her friend he could go to jail for "solicitation." When Kerri tried to intervene, the cop told her to shut up.
AVP also took in four times the number of reports dealing with anti-immigrant bias from the previous year--increasing from 24 incidents in 2011 to 90 in 2012.
"Locally, we're doing a lot more targeted outreach in part because we have received reports in certain neighborhoods of increased violence," Stapel says. While undocumented communities experience violence daily, many individuals fear that reporting those crimes could mean detection of their immigration status. "Once it's clear that detection will equal deportation, people who are undocumented won't reach out to anyone," Stapel adds.
One of the main takeaways from the report is the intersectionality of these issues, Stapel says. "There are lots of other causes of violence against LGBT people that have to do with all of the identities they hold," she says. "I think it's critical that we recognize that transgender, gender-nonconforming people, people of color, and transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color experience violence at much higher rates than anybody else does."
When her friend was stopped and frisked for condoms, Kerri showed police her own outreach kit from the clinic, including condoms. Police eventually let her go--largely because the best way to handle stops based on gender identity profiling is to remain calm and know your rights, Kerri says.
"Being a minority, we don't want to say anything, we don't want to sue, we don't want to do any of that--and that's just with our upbringing. We just keep it moving," Kerri says, referring both to hostility from the cops and hate-based violence in general. "You have a right to say it's not OK."
This weekend, the City Council, in partnership with the Center for Anti-Violence Education will start offering self-defense classes at the LGBT Center in response to the recent uptick in recorded violence. AVP has also thrown its support behind the initiative to end condoms being used as evidence, as well as the Community Safety Act, which seeks to reform stop-and-frisk.
"We can't walk from the store or to the train station, depending on what time of night it is, what time of day it is," Kerri says. "If I'm in the Village, depending on what time, [police] will assume that I am soliciting and will stop me and ask me questions, frisk me, or want to take my condoms away."