BY AJ TRAGER
PALMER PARK – Over a hundred people gathered in Palmer Park Aug. 12 for an LGBT community conversation with the Detroit Police Department, leaders from Detroit based LGBT organizations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the second LGBT community conversation with the DPD, the LGBT community around Palmer Park raised grievances, gave thanks and shared their struggles in dealing with the police. Most notable were the voices of the trans woman of color who call that area home and say that they have negative, and often times harmful, interactions with on-duty deputies.
The conversation began with a moment of silence, led by LGBT Liaison Officer for the DPD, Dani Woods, for the recent victims of LGBT targeted homicide in Detroit: Amber Monroe, 20, lost to a gunshot wound Aug. 8 and Ashton O’Hara, 25, lost to a stabbing July 14.
Joining the conversation was Detroit Police Chief James E. Craig who assumed leadership of the DPD in 2013; Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; Mark Chutkow, chief of public corruption for the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Patrice Young, homicide coordinator for Crime Stoppers of Michigan; Yvonne Siferd, director of victim services at Equality Michigan; Rhiannon Chester, LGBT Detroit program coordinator; Lydia Ahlum Hanson, Affirmations interim director of programs; Lilianna Reyes, youth program coordinator for Affirmations; and Pamela E. Alexander, program director for Ruth Ellis Center.
The DPD held its first LGBT community conversation last year, but Craig says that they lacked robust attendance.
Craig came to Detroit after working as the police chief in both Los Angeles and Cincinnati. After establishing a relationship with the LGBT community in those areas, Craig says that reports of LGBT related hate crimes went up because there was then an effective relationship and the incidents were finally being reported. Eventually that number diminished because the communities were no longer fearful of reporting crimes of violence.
When Craig arrived, Detroit lacked an LGBT coordinator and an active relationship between the force and the LGBT community. One of the first things he did was promote Woods as LGBT Liaison.
The DPD wants to be committed to sustaining relationships and maintaining open dialogue with the LGBT community and plans to start an advisory board in mid to late September.
“When we have crimes in the LGBT community — and it’s no secret we just had a homicide, a case that we are still actively working — we need information. We know that the streets talk. And the only way we are going to get that information is if we have relationships. We want to make sure that we have it so that that way, when we do get information, someone can reach out and touch Dani and be comfortable talking to our homicide investigators,” Craig said.
“In every aspect of #AllLivesMatter, we must keep in mind that in the LGBT community, and in our community as a whole, we have a responsibility as citizens to love, care and protect each other and the community in which we live and work. There is something going on every second, every hour and every minute that we are living and breathing. To make a difference, we must work together to maintain order,” Woods said before introducing the activist and grassroots panelists for the discussion. “I would like to reiterate the importance of reporting information.”
Detroit has had 15 cases of LGBT related crimes so far this year — a number that more than doubled from the seven reported cases in 2014.
“I know that there are many more (crimes) than that. Because I also know that there are many who will not report crimes in the LGBT community. We want to change that,” Craig explained.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2014 barely half of LGBT survivors of hate violence reported their incidents to the local police. Those that did not report cited that their reason for not doing so was due to mistrust of law enforcement.
“I deal with the trans community around here more personally than a lot of people,” said one man at the event who went by Joshua. “Everybody knows what kind of community this is. There’s a lot of stereotyping still that comes from the police because I have seen the police call over the loudspeaker, call these girls men, ‘Niggas get off the street’; it’s the tone that you guys set. If the dope boys can hear you screaming over the loudspeaker, calling these girls trannies, drag queens … do you think they’re not going to come out and rob them? You are a reflection of the way they (the Palmer Park community) respect. There isn’t respect from the police to begin with.”
Craig responded to Joshua’s statement by suggesting that those incidents get reported to the DPD, where Craig said they will open up a complaint in their “very robust complaint process,” and that the issue will get investigated.
Of those that did report their incidents to the police, 27 percent reported hostility from the police, 25 percent reported indifference, 57 percent reported being unjustly arrested and 33 percent reported excessive force.
LGBT people reported insults, intimidating language and anti-LGBT slurs when reporting crimes against them. Rhiannon Chester, of LGBT Detroit, encourages members of the LGBT community to join the community advisory board brought up by Craig, and wants to see more of the community come to the mic.
“What does it mean to make our own lives matter and what does that look like? What does that mean? It means being at the table, it means being present,” Chester said. “If we want to build a relationship with the police, then we have to say what we want and stop being afraid and not let the bad blood that we’ve had be the determining factor of what happens to us. It’s time for us to step up and talk about what we want.”
Woodward and John R are known for the prominence of sex-workers, with some claiming there is a high number of trans sex-workers. The 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, found that 27 percent of trans respondents made $20,000 or less a year with 15 percent reporting only making $10,000 or lower. Overall, 13 percent were unemployed and of those that were employed, 47 percent experienced an adverse job action because they are transgender — they did not get a job, were denied a promotion or were fired — that directly impacted their employment status.
“I understand this is a start, but my sisters are dying in the streets,” said Yaya, a black trans woman of color. “I need accountability, and I need something that we can do. If we are going to work with the police, whether it’s trainings or whatever, we can do so that the community can hold you guys accountable for the violence that is inflicted upon trans women of color in the city of Detroit.”
“As a beautiful trans woman of color we have to be real about this conversation. We have to make the police and ourselves accountable. LGBT people of color are afraid to go to the police for what could happen to them for petty crimes. We’re asking that the police understand the privilege that is happening,” Reyes said. “They have the privilege because they can lock us up. They can eradicate us. You can only have a conversation when everything is equal, and it’s not.”