By Anna Gorski
NEW YORK – In honor of pride month, the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution hosted an online Zoom panel discussion on the LGBTQ+ Community and the legal system Tuesday – featuring many individuals fighting within the system for equality and drastic improvements in the way LGBTQ+ people and especially Black trans women are treated by America’s legal system.
The panel offered insight into how members currently working within the legal system are striving for change. The webinar was hosted by Jonathan Terry as he led the group with questions and topics relevant to today’s political climate.
Katie Doran, advisor to the Manhattan District Attorney for LGBTQ+ issues, has been working with victims for LGBTQ+ directed crimes since 1998.
Doran stresses that the hardest part of working for police reform is that people, and especially LGBTQ+ folks, already do not trust the police.
“I work closely with New York City’s LGBT Anti Violence Alliance, [and] a lot of times people go to them instead of the police because they are scared,” Doran said, adding that she want to create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ folks at the DA’s office.
Doran admits that “we are asking people in a very vulnerable point in their lives to come to us.” She added that when citizens become victims of crimes, they go to the police with whatever biases and preconceptions they have, whether it’s from the media or experience.
This relationship of fear is especially harmful for LGBTQ+ victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, she said, noting that “It’s important for [people in law enforcement] to be forward and engage with their community.”
“We must work to understand vulnerable moments and do educational work, not only during a crisis” she comments, referring to the decades of work that she has been a part of, working with programs in New York City where the DA office provides curriculums about domestic violence and hate crimes to schools in the community.
“All the little things send a big message […] we need to think about what [our community] needs from us, and we need to be mindful” Doran says about the relationship between the DA office and the community; she’s been working within the system for 20 years, explaining that she’s seen a lot of change, but at the same time, “there’s never enough change”.
“It would be morally wrong to say we [at the DA’s office] haven’t contributed to the violence against LGBT and Black trans women…Law enforcement has flawed relationship with their community, remembering her early years when “it wasn’t unheard of that an off duty officer was defendant in anti-gay case.:
“We are evolved, but we are not evolving fast enough. It always begins with collaborating with and putting yourself forward, not telling the community to come and tell us, we must be educating ourselves,” she said.
Terry asked the panel, “How do we increase and think about the position that law enforcement is in to help black and brown LGBT communities?”
Arcelia Hurtado began her career as the Deputy Public Defender for the city and county of San Francisco in 1998, and today is the managing attorney for Training, Culture, Diversity and Inclusions at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.
Hurtado spoke of the broad approach her office has taken towards police reform and accountability policies.
“One thing my office is working on is opening channels of communication with our constituents,” she said, noting that her office has an LGBT advisory board with members of the community meeting quarterly to discuss current and pressing matters.
“We have to start with what we have control over; we have a lot of power and should hold ourselves accountable just as we hold police accountable” she concedes, adding, “We are all starting to awaken at the potential for the change we want to see”.
Terry ends the discussion with a question regarding how we as a society, must rethink the way we see history.
Vanity Reid-Deterville is a trans woman of color from Charleston, South Carolina who has worked in her community as a playwright and as an activist.
“Since the founding of America, police was created to patrol slaves and slave revolts,” explaining that the racist thought process embedded in policing is within the early formation of police agencies around the world.
“Police behavior today has only developed from a settler colonialism mindset to further enact violence against LGBT and trans women. That’s the culture that police foster and in turn enact with violence against trans women” she said.
Reid-Deterville states that “in the city of Charleston, we discovered that the police department has a budget of over 53 million dollars, but the budget for housing and development was less than one million dollars,” noting there is a history of Charleston police forcefully dispersing homeless people, for the sake of economic development and expansion with the tourism business leaving many homeless and insecure.
“Many trans and gender non-conforming folks are in that group of homeless, because we live in the bible belt state and they are often kicked out of their home” Reid-Deterville adds.
Reid-Deterville is also a practitioner of restorative and healing justice, focusing on alternative forms of incarceration.
She said the crippling aspect of pre-trial intervention programs lies in the mandatory drug screening and counseling classes, which only add pressure to someone who is already insecure because of the burden of paying retributions to the state.
Reid-Deterville, only 26 years old, is hopeful that she will get to see more educated Black trans women in her lifetime with degrees and louder voices.
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