Opinion: Occupy MPD

by Emily Brooks and Heather Kangas

“I can’t even show my face in this photo. I can and will be legally fired with no legal recourse. I am Transgender. I am the 99%.” – Submitted by an anonymous transgender individual to the “We are the 99%” blog.

Occupy Wall Street has exposed discontent with global economic inequalities, and inspired conversations about oppression across the country and the world. Hundreds of U.S cities now house occupations in public parks and plazas. Occupy the Hood has taken the conversation into neighborhoods and highlighted issues of racial minorities. People are now calling for an occupation of the classroom and university campuses to highlight inequalities in education. Perhaps in Washington D.C., residents need to occupy the Metro Police Department (MPD) to publicize the department’s bigoted policing policies toward the city’s transgender residents.

The MPD reports that in 2010 seventy percent of hate crimes committed in D.C. targeted people and communities based on their sexual orientation and gender expression.

The grim media reports trumpet the District’s rise in violent crime against Trans people, including two murders this summer, LaShai McClean, 23, on July 20, and Gaurav Gopalan, 35, on September 10, while experts contend that crimes against Trans people are generally underreported or misreported by the police. And, MPD’s clearance rate for assaults and murders involving trans victims is just a quarter of the average rate, 20% versus 80% of crimes solved, respectively, according to Police Chief Lanier.

This discriminatory policing practice is particularly egregious considering transgender people are significantly more likely to be victims of assault than non-transgender people, making D.C. the capital of anti-transgender violence. Last summer alone, D.C. witnessed four transgender shootings, including one that resulted in the death of Lashai McLean, a twenty-three year old transgender woman whose killer is still at large and will most likely never be caught.

Along with the high hate crime rate, police in D.C. have a consistent and abhorrent record of harassing and assaulting transgender people and intentionally referring to them by the incorrect gender pronouns. These assaults are fueled by the D.C. city government’s establishment of  “Prostitution Free Zones,” in which police can legally entrap people for offenses such as looking like someone who engages in prostitution, or congregating in a group of two or more. Prostitution Free Zones underpin the profiling of transgender women as prostitutes and sex workers, all exacerbated by employment and housing discrimination at rates 4 times higher than the general population. Transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, experience harassment on the street and threats of arrest for being “physically identified by an officer as a member of an association that engages in prostitution,” to quote D.C. official code.

Despite recent positive adjustments and renewed promises, the attitude of the entire Metro Police Department toward D.C.’s transgender population must change. The refusal to seriously address the spate of violence perpetrated on D.C.’s transgender residents is unacceptable and the police harassment cannot continue. For example, the Metro Police Department offers a training session on how to appropriately interact with transgender, gay, and lesbian communities. These training sessions are entirely optional, and only 3% of officers choose to participate in them. To seriously address the systemic violence committed against the transgender community, these training sessions must be mandatory for all members of the MPD, and funding for this training must be a priority in the D.C. budget.

November 20 is International Transgender Day of Remembrance, during which people around the world gather to memorialize transgender people who have been murdered in the anti-trans violence that thrives because of laws and policies such as those implemented by MDP.  In D.C., people will gather at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 5 PM for a vigil to commemorate these victims. A few days before that, on November 17, in conjunction with the Day of Remembrance, there will be a Transgender Day of Action when D.C. residents and LGBT allies will mobilize outside MPD headquarters at 1 PM to support D.C.’s transgender community and oppose MPD’s policies of harassment and discrimination. If MPD’s policies do not change to prevent future hate crimes, we as activists and allies need to Occupy MPD.