About 35 transgender activists and their supporters walked in picket lines on Thursday outside the headquarters of the D.C. Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to draw attention to what they say is an unacceptably high rate of violence against transgender people in the city.
Participants in the two protests, which organizers called a Transgender Day of Action, presented a list of demands to District Police Chief Cathy Lanier and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Mechan calling for immediate steps to address the problem.
“This past summer we were able to report 20 incidents where [transgender] people were beaten, stabbed, shot — and this is something that really concerns us,” said Ruby Corado of the D.C. Trans Coalition, who spoke to the gathering through a bull horn.
“The call that we want to make is that people remember that this is happening in your own back yard,” she said. “There’s no way that people in this city can ignore that this is happening to their own brothers and sisters, and we need to take action.”
Corado and others who spoke at the protests have said existing city laws and police department policies that prohibit discrimination against transgender people are among the strongest in the in the nation. But the activists say the city in general and police in particular haven’t adequately implemented those laws and policies.
“This is coming after the terrible outbreak of anti-trans violence in this city this past summer,” said Dana Beyer, executive director of the transgender advocacy group Gender Rights Maryland.
Beyer, who participated in the D.C. protest on Thursday, said some of the recent violent attacks against transgender women, including the July shooting murder of trans woman Lashay Mclean, 23, have taken place in a section of Northeast D.C. next to the D.C.-Prince George’s County, Md., border. She said the developments have had an impact on the trans community in Maryland.
“The leadership in this city is committed to our community but for some reason they simply have not been able to implement that commitment,” Beyer said. “And we’re just here to remind them that they need to take that next step.”
Activists have expressed concern in recent months that the U.S. Attorney’s office, which serves as the city’s prosecutor in criminal cases, has reduced the charges against men arrested for violent crimes, including murders, against transgender people in an effort to persuade the men to plead guilty and avoid the need for a trial.
In meetings with LGBT activists, representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s office have said they only lower charges in cases where they believe the available evidence and circumstances surrounding the cases would prevent the office from obtaining a conviction from a jury if the case goes to trial.
LGBT advocacy groups, including the D.C. Trans Coalition and Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) dispute that explanation. They argue that the U.S. Attorney’s office has been too quick to reduce charges against violence criminals who target the LGBT community, and the office should bring more cases to trial.
Xion Lopez, 20, a transgender woman, told the gathering outside the U.S. Attorney’s office on 4th Street, N.W., less than two blocks from police headquarters, she was speaking on behalf of transgender crime victims who lost their lives to violence.
“I stand here today with the hope and knowing that the crime will stop, something will be done we’ll be able to move forward,” she said.
Janelle Mungo, an official with the D.C. chapter of the national direct action group Get Equal and an organizer of Thursday’s protest, said details of the demands and background on the issues surrounding anti-trans violence in the city can be viewed at www.TLGBpolicewatch.tumblr.com.
In statement responding to the protest, Lanier said, “MPD is committed to protecting and working with all members of our communities. I have demonstrated my personal commitment to this community from the beginning of my tenure, when I issued the department’s first directive on handling interactions with transgender individuals, to now, when I have been meeting with the GLBT community at least monthly since this summer.”
Lanier said she has just organized a series of town hall meetings to allow members of the police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to meet LGBT community members. She said she was disappointed that no one from the LGBT community showed up at one of those meetings on Wednesday night of this week.
Jason Terry, a member of the D.C. Trans Coalition who participated in the protest, called Lanier’s statement “insulting,” saying police failed to adequately publicize the police meetings with GLLU members. He said many transgender community members also are reluctant to attend an event at a police station, where the GLLU meetings are being held, following two recent incidents in which a police officer has assaulted transgender people. In one of the incidents, an off duty police officer was arrested for firing his gun into a car in which three trans women were sitting.
“MPD’s failure to attract people to their events is their failure, not the community’s,” Terry said.