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Police reform in D.C.: Defund, reform, or revise?

Debate continues over reduction in size of city’s force

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The Police Reform Commission in D.C. issued its final report “Decentering Police to Improve Public Safety.” The Commission was established by D.C. Council Act 23-336, which stated, “The purpose of the Commission is to examine policing practices in the District and provide evidence-based recommendations for reforming and ‘revisioning’ policing in the District. “

The Act required the Commission to analyze a number of specific areas including: police in schools, alternatives to policing, police discipline, and justice in policing. The final report contains more than 80 recommendations for change in those areas. Some will require new legislation; some will amend existing legislation; and some could be implemented by the mayor and police chief.

In January 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser wanted to see the MPD grow to a force of 4,000 from its then level of about 3,850. That was before the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and the adoption of the slogan ‘defund the police’ by Black Lives Matter. The slogan became a point of contention in the presidential race.

Shortly after Floyd was killed, the D.C. Council, like other political bodies across the nation, passed legislation to reform its force. The bill included banning chokeholds and neck restraints by police and special police; required the release, within 72 hours, of body-worn camera footage after any officer-involved death or serious use of force; prohibited use of tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, rubber bullets and stun grenades by MPD (or federal police while on non-federal land) in response to First Amendment protests; banned the hiring of officers fired for (or who resigned facing charges of) police misconduct or other serious disciplinary measures; modified the composition of the Police Complaints Board, moving from a five-member board with one Metropolitan Police Department representative, to a nine-member board with one member from each Ward, plus an at-large member, and no police representatives; required additional training of officers on topics including racism and white supremacy; and created the 20-member Police Reform Commission.

Some on the Commission have called on the District to reduce the police force to 3,000. How to do that and what roles would be removed from the police to other agencies and the community will be an ongoing debate that will most likely go on for years.

Complicating the call for a reduction in force was one day after the report was released there was another attack on the Capitol in which one officer was killed and another injured. We were reminded the DCMPD plays a special role in our nation’s capital and is the lead agency investigating this incident. They handle countless First Amendment demonstrations each year and major events like the inauguration coordinating with numerous other federal police departments, including the Park Police, Capitol Police, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals service among others.

One of the Commission recommendations is to remove police from their role in the schools. Another would turn over traffic control to the Department of Transportation. Another would route 911 calls on domestic incidents to other agencies instead of the police. Even those who see these as appropriate steps agree it will take time and money to train those who will assume the new roles.

One question to the Commission is in talking with members of the community did they find a stark difference in how people relate to the police among various age groups. Were older persons more concerned with seeing more rather than fewer police on the streets in their neighborhoods?

According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, there was a “Massive 1-Year rise in homicide rates collided with the pandemic in 2020. Experts say crime across the U.S. in 2020 was like no other year as COVID-19 ravaged the country and protests flared.” At the same time it was reported “Using the BJS statistics, the declines in the violent and property crime rates are even steeper than those reported by the FBI. Per BJS, the overall violent crime rate fell 74% between 1993 and 2019, while the property crime rate fell 71%.” So what are we to think about the effectiveness of policing in the United States?

Clearly we must do something about rogue/criminal members of police forces. There needs to be massive retraining and new guidelines. But whether we need to reduce their numbers will be a question for continued debate.

 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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A rare misstep for the amazing Nancy Pelosi

Taiwan trip a distraction amid good news for Democrats

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads a U.S. delegation in Taiwan. (Photo via Speaker Nancy Pelosi's official Twitter)

I have always supported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and continue to do so. She is an amazing woman. She has championed women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rights of all minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities. She has worked hard to make our country a better and more equal place for all.

So seeing the repercussions of her trip to Taiwan playing out, with even the South Korean president avoiding a meeting with her, she must now realize the visit may have been ill timed. Speaker Pelosi is a smart woman and politician. I assume her insistence on the trip may have been a response to some promises she made to the Chinese community in her district and around the nation. She has always been a strong supporter of human rights and has criticized the Chinese government in the past. She recently tweeted, “28 years ago, we traveled to Tiananmen Square to honor the courage & sacrifice of the students, workers & ordinary citizens who stood for the dignity & human rights that all people deserve. To this day, we remain committed to sharing their story with the world. #Tiananmen30.” 

The question some are asking is did this trip do anything for the people of Taiwan or could it potentially hurt the people there and here if China decides to restrict trade and begin new sanctions?

As the Washington Post reported, “The visit lasted barely 19 hours. But Nancy Pelosi’s contentious trip to Taiwan was a defining moment in the increasingly bitter rivalry between China and the United States. A fuller picture of the Chinese response will emerge over the coming weeks and months, and there are already signs it will encompass greater economic as well as military coercion. Whatever the final shape of Beijing’s retaliation, Pelosi’s visit heralds a new phase in China’s efforts to control Taiwan’s fate — and those measures are likely to increase the risk of conflict with U.S. forces in the western Pacific.” The New York Times said,  “Ms. Pelosi’s visit was ill timed” and called it “provocative.”

I would never question the speaker’s commitment to the human rights of the Chinese people. But at this time, as the third in line to the presidency, there may have been some unintended ramifications from what she did and what the implications could be. I think the very unusual may have occurred, and the speaker may not have considered everything. The trip was likely spurred on by her knowledge this is likely to be her last year as speaker and this was the last time she could arrange for such a trip having the clout she does. I think Speaker Pelosi may be thinking about what she did and if it was worth adding this to the international problems the White House is now facing.

We are living in interesting and difficult times. With the help of Speaker Pelosi for the first time in a while the Biden administration and Democrats are having an incredible run of successes here at home. Passing the first gun control bill in decades, the infrastructure bill, the chips bill, and now the Senate has passed the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” as a reconciliation package. The nation added 528,000 new jobs in July and unemployment is at the lowest it has been, matching pre-pandemic times, at 3.5%. Gas prices are steadily going down and inflation has likely peaked. Then there is the vote on the abortion amendment in Kansas, which the pro-choice side won by nearly 60/40 in a landslide definitely not predicted in that very red state. So, poking the Chinese at this time, generating negative headlines, doesn’t make much sense. I hope it will be only a blip in time.

This week we will see Pelosi do what she does best. She will move the House of Representatives to pass impactful legislation. She will keep her small Democratic majority together to pass the ‘Deficit Reduction Act of 2022’ and send it on to the president to sign. In 2018, she cut a deal to become Speaker for two more terms. That time is now coming to an end. If the Democrats manage to hold the House of Representative much of the credit must go to her. Should she then actually leave the speakership, the next speaker will have the unenviable task of trying to fill those four-inch stiletto heels. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Monkeypox is a gay thing — we must say it

Will there be stigma, judgments, and homophobia? Of course

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The mainstream media and public health officials are being so damn careful not to label monkeypox “a gay disease” that they’re doing a disservice to the gay men who most need important information about the outbreak – while misleading everybody else.

In a July 28 New York Times story of the excruciating symptoms and lack of care available for those with monkeypox in that city, the sexuality of the men profiled isn’t referenced until 11 paragraphs into the story, and even then it refers to them as “men who have sex with men,” which is technically correct but dodgy. Moreover, the article, which supposedly addresses barriers to care, ignores the fact that gay men routinely experience apathy and even judgment from health providers.

Other media stories, and statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have mentioned monkeypox cases in the context of “the LGBT community.” Really? Should lesbians be lining up for a monkeypox vaccine, whenever the heck they become widely available? This is happening to gay men. Say it.

Journalist Benjamin Ryan, in his excellent Washington Post opinion piece, draws a hard line between attempts not to unnecessarily stigmatize gay men and the importance of telling the truth about monkeypox, writing that “public health officials cannot be expected to police the public’s reactions to epidemiological facts.”

Ryan lays out those facts plainly:

Here is what we can discern from data collected about monkeypox so far: This viral outbreak isn’t just mostly occurring among men who have sex with men. The confirmed cases, at least to date, have consistently almost entirely occurred among this demographic, which accounts for 96 percent or more of diagnoses where data are available.

Per capita, the few monkeypox cases in women and children remain minuscule compared with the rate among gay and bisexual men. Of course, substantial transmission could always occur among such other groups. But researchers at the WHO and elsewhere have speculated that the monkeypox reproduction rate will likely remain significantly lower in such demographics — meaning the virus will more likely hit transmission dead ends among them than among gay and bisexual men.

An uncomfortable truth, one documented in peer-reviewed papers, is that sexual behaviors and networks specific to gay and bisexual men have long made them more likely to acquire various sexually transmitted infections compared with heterosexual people. This includes not only HIV, but also syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted hepatitis C.

Global public health experts agree that skin-to-skin contact in the context of sexual activity between men has been the principal driver of the monkeypox outbreak, at least thus far.

Such experts have also asserted that the risk of monkeypox to the broader population not having multiple sex partners remains low — even “very low.” This is hopeful news, and the wider public deserves to be reassured accordingly. Assuaging fears of contagion will help fight unhelpful hysteria and prevent gay and bisexual men from being subjected to even greater stigma should they be painted as culprits of the spread of virus to others.

Monkeypox didn’t begin with gay men, that much is true. As Yale infectious disease expert Gregg Gonsalves explained to the New York Times, “This is not a gay disease; it has been circulating in West and Central Africa for many years… What likely happened, in this case, is that somebody who had monkeypox had a lesion and showed up at a gay rave in Europe, and it spread to those in that social and sexual network.”

Whatever the origins, we’re now dealing with an outbreak almost entirely limited to gay men in the United States and Europe. And that is worth saying explicitly.

Why? Because identifying those at risk and getting information to them is a basic public health strategy for containing an outbreak. Gay men are getting monkeypox and suffering greatly. When gay men understand the threat, we are more likely to take precautions, get vaccinated, or be informed about treatment.

Will there be stigma and judgements and homophobia? Of course. And we’ll have to deal with that. But that doesn’t mean we bury crucial facts in vague, evasive messaging.

Monkeypox is a gay thing. That’s the truth.

Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, speaker, and HIV/AIDS activist who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985.

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Casa Ruby folds — was money stolen?

The community deserves answers and accountability

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Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It is both sad and frustrating when what was once considered a great organization folds for what appear to be questionable reasons. 

That is the case with Casa Ruby. It is sad for all the people who worked for and were served by the organization. It is my hope other organizations will take up the slack and the transgender community will continue to be well served in the District of Columbia.

Also sad are the questions people are asking about the founder of Casa Ruby, Ruby Corado. It has appeared for a while that she let her desire for publicity — and apparent desire for the good life — to lead her in a questionable direction. A number of years ago David Perruzza and I, both early supporters of Casa Ruby, met with Ruby for lunch. We talked with her about the apparent issues at Casa Ruby and urged her to take a good look at what she was doing. We asked her to remember the reason she founded Casa Ruby, and it wasn’t about her. Her goal she said had been to help others in the transgender community.

We met with her because we cared about her and the organization and it seemed her ego was being fed by all the honors the community was affording her. Recently Dito Sevilla posted on Facebook that an associate of his found who they assumed is Corado on Facebook, under the name Jada Wilkins, now living in San Salvador. That Facebook page is very sad to see. 

It is important for the District and any other grantors to Casa Ruby to do a forensic audit to see where all the money went. I am pleased, according to the Blade, that is now happening with the D.C. Attorney General investigating and filing lawsuits. The result of the first hearing on one of the two lawsuits filed by the AG is the judge granted the freezing of all Casa Ruby bank accounts as reported in the follow-up Blade article. As a community we should know if any money was stolen. Aside from all the grants, a lot of money was donated by well-meaning individuals. If some of it was stolen, which sadly could be the case, those who stole it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

Casa Ruby is not the first organization this has happened to and it will not be the last. The LGBTQ community, which is a very generous community, must always be careful to ensure organizations we donate to, and support with our volunteer time, are well run. We should insist those organizations are not about any one person, because if they are they are more likely to fail. A solid organization is never built around one person, which is what seemed to happen at Casa Ruby. 

I know the District requires financial reports for the grants they give and there was an accounting firm involved in looking at the financial functions of Casa Ruby. That accounting firm needs to be involved in looking at what happened to the money. There were 990s filed, but were they accurate? Again, I hope the AG will find all that out and if they find illegal activity will forward that to the DOJ for prosecution. The community needs to know what happened.  

Again, if there was fraud and money stolen, the law and the community must hold the people responsible for the demise of this once valued organization, accountable. If by any chance, and I pray it’s not the case, Ruby Corado is found to have participated in stealing money from the organization, people and organizations must take the time to publicly rescind the awards and honors she was given over the years. Again, I hope that is not the case. But if it is, then we owe that to the transgender community, which will suffer because Casa Ruby is closing. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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