Cristina, a transgender Latina woman, said police arrested her when she left a Jackson Heights club with her boyfriend early one morning. They assumed she was a prostitute.
“They took my bag and emptied it on the floor,” Cristina said through a translator before a packed room in Make the Road New York’s Jackson Heights office on Tuesday. “Because they found condoms, they used that as evidence of prostitution.”
Cristina was one of numerous victims of discriminatory and abusive policing practices against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Jackson Heights, Queens, according to a report released on Tuesday by Make the Road New York.
The survey, entitled “Transgressive Policing,” found that 54 percent of LGBT respondents and 59 percent of transgender respondents reported they’d been stopped by police, while 28 percent of non-LGBT respondents reported that they’d experienced a stop.
Make the Road New York enlisted the help of the Anti-Violence Project, which conducts an annual survey of hate violence against the LGBT community in the U.S. Together, they surveyed 305 people in the Jackson Heights community found at street, bar, and nightclub outreach; within support groups; and at community meetings.
The survey notes that while its findings are consistent with trends reported across all five boroughs, they shouldn’t be extrapolated to represent the overall LGBT population’s or general populations’ experiences with the NYPD, given the limitations of their ability to collect data.
They note that Cristina and other respondents’ names were changed or omitted because they were afraid of being targeted by the police.
The NYPD didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The report claims to have found “a disturbing and systemic pattern of police harassment, violence, and intimidation directed at LGBT community members,” especially transgender respondents who were often profiled as sex workers.
LGBT and especially transgender people who had been stopped reported more frequent experiences of verbal harassment (being called “faggot” or “maric—n”) and physical abuse (being physically handled, pushed and shoved and sexually abused).
Enrique, a gay Latino man, spoke about how he and his partner were stopped by a police officer demanding their ID’s after seeing them kiss at the Junction Boulevard subway station. His partner didn’t have his ID on him, was arrested and called a “faggot.”
The report also describes how Yesenia, a transgender Latina woman, was arrested along with eight other women during a sweep of the neighborhood. She claims that at the 110th Precinct, an officer took her to the back of the station, fondled her breasts and said that he would let her go if she performed oral sex on him.
“I was really scared and I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I felt humiliated,” Yesenia said in her report testimony. “I didn’t want to say anything or report him because of my legal status. These types of situations shouldn’t be happening to us with the people that are supposed to protect us.”
The report specifically mentions the 115th and 110th Precincts, which jointly patrol Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, in various testimonials by the respondents.
The 115th Precinct had the third highest number of Stop, Question and Frisk incidents in 2011, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The survey claims this isn’t surprising given that these stops are common in communities with significant populations of people of color. Jackson Heights is home to one of the largest and most diverse immigrant communities in New York City.
Make the Road New York started gathering data and individual testimonies in 2011 after hearing numerous complaints of police abuse and misconduct against LGBT community members in the neighborhood.
Karina Claudio-Betancourt, lead organizer for Make the Road New York’s LGBT Justice Project said the report was accurate.
“We see a consistent trend in the stories that we captured. I don’t think it’s an issue of one bad apple. It’s systemic.”
Make the Road New York’s report ultimately makes a number of recommendations including the passage of the Community Safety Act by the New York City Council.
This legislation has the support of Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). He criticized the number of police stops in the community and called for support of the Community Safety Act.
“The testimony I heard today is familiar to me unfortunately,” said Dromm, one of the first openly gay City Council members from Queens. “It’s stories that I’ve heard over the last 20 years. In many ways, we in the LGBT movement think that things get better, but sometimes they’re actually getting worse.”
This package of bills currently being considered by council committees would require NYPD officers to explain to potential subjects of the search that they have the right to refuse if there is no warrant or probable cause. It would ban discriminatory profiling by officers and require them to provide their name and rank to persons being stopped and frisked along with the reason for the stop.
The organization timed the release of their report to coincide with the New York City Council Committee on Civil Rights hearing on Stop, Question and Frisk taking place at York College in Jamaica, on Wednesday night, leaders said.
Cristina, for one, thinks that things can improve if LGBT community members speak out and share their stories.
“If everybody shared their histories, the police probably would stop doing stop and frisk and profiling people,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult but we can try.”