“In 2013, I was sitting on the steps on the 2000 block of Maryland Avenue drinking lemonade. A Baltimore police officer asked me where I lived and asked for ID, which wasn’t with me at the time. She said that if I were lying she’d take me in. She then asked my name and if it was an alias. I asked the officer questions but she wouldn’t answer. The officer said that she was going to ride around the block and if I was still there, she’d take me in.”
Monica Yorkman, a black transgender woman and activist, has told this story and others many times before. The point of this account is that the police assume if you are a trans woman of color, then you must be a prostitute.
This lack of respect toward transgender individuals and the way police interact with this group was echoed in the Department of Justice report issued last month that criticized the tactics of the Baltimore Police Department.
Yorkman, 62, related this incident to members of the Baltimore Police Commissioner’s LGBT Advisory Council on Aug. 31 during a community listening session at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood. The meeting was inspired by the findings in the DOJ report with the main goal for community members to speak directly to the Council regarding their concerns and ideas for improvement.
Co-chaired by Mark J. McLaurin and Laura DePalma, the Council posted on its new Facebook page announcing the meeting, “We will use information gathered from the community to better prepare the Commissioner and command staff to be responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ community.”
Within a week of the report’s release and prior to the listening session, the Council held an emergency meeting to discuss “how to use the findings of the report to enact systemic and cultural change within BPD. Of particular concern to all members were the specific findings with regards to intolerable policing practices and manifest insensitivity directed towards members of Baltimore’s transgender and gender non-conforming community.”
About 20 attended the listening session including members of the council and community with several, in addition to Yorkman, sharing personal stories describing encounters with BPD that indicated alleged police desires to exercise power and control.
The session, facilitated by associate professor of law Odeanna R. Neal of the University of Baltimore, was a far-ranging discussion that covered such topics as the impending consent decree being worked on by DOJ lawyers and Baltimore to bring about police reforms, potential obstacles by the Fraternal Order of Police, the composition of the civilian review board, building coalitions with other organizations and leveraging lawmakers in Annapolis to exempt Baltimore City from statewide police policies.
The Advisory Council was formed in June 2013 under then-Commissioner Anthony W. Batts. Though the Council met regularly, information stemming from those meetings was scarce. The revamped Council, spurred on by the DOJ report, intends to play a more active, transparent role in helping to bring about change.
The commissioner appears to be a willing partner.
“Kevin Davis wants to work with the community,” said Shane Bagwell, a member of the Council and a representative of the State’s Attorney’s Office. Others on the Council agreed.
Besides McLaurin, DePalma (FreeState Justice) and Bagwell, the Council currently consists of the following: Lamont Bryant and Gabrielle Mnkande (Star Track at UMD), Sgt. Kevin Bailey (BPD LGBT Liaison), Merrick Moise (State’s Attorney’s Office), Vann Michael Millhouse (Baltimore Trans-Masculine Alliance), and Carlton Smith (Center for Black Equity).
A town hall meeting will be set up with Commissioner Davis and appropriate command staff in the near future. It will afford an opportunity for community members to speak to leadership on what must be done moving forward to mend the department’s relationship with the community.