Dream Together: Combating Police Brutality in Vulnerable Communities

This Sunday, as I was watching the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, I grew increasingly enraged over the coverage of NYPD ‘stop-and-frisk’ abuses . . . and not for the reason Ms. Harris-Perry herself and her producers would have me be.  Rather, I was shocked and disappointed that in a segment that lasted over half the program’s total length, there was not one mention of the NYPD’s egregious abuses of power within the LGBTQ community, with sex workers, and with vulnerable (read: intoxicated, minority, impoverished, etc.) female citizens in general.

Now, given the statistics presented, I’m willing to agree that the abuses of the stop-and-frisk procedure itself, as the MHP segment suggests are “disproportionately a black and brown male issue.”  But this systematic manipulation of a constitutionally-approved procedure (stop-and-frisk was upheld in 1968 in Terry v. Ohio on 4th Amendment grounds) affects all disenfranchised groups.  So, imagine my disappointment when Ms. Harris-Perry expressed surprise over the LGBT alliance with the NAACP in organizing a protest rally: “I was excited the NAACP came out for marriage equality and I said, ‘Okay, let’s see the LGBT groups on civil rights issues,’ and here they are.”

I’m sorry, but we’re well past the 1960s, and ‘civil rights issues’ are no longer simply the purview of African-Americans and other racial minority groups.  And when a young black man on MHP’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ panel describes feeling ‘violated’ in his interactions with hostile police forces, much to Ms. Harris-Perry’s praise, familiarized as I am with the disgraceful history of on-duty police sexual assault, I become incredibly uncomfortable.

When an officer can be acquitted for masturbating onto a woman he pulls over for a traffic stop because “She got what she wanted . . . she’s an overtly sexual person” (his defense attorney made a point of emphasis that the victim worked as a part-time stripper), that’s violation.  When a transgendered woman can be arrested for a minor subway violation and then chained to a fence for 28 hours while enduring verbal harassment, that’s violation.  When police and prosecutors can use the carrying of condoms as evidence of “loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense,” when poor people of color, especially transgendered women, are being targeted, and when fear of this retribution causes “seventy-five percent of transgender women and people who identified with a gender identity other than female or male not to carry condoms,” that’s violation.

Now does it make sense why the LGBT groups are involved in the stop-and-frisk protest?  Because I’m betting there’s a little more to the story than a quid pro quo for a marriage equality endorsement – as if the NAACP deserves to be rewarded for standing up for gay marriage as any morally-respectable entity should (and did for interracial marriage in the past generation) . . . nonsense.

To address the full scope of police brutality and abuse of power, we must see it for what it truly is – the imposition of force by a stronger group onto a weaker one.  What makes that latter group weak may be class, race, gender identity, sexuality, or any combination of these factors.  To simplify the matter along purely racial lines is intentionally and ignorantly put blinders on in order to serve one’s own community – to the detriment of the oppressed others.  We must work towards a better balance of public safety and individual liberty together, not separately.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” — Yoko Ono

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