The New York Police Department’s racist terror campaign, known as “Stop and Frisk,” continues to plague working-class communities in the five boroughs. A recent article in The New York Times, titled “Arrests by the Fashion Police,” highlights the NYPD’s campaign of harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of color, specifically in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, with large and vibrant immigrant and LGBTQ communities. According to a survey by Make the Road New York and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, the NYPD has been targeting LGBTQ residents there, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming people, at alarmingly high rates.
The study, conducted in October 2012, found that 51 percent of respondents who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual said they had been “stopped and frisked,” with a third of those reporting being physically harassed. The numbers for transgender respondents were even higher, with 59 percent being stopped, and half of those being physically harassed. In contrast, 28 percent of respondents who identified as straight reported being stopped.
Many of the transgender people who were stopped said they were accused of engaging in sex work. The New York Times’ piece highlights the stories of several transgender people who were targeted for their gender presentation and later accused of prostitution. The article documents this heightened policing of the bodies of transgender and non-gender conforming people, not just in Jackson Heights but in other parts of the city as well.
The NYPD has even been using the possession of condoms by the people they stop as evidence to accuse them of engaging in illegal sex work. This type of “evidence” has been used for some time now to criminalize LGBTQ people and open the door for further police harassment.
Activists in these communities have rightfully decried the practice as discriminatory and harmful to the public health. The net effect of this bigoted policy is for people to stop carrying condoms, thus reducing condom use and exposing more LGBTQ people to the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases at a time when the rates of HIV transmission are again on the rise.
The NYPD is clearly engaging in harassment of people based solely on their gender presentation and their ethnicity, further criminalizing communities that are already the victims of street harassment, employment discrimination, and higher rates of poverty.
No community is safe
The article in The New York Times exposes the fact that no community is safe from the NYPD’s reign of terror. The article was released only a few weeks after the NYPD gunned down Kimani Gray in Bedford Stuyvesant, another young African American man shot down by the racist NYPD, setting off weeks of protest by the community that was met with more police violence, suppression, media blackouts and the NYPD declaring martial law in some areas.
A few weeks before Kimani Gray was killed, the NYPD invaded the home of Jabbar Campbell in Crown Heights, beating and shouting homophobic remarks at him. That incident resulted in a coalition of anti-police violence organizers from the African American, Latino, immigrant and LGBTQ communities marching on the 77th precinct in a show of support and unity.
At the time of this writing, “Stop and Frisk” is being challenged in a court in lower Manhattan. The law has been roundly criticized as a direct violation of civil rights, and its racist implementation and complete ineffectiveness at making anyone safer has been well documented. Whether or not the current legal action will result in “Stop and Frisk” being overturned is unclear.
What is clear is that the tension between the NYPD and working-class communities in the city, especially communities of color and the LGBTQ community, is reaching a high point. What has been clear for decades is that the ruling class will use the NYPD and police departments in other major urban centers of the United States to employ racism and bigotry to terrorize working-class communities. What is also clear is that these communities are realizing their shared reality and joining together to fight back. What is needed now more than ever is an independent, unified movement to stop the cops.
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