What comes to mind when you visualize the typical Stop & Frisk recipient?
A young Black male standing on the corner? A Hispanic youth? Someone who resides in New York City Housing Authority housing? Perhaps they’re wearing Timbaland boots and baggy jeans?
What about if they are transgender?
You read the last part correctly. All too often, we believe officers stop and frisk based solely on racial background. But what about those Black and Hispanic youths who are also LBGTQ members? What happens when sexuality enters the equation?
In recent years, the NYPD has systematically crafted a harassment culture surrounding the LBGTQ community. Their steps included the 2011 “Quality Of Life” initiative, targeting and harassing minority LBGTQ youth in the West Village and Chelsea. Officers often use condoms found on these citizens as evidence of loitering for prostitution. And despite an updated patrol guide mandating they respect transgender and non-conforming youth, NYPD officers often ignore their code.
NewsOne tracked down a number of LBGTQ youth and adults who claim they were stopped and frisked for their sexual orientation as much as their skin color.
Working for Streetwise and Safe, an initiative for LBGTQ youths of color experiencing criminalization, Don Thomas has had many experiences with police based off of their orientation (many in the trans-community prefer “they” as a pronoun, as opposed to gender-specific pronouns).
“I’ve been having run-ins with the police since I was 14 years old, only because of my gender non-conforming style of dress and particularly the ignorance behind police and their stereotypes of aggressive women,” the Brooklyn native said.
“I’ve been harassed, beaten on, fondled, tried to be made straight by police and their whole stop and frisk situations.” One of Thomas’ most recent searches happened a few months ago. “I just was stopped and frisked in February three times, arrested twice following a stop and frisk, only because the police decided to just stop me because they knew I was a female, but I was dressed like a male.”
In one instance, an officer told Thomas, “Oh, well, you’re supposed to be with a man, you’re not supposed to be with a woman.” Another time when an officer fondled my breasts during a search, he said, “You know, you’re not supposed to do what you’re doing.”
“I was like, What, am I supposed to be straight?” Thomas responded. “So this whole thing is you making me straight — it only makes me run to women even more. Like it doesn’t make any sense.”
Thomas believes that police are specifically biased toward butch-identifying women. “If we’re butch-identifiable, we’re men haters,” they said. “We’re not accepted in society, we’re not accepted in their world or their rule of order. Whereas if it’s a lipstick lesbian, which we call the ones that dress ‘femmy,’ if they see that, they don’t tend to really harass them unless they’re with a butch-identified lesbian.”
Given that not every LBGTQ member dresses in gender-opposite clothing, how do officers know who is and isn’t part of the community? Thomas says they often don’t.
“I know a lot of freakin’ females and [males] [who] are what you would call the epitome of a metrosexual — and they’re not gay, but have been stopped and frisked, harassed by cops, thinking that they’re gay. But they’re totally not freakin’ gay. So the police actually never know if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identify. They don’t know.”
Apparently, officers run on suspicion.
” I wouldn’t even call it an educated guess,” Thomas continues. “I would call it an uneducated guess, because you can’t sit here and be stereotypical and call that educated. It’s always the luck of the draw. But 95 percent of the time, they usually guess it right. And that’s what gives them that power to feel that they[‘re] always right.”
One of the first victims of a hate crime to be federally prosecuted in New York, Marquis Devereaux (pictured below right) felt a need to share his stop and frisk experience, which happened last September in N.Y.C.’s Marcus Garvey Park.
“Normally, I would go through the park sometimes and go to the upper level and look at the view because it’s one of the few places in Harlem where you can actually see an aerial view,” Devereaux said while sitting inside La Marqueta, a marketplace under the Metro North tracks in East Harlem.
While leaving a client from his travel tourism business to see a potential one, Devereaux opted to take the stairs leading through the park’s upper level. He noticed a White male ahead of him on the path, and as it turns out, the upper level is known for gay males looking for sex, a practice known as “cruising.”
“As I’m coming through the stairs and I was bypassing the plaza level, but I’m still on the stairs, I noticed there were some people and they were likely cruising or looking for the sun to go down so they could cruise,” Devereaux said. “By the time I got through this other side of the plaza where the stairs are, now, mind you, I hadn’t stopped, I just continued walking, the Caucasian male is still in front of me. He may or may not have had the same agenda, meaning that maybe he was looking to cruise later on.”
Around the same time Devereaux reached the lower level on the park’s other side, the White male stopped walking. According to Devereaux, he walked past the White man, at which point police pulled up and stopped him.
The officers asked why he was in the park. Devereaux told them about his business clients, but that failed to deter them.
“As they continued to ask me questions, it became clear to me that I was their target,” he said. ” They were asking me if I had any I.D., and I said, I do not. They said, ‘Well, we saw you sitting on the upper level,’ and I said, ‘Well, you didn’t see me sit on the upper level because I wasn’t at the upper level. I was walking through the park. So that’s incorrect.'”
At this point, the officers questioned if Devereaux had any sharp objects before one officer placed his hands in his pocket, began feeling around, and pulled out his keys.
“So I then said to him, ‘Not only did you profile me, because you didn’t stop the Caucasian male that was in front of me, but now you’ve done a stop and frisk. And they said, ‘Well, we saw you sitting on the upper level, and so right now, you’re a criminal.'”
In response, Devereaux asked the officers if they were going to arrest him. They offered vague answers, eventually prompting a more assertive reaction from Devereaux. “I then said to them, You’ve made an assumption about me. You made an assumption about my sexuality. You made an assumption because you saw me in a hoodie and you probably thought I was up to no good. I said, I’m in my mid-40s, I’m a business owner, and I’m involved with my community.”
Devereaux told the officers of his connections to his community board’s Public Safety and Transportation chair, a resource that could get any tickets vacated. The officers let him go with a trespassing ticket; Devereaux says he was frisked because of who he is and the park’s reputation.
“They assumed that I was cruising in the park. It was clear to me that they were racially profiling me. [I] was profiled because of my sexuality. I was profiled because of my race, because that’s a place where Black gay men are known to cruise. Also, they did the stop and frisk. They essentially violated me.”
For Mississippi Infinity (many in the LBGTQ community make frequent use of nicknames), his race and sexuality lead to a stop and frisk and imprisonment after hosting a party. “I was trying to flag down a cab on the West Side highway,” Infinity said at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Downtown Manhattan. “But unfortunately, all the cabs were off duty. So as I was where you have the crosswalk where you can press the button to wait for the light to change. I waited for the light to change and a paddywagon pulls off a bus.”
“The officers asked me to approach their vehicle. I did. They asked for identification and I showed them forms of New York State ID, as well as my debit card and stuff. But it wasn’t a New York State ID. It was an old, what they called, benefit card.”
Infinity didn’t have his state-issued ID due to an earlier incident. “When they [saw] that I wasn’t in possession of a New York State ID, I told them I’d been robbed two days prior. They [were] like, ‘Oh, well, unfortunately, I don’t feel like giving anyone else a break tonight, so I’m gonna have to arrest you.'”
“I was searched. I was repeatedly asked if I was on psych meds and the whole entire time I’m completely sober. I didn’t even drink that night. So they put me in the back of the paddywagon. I’m handcuffed and seated in the back.”
According to Mississippi, after they apprehended him, the officers drove on to a nearby pier where two White men and one woman were sitting drunk on a park bench. Infinity claims that the officers asked one of the males for identification. When he showed his New York State ID, the officers simply told him and his friends to leave, rather than arrest them.
In disbelief, Mississippi reminded the officers that his state-issued benefits card had his picture and information on it. They said it wasn’t sufficient enough. While he battled disorderly conduct charges in court, Mississippi remained in jail from August 2, 2012 to January 23, 2013.
Infinity believes that he was also singled out because of his non-conformist hair style. “They were mostly inquiring if I was on psych meds,” he said. “I believe the reason was because my hair texture is different from that of the typical African-American male. My hair is very curly and wavy. So when it’s humid outside, it gets curly and stuff, and I tend to have frizzy hair every now and then. That, and my manner of dress, which is not what you would see of most masculine African-American males.”
“Some of that did factor into it, especially due to the area. I have been a member of the LBGTQ community and volunteered from time to time at some of the homeless youth shelters. I’ve heard of how officers have stopped individuals because they’re trans[exual]. ”
With the recent Floyd v. City Of New York class action lawsuit against the city by the Center For Constitutional Rights reigniting the stop and frisk debate, LBGTQ organizations ensured their voices were heard in the discussion. In late March, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE, Make The Road NY, and Streetwise and Safe congregated outside the Southern District Of New York court to make noise.
“A police car was across the street from me, with lights flashing, and three police officers jumped out,” Streetwise and Safe leader Mitchyll Mora shared with the crowd. “They began to immediately scream at me, ‘Stop! Get against the wall! Open your bag!’ Flashlights were shining in my face and their commands were ringing in my ears.
“I put my hands on the wall, terrified that I might have picked the wrong command to follow. One officer took my bag while the other began to aggressively frisk me. I asked why I was being stopped. I said I didn’t consent to this search. The officer responded by grabbing my as* and calling me a f*ggot. They drove away after telling me they were not looking for a gun, but an open container.”
“Our lives are policed. Our bodies are policed. Our pockets, our bags, our belongings are policed as people of color, including LBGTQ youth of color. ”
A decision in the Floyd v. City Of New York case is expected to be reached shortly. In the meantime, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (pictured above) seems to be making power plays to curry favor with the community.
On June 18th, Kelly publicly backed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would’ve outlawed discrimination against transgender people.
While the NY State Senate failed to bring GENDA to a vote before adjourning on June 22nd, one must wonder about the irony of Kelly supporting a bill outlawing discrimination against people with different gender identity expression, while simultaneously directing his officers to search them in the thousands. That irony wasn’t lost on William Dobbs, who sees Kelly as an enemy to transexual New Yorkers.
“Ray Kelly, whose officers have conducted millions of Stop & Frisks, including on many trans-folk without any reason, now claims to be a friend of the trans community by endorsing GENDA,” the LBGTQ activist said. “There’s something really odd here. It’s time for [the] Empire State Pride agenda to speak out against Stop & Frisk and stop playing political games with Ray.”
Maybe it’s also time we learn that stop and frisk also affects those who don’t conform to “straight” and “heterosexual” labels.