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Amnesty report reveals systematic harassment
Abused by the bigots in blue

By Nicole Colson | October 21, 2005 | Page 2

LESBIAN, GAY, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people often face harassment and abuse at the hands of the very people who are supposed to protect them. That's the conclusion of a new report from Amnesty International.

Focusing on four major cities--Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas--the report, called Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the U.S., documents a pattern of sexual, physical and verbal abuse of LGBT people at the hands of the police.

"In the nearly four decades following Stonewall, much progress has been made in this country and elsewhere in the world toward recognizing the basic human rights of [LGBT] people," Ariel Herrera, national field organizer for Amnesty's OUTFront Program told reporters. However, according to Herrera, a continuing pattern of police misconduct against LGBT people persists, including "sexual, physical and verbal abuse; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during arrests, searches and detention; failure to respond, or inappropriate response to hate crimes and domestic violence" and more.

One case cited in the Amnesty report is that of Frederick Mason, a 31-year-old African American man with no criminal record, who was arrested in Chicago in 2000 after a verbal argument with his landlord. After being handcuffed and pinned to the wall in an interrogation room, Mason says the arresting officer raped him with a billy club as he told him, "I'm tired of you, faggot." The city later settled the case out of court.

In Los Angeles, in 2002, while arresting a gay man who was Asian, two white officers reportedly shoved his face into a wall and beat him while shouting homophobic slurs. In 2001, in Oakland. Calif., officers arresting a gay Latino man commented on his pink socks, calling them "faggot socks," and slammed the door on his ankle as they put him in a patrol car.

In addition to physical and verbal abuse, Amnesty's report also documents the harassment of LGBT individuals under so-called "quality of life" ordinances.

In San Antonio, Texas, for example, police reportedly had a habit of tipping off local media about the arrest of gay men in sting operations. Benny Hogan, a gay man who was arrested as part of one such operation in 1994, hanged himself in his garage three days after his name appeared in a media account of the sting.

"For me, the main point of the report, is that when people have personal experiences, they tend to believe that 'this is just me,'" Amnesty's Robert Schultz told Socialist Worker. "But this report shows that that's not the case. I think it's a universal experience that, at some time, a gay person has had a bad experience with the police."

Danielle St. James, a 26-year-old transgender woman from Chicago, says she faces harassment on an almost daily basis.

She told reporters that on one occasion after visiting a friend, she was stopped by police and asked for ID. After she complied, she was frisked--and told to pull down her pants and underwear.

"Many times I've been hurt or afraid, and either the police didn't help, or I was more scared of them than anyone else," St. James said. "At least twice a week, I have interactions with police that are initiated by them. They drive by and cackle out their windows, shout at me, antagonize me or egg me on...Usually, I just choose to appease them instead of asserting my rights, because that's what keeps me safe and out of trouble...When the public and the police mistreat you, who are you going to turn to for help?"

According to Heather Bradley, a youth outreach minister for the Night Ministry, a LGBT-friendly outreach and shelter program in Chicago, young people are particularly vulnerable to abuse at the hands of police.

"The kids that we work with have been disenfranchised and rejected by every institution that was supposed to take care of them: their families, their schools, churches--everything has failed them in some regard, and they've fallen through all the cracks in society," Bradley told Socialist Worker. "So they really are the most vulnerable in our nation and our culture, I believe...It's hard for them to think about the bigger picture. It's hard for them to advocate for themselves about larger issues when they're fighting each day just to get through this situation: 'Please let the cop not hit me anymore. Please let me find a place to sleep tonight. Please let nobody find out I'm gay.'"

As Michael Heflin, director of the OUTFront program, said in a statement, "Every human being, without exception, has the right to live free from discrimination and abuse, yet LGBT people nationwide are afraid to report hate crimes or other abuses to the police, who at times prove themselves to be the criminals."

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