‘Walking While Woman’ and the Fight to Stop Violent Policing of Gender Identity – Report

Published on truthout, by Mike Ludwig, May 7, 2014.

A woman in New York City left a nightclub in late 2010 to meet some friends for tacos. While she was walking to the restaurant in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, a man pulled up beside her in a dark-colored car and began talking to her. As the woman inched closer to hear what the man was saying, two undercover police officers jumped out of a van and arrested her for engaging in prostitution. She was thrown into a van with a dozen other women and taken to the115th Precinct in Jackson Heights to be fingerprinted before being transferred to Central Booking. There, she was then jailed in the men’s unit, where she endured painful verbal harassment from some of the cops and men in custody, according to the community organizing group Make the Road New York, which identified the woman by the pseudonym “Natasha.”

Her story sounds more like a rare kidnapping than a routine arrest, but Natasha’s arrest would come as no surprise to anyone who has been harassed or arrested by police for what’s known as “walking while woman” … //

… Walking While Woman:

For years, community groups across the country have been challenging police departments to stop their officers from criminalizing and profiling transgender women for being who they are in public. Vague prostitution statues in cities across the country allow police wide discretion in determining “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” for searching and arresting suspected sex workers, and transgender women often find themselves in handcuffs for simply “walking while trans” or “walking while woman.” A 2005 Amnesty International review of police brutality and profiling directed toward LGBTQ people in the United States found “a strong pattern of police unfairly profiling transgender women as sex workers.”

Police, advocates say, often target transgender women for arrest based on how they look. In Jackson Heights, police routinely picked up transgender women and later justified the arrests because the women were carrying condoms, according to Make the Road New York.

Andrea Ritchie, an anti-profiling advocate and attorney who represents transgender clients who have been allegedly profiled and abused by officers of the New York Police Department, told Truthout that the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is a good example of “reasonable suspicion” becoming blatant discrimination. “When was the last time you were arrested for carrying condoms?” she asks.

The international human rights group Human Rights Watch identified a similar problem among sex workers in New Orleans, where over half of the participants in a 2013 survey who said they had experienced police harassment for carrying condoms were transgender women. While the group found little evidence that condoms were used as evidence in prosecution, dozens of participants reported carrying fewer condoms due to fear of being harassed or threatened by the police, and 30 percent of participants reported having unprotected sex due to fear of carrying condoms in a city with one of the nation’s highest rates of new HIV infections … //

… (full long text, a video 11.37 min, hyper-links and links to related stories).


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