Department of Justice meets with LGBTQ community to hear their experiences with BPD

City Paper

On Thursday, about 30 Baltimore residents met with Department of Justice investigators at Chase Brexton Health Services' Mount Vernon branch to recount their own experiences with the Baltimore Police Department. Organized by the Baltimore Trans Alliance, the meeting worked to provide a space specifically for Baltimore’s LGBTQ community to voice their concerns with the Baltimore Police Department. After a few words from the team, DOJ investigators spoke privately with anyone who wanted to share their story.

“I think it's revolutionary. I think for the DOJ to extend their hand and be accommodating for us to tell our stories, because a lot of times we're so traumatized that we don't feel like we can speak out, or we don't feel like anybody's listening, or anybody is gonna care,” Bryanna Jenkins, one of the Baltimore Trans Alliance founders, said of the DOJ’s interest in hearing from the LGBTQ community in a formal setting.

According to the DOJ team, the investigation into the Baltimore Police Department’s various practices, including stops, searches, arrests, use of force, and discriminatory policies, began three months ago. In addition to meeting with leadership within the BPD, the DOJ team has joined police officers on ride-alongs in order to gain comprehensive knowledge of the department and its relations with Baltimore residents. So far, according to the team, the BPD has been cooperative in these efforts.

The DOJ team is also speaking openly with residents about the conduct of the department from a citizen’s perspective. This meeting is the third in a series with the aim to gather a large number of people and create a space where individuals can tell their stories to DOJ investigators. The previous two meetings occurred at Coppin State University in April, and the University of Baltimore in June; both drew large crowds, with the former forced to change locations in order to accommodate everyone interested in attending, according to The Sun.

During the community meeting, Monica Stevens, founder of Sistas of the “t”, a network for Baltimore’s trans women, announced that Sean Oliver of Hagerstown was charged with last summer’s stabbing murder of Mia Henderson; he was already in jail when the arrest was made, and remains in police custody. Met by a few murmurs of agreement among the crowd, the news did not shake the crowd; to them, this arrest was simply justice served. Since 2012, five transgender women of color have died in Baltimore, one by police.

“Walking while trans,” another point of contention for Baltimore’s transgender community, refers to assumptions made by the BPD regarding trans women, especially trans women of color, and sex work; allegations have been made of officers using this assumption as grounds to harrass trans women who otherwise are not committing any crimes. Stevens has spoken out about this as well, as she has personally been targeted by BPD officers, who assume she is a sex worker due to the neighborhood where she lives and her identity as a trans woman.

“The most important thing is that LGBTQ voices of color are included in this investigation, especially trans women of color,” Jenkins said. “Their voices are highlighted and included in this investigation. Because I think when we think of police brutality in the larger mainstream sense, a lot of times we don't take into consideration LGBTQ people of color, trans people of color. But we also have stories to tell, and we need to be included in the larger conversation.”

Anyone interested in sharing their experiences can also contact the DOJ through email at community.baltimore@usdoj.gov or calling toll-free 1-844-401-3773. Investigators ask that those leaving a voicemail message speak slowly, state both their first and last names with spellings, and include two telephone numbers where they can be reached.

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