DOJ report confirms harassment the Baltimore transgender community has talked about for years

City Paper

The 164 pages that make up the Department Of Justice's investigation of the Baltimore Police Department is essentially a laundry list of police fuckery—and I'll be reading through it closely for weeks and weeks. Already though, one part of the report that sticks out to me: A subsection on page 124 titled "BPD’s Treatment of Transgender Individuals."

It begins: "We received allegations of BPD officers’ mistreatment of transgender individuals and have concerns that BPD’s interactions with transgender individuals reflect underlying unlawful gender bias. We heard allegations that BPD officers make disparaging and inappropriate comments to transgender individuals, and that BPD officers refuse to acknowledge transgender women as women." 

Specifically, it details a December 2015 traffic stop wherein a transgender woman was misgendered and then harassed in police custody. During the stop, she was asked about her pronoun and told the officer that her pronoun was "she," and the officer still referred to her as "him." When this woman arrived at intake the report goes on, a supervisor (who was a woman) said, "I am not here for this shit. I am not searching that." When the woman objected to be talked to like that, the supervisor told her, "like I said, I don’t know you. I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care, I am not searching you." 

The DOJ report confirms many of the anecdotal details reported in last month's City Paper Queer Issue piece, "After Pulse shooting, LGBTQ community tries to work with police, even as they feel officers target them."

What the DOJ report does not mention but is frequently mentioned by the trans community is the amount of searches performed by police simply because someone is trans, especially a trans woman, and even moreso if they are a trans woman of color. Moreover, there is a particular kind of harassment by police endured by trans sex workers or even those assumed to be sex workers, which it seems, is any trans woman the police decide could be a sex worker. Being trans appears to be enough evidence that you should be searched and often, possessing condoms and being trans is enough to get you arrested, as many publications have reported over the years (among the report on this issue is Melissa Gira-Grant's 2014 piece for CityLab, "How D.C. Finally Stopped Punishing Sex Workers for Carrying Condoms"). You could also just pace around Old Goucher yourself long enough and inevitably witness this kind of interaction play out.

The DOJ's look at how the Baltimore Police consistently mistreats the trans community is vital. It is also, like most of the DOJ report, nothing new to those enduring police abuse and harassment. What was well-known within the LGBTQ community and what has been an impossible-to-ignore accumulation of anecdotes ABOUT this kind of police misconduct is now even more clear thanks to the DOJ report. This is in part, as we said in our story, why Commissioner Kevin Davis was booed and why he even got a "fuck you" sent his way when he spoke at the vigil for victims of the Orlando shooting at the YNot Lot.

Not long after the City Paper piece about the LGBTQ community and the police went to press, Evan Mahone who was arrested at #AFROMATION—the protest that happened the weekend of Artscape and resulted in the arrest of 65 — and a "team member" of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance released a statement on the group's Facebook about how she was mistreated by police. During her arrest at #AFROMATION she was "degendered and misgendered" she writes. She also adds that one officer was particularly kind but adds that had she not been white, the situation would have been much worse because "the Baltimore Police Department routinely dehumanizes, harasses, and arrests black transw omen, and trans women of color, just for being trans." Mahone adds: "By having white skin, I was shielded from having these experiences."

That the BPD has engaged in racially-biased policing is a major part of the DOJ report. Mahone's story is just one of many, many examples of what DOJ report confirms: "BPD officers lack guidance on the appropriate process for conducting searches of transgender individuals, including ensuring that searches are conducted by a person of the appropriate gender."

Yesterday, not long after the release of the DOJ report, the Baltimore Transgender Alliance's offered this comment on Facebook: "Transgender women of color endure the brunt of the BPD's excessive harassment and intentional dehumanization out lined in the DOJ report. Hopefully, this report will assist in our ongoing fight for transgender women's lives in this city through holding police accountable, building infrastructure to meet our basic needs, and continually centering the transgender and GNC voices of Baltimore."

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