Why queer persons disproportionately experience police violence, how we can fix it
Kayla Moore, a transgender woman, was experiencing a paranoid schizophrenic mental health crisis. Instead of receiving care, she was killed by officers who were responding to a mental health assistance call made by Moore’s friend. This incident occurred in Berkeley, California in 2013. The responding officers chose not to put her in a “5150” hold, which is a 72-hour mental health evaluation hold, despite them being aware of Moore’s mental illness and being specifically called because of it. Instead, the officers looked up if she had any warrants under her birth name, to justify an arrest. They found a warrant for a person twenty years older than she was and proceeded to arrest her. During the arrest, six officers allegedly piled on top of her, restricting her airway access. Despite her continued screams for help, the officers did not get off her, until she lost consciousness. She died later that day as a result of the officers’ excessive use of force.
The United States has a long history of violence against the queer community. Up until 2003, it was common for states to criminalize and prosecute same-sexual relations. Even after Lawrence v. Texas found these statutes unconstitutional, sixteen states continue to have anti-sodomy laws on their books. In the last century, it has been common practice for police to infiltrate queer spaces, resulting in mass arrests, violence, and civil unrest.
Even today, there is still widespread discrimination and harassment committed by law enforcement officers against the queer community. A 2013 report focusing on violence against the queer community found that, of the queer violence survivors who interacted with police, 48% of them experienced police misconduct, specifically, unjustified arrest, use of excessive force, entrapment, and being involved in a police raid. A 2011 national transgender discrimination surveyfocusing on transgender and gender non-conforming persons found that “22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police” due to bias. Furthermore, 2% of respondents reported, “[being] sexual[ly] assault[ed] by police officers because they were transgender or gender non-conforming,” and “46% of respondents reported being uncomfortable with seeking police assistance.”
With this violence against the queer community as a backdrop, many organizations have put out reports listing recommendations to help mend the relationship between the queer and police communities. A 2015 report by the Williams Institute suggested several types of recommendations at the state and local levels and the federal level, including implementing nondiscrimination policies and zero tolerance harassment policies towards the queer community, police department trainings geared towards curbing discrimination and harassment of the queer community and adopting new legal protections for the queer community. Queens Youth Justice Center released a report regarding the diminished relationship between queer youth and the Queens, New York police department. This report suggested that police officers should direct queer youth to social service resources instead of detainment, create safe spaces in precincts by having affirming signs and posters and organize forums for queer youth and police to come together to have open and honest conversations.
These recommendations provide a hopeful future in which the queer community can exist without fear of police harassment and violence. While the United States has improved for the queer community, with the adoption of anti-discrimination laws and the legalization of same-sex marriage, our queer friends and family still have a justified fear of discrimination and harassment at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve. Hopefully one day, protecting and serving will include all Americans, even the queer ones.