During the third annual LGBTQ Community Chat hosted by the Detroit Police Department in Palmer Park on Tuesday night, a moment of silence was held for community members and loved ones lost since last year’s gathering.
“They have names,” said Jaimie Powell Horowitz, Special Prosecutor with the Fair Michigan Justice Project.
Amber Monroe. Gregory Daniels. Norman Williams. Harrison Thornton (aka Cortez).
“These people, their lives had value. Close your eyes and imagine if it was you who was stabbed or shot and left out on the street in this community to die alone,” said Powell Horowitz, pointing to just a few of the many victims of LGBTQ hate crimes.
“Open your eyes. Who’s going to speak for you? Who’s going to speak for these homicide victims? People know what happened. It’s very clear that everybody knew what happened to these individuals. You’ve got to speak up. I know I’m asking for a lot. It’s hard to come forward,” she said. “If you’re worried, come talk to me. I can talk to you about all the resources that we have to help you and keep you safe. Don’t be afraid to come forward. One voice may be able to be silenced, but everybody’s voice can’t be silenced. A village can’t be silenced. Speak up for your community.”
That message was delivered again and again by people who play a key role in the movement for the betterment of the community. They stressed lives will continue to be lost if the community does not come together under their leadership.
“We must always bear in mind that working together helps us to help each other,” said Corporal Dani Woods, the DPD’s LGBTQ Liaison, about continuing to build a mutual trust, understanding and respect between the department and the LGBTQ community.
Woods titled the event “What Is Your Role?,” and invited a panel of guests – including the department’s LGBTQ Advisory Board – to explain their role in the community and how they can help.
“Taking up a role in the community does not necessarily mean being in the trenches or at the forefront. It sometimes means speaking up when you witness something, be it anonymous or not,” said Woods, noting that continuous talk without action is not a solution. “Let’s reflect on our contribution and our role in creating the change we want to see.”
Woods spoke to the department’s commitment to that change focused on communication and training, which Alex Isaac, a citizen of Detroit, asked to hear more about. Woods said the state-certified curriculum composed of LGBTQ competency, sensitivity and awareness has been taught to more than 300 recruits and 600 law enforcement officers including two transgender women that Woods confirmed have been hired by the department.
The department’s Deputy Chief Todd A. Bettison informed attendees that they will be more proactive, will not sit on what they’ve accomplished and will ensure that safe spaces continue to exist for members of the LGBTQ community in Detroit.
“When I say we’ve got your back, we do. It’s plain and simple,” he said. When a couple of members of the community drew attention to their negative experiences with the department previously, Bettison said, “The DPD can’t overturn what they’ve done in the past, but we’re moving forward and looking for solutions and working on giving the community solutions they can take back to their neighborhoods. We’re under federal consent decrees for a reason. The bad practices in the past are not going on now. We’re a whole new department under different leadership.”
In addition to training, tangible changes include redeploying officers from inside the department onto to the street, which Bettison said he realizes isn’t enough and encourages citizens to step up and join the force. Also, Project Green Light, a partnership with local businesses since January 2016 to install real-time camera connections with police headquarters. This effort has helped the department reduce crime by 50 percent in locations Bettison said they consider to be “hot spots.”
Several representatives from supporting organizations were on the panel including Julisa Abad, Director of Trans Outreach & Advocacy with the Fair Michigan Justice Project; Lilianna Angel Reyes, Program Services Director with Affirmations LGBTQ Community Center in Ferndale; Jeynce Poindexter, Transgender Specialist & Victim Advocate with Equality Michigan; Ka’Juan Hill, Mr. “Let’s Talk About It” and Community Outreach Specialist with UNIFIED – HIV Health & Beyond; Lolita Davis, Outreach & Education Coordinator in the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) Detroit Field Office; and Kalimah Johnson, Founder and CEO of the SASHA (Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness) Center in Detroit.
Hill said he would have liked to see more of his community in attendance, but attributes their absence to fear.
“I ask the police department to please be patient as we continue to work with people who are afraid of and continue to feel threatened by law enforcement,” he said, asking the department to keep in mind that, “These are people who have dealt with abandonment issues and they have been turned away so many times and they’ve dealt with police on so many levels to the point where they are scared and don’t want to deal with the police.”
Hill expressed a sentiment that is shared by others in the community.
Reyes asked people who are at the forefront of the movement to understand that it can be “really scary” for transgender women of color, like herself, to be seen at the table or identified as the face of something.
“So please remember the transgender people who are here are outward and advocating for you, but please respect them because we also have to have lives outside of here so that we can really do what we’re supposed to do,” she said.
In her role, Reyes is working with Abad and Poindexter, among others, to uplift the voices of transgender women of color in the community, but also to connect transgender and gender non-conforming individuals with access to housing, employment, hormones, medical and dental care from inclusive providers, clothing vouchers, Bridge cards, bus passes, name changes, gender marker and ID changes, food, access to education, mental health services, and HIV prevention and treatment.
Beyond that, Powell Horowitz reassured the community that the FMJP is aggressively fighting for the protection of all LGBTQ people in the courtroom.
With a 100 percent conviction rate, she said the organization is prosecuting “horrific” murder, extortion, rape and physical abuse cases.
But there is still work to do. Powell Horowitz explained that there is no such thing as a hate crime law on the books for LGBTQ citizens in the state.
“It simply doesn’t exist. The legislature in Michigan wants to pretend this isn’t happening,” she said, urging the community to call their state senators to support Senate Bill 121 introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the state ethnic intimidation law.
“We need this law to effectively do our jobs,” she said. “It’s sitting in committee. You know who can move it out? Meekhof [Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive)]. Call and raise hell. This needs to get passed so we can prosecute hate crimes as hate crimes. Speaking up is the most important thing the community can do right now.”