“We share the experience of being afraid to walk down the street. We know what it means to be stopped for the color of your skin, because you look different, because you talk different — because you are different. That’s why we hope the Police Department applies and starts to practice this new policy ...” santos alvarado, day laborer
New Orleans — “Ann” said she was walking to a friend’s house on Tulane Avenue in September when a New Orleans police officer stopped her for no real reason and asked for her identification. By the end of their interaction, she was in handcuffs, booked with crimes against nature and verbally abused by a local judge. “Ann” said her only crime was being a young, black transgender girl.
Like others, she was too afraid to tell her story in public or use her real name. Instead, a friend read her testimony before the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday. Her presentation was one of several the committee heard — directly or indirectly — from members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community.
The meeting happened as the city and Police Department prepare to enter into a years-long consent decree with the Department of Justice. Among the problems the DOJ found within the NOPD is a history of discriminatory policing on the basis of race, ethnicity and sexual status.
Wes Ware, director of BreakOut, an organization that seeks to end what it calls the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans, told the council committee, which included Susan Guidry, Stacy Head, Jackie Clarkson and Ernest Charbonnet, that while his organization partners with the Police Department on diversity training, officials don’t take seriously enough his community’s concerns.
The organization submitted to the department a nearly 12-page proposed policy on LGBTQ policing as it readies itself for the consent decree. Though the pending consent decree mandates changes to policing policies that discriminate, the move was necessary to try to get the NOPD ahead of the curve and appropriately address what the DOJ says it the department’s unconstitutional conduct, Ware said.
Commander Otha Sandifer, who leads the police academy, said weekly diversity training began in January and is administered in part by officers from the LGBTQ community. Additionally, he said, officers who are accused of violating a person’s civil rights are investigated by the Public Integrity Bureau and appropriate action is taken once that investigation is complete.
Ursula Price, who heads up community outreach for the Independent Police Monitor’s office, said many LGBTW youth who are victims of police harassment or violence are still too afraid to file a complaint, she said, noting that they will only tell the Police Monitor’s office. That office, however, does not have the power to investigate the claims, only the ability to document them and to monitor any investigations the NOPD handles.
There has been progress made, Price said, but she agreed with those who spoke and said much work remains to be done.
“To think that this diversity training is just coming now … is just outrageous,” said Red Tremmel, director of the Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity at Tulane University.
The fact that so many people were afraid to show up at City Hall to discuss the issue shows a lack of any real progress, he said.
“This is the heart of a democracy, and yet they feel terrified,” Tremmel said. “You are already discriminated against for job employment. Then to have police going after you at the same time, it means it’s virtually impossible to be a citizen.”
In addition to those from LGBTQ community who spoke, others showed up to voice their support for pushing through any changes that would result in more civil treatment.
Speaking through a translator, Santos Alvarado of the Congress of Day Laborers said he and his colleagues can empathize with the concerns.
“We share the experience of being afraid to walk down the street,” Alvarado said. “We know what it means to be stopped for the color of your skin, because you look different, because you talk different — because you are different. That’s why we hope the Police Department applies and starts to practice this new policy, so we can all be able to walk down the street and feel safe.”
Guidry said the session should serve as a way for people to examine their prejudices in an effort to be more accepting of others.
“I think that in our world, all we can do is continue to strive to be the better part of ourselves,” she said.