Baltimore Police review reveals mistreatment of transgender people

Kayla Gilchrist Jones

Kayla Gilchrist Jones stands outside her workplace in Baltimore. Four killings of transgender women in Baltimore in two years is highlighting the strained relationship between law enforcement and the LGBT community and sparking conversations about how to ease the tension. Jones, who spent four years working as a sex worker, said the police were aggressive and dismissive when she became the victim of sexual violence in 2008. Patrick Semansky, AP

A Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, shows a disturbing pattern of abuse of transgender people, the Baltimore Brew notes.

According the investigation’s report, the DOJ heard allegations of “mistreatment,” “disparaging and inappropriate comments,” and the refusal of BPD officers to treat transgender women as women.

In one example, a transgender woman described how, after a traffic stop, an arresting officer asked for her gender and then proceeded to disregard it:

…she was asked by the officer whether she identified as male or female, and told the officer that she identified as female. Despite her response, the arresting officer then said to another officer at the scene, “Well, are you going to transport him?”

When she arrived at intake, the reports says, a female supervisor allegedly refused to search her: “I am not here for this shit. I am not searching that.”

“Like I said, I don’t know you,” the supervisor continued after the transgender woman asked to be treated with more respect. “I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care, I am not searching you.”

The DOJ goes on to explain that this is just one example, and that the multiple reports of inappropriate treatment indicate that BPD officers need better guidance and to ensure that searches are conducted by an officer of the appropriate gender.

With this type of mistreatment, it’s not surprising that transgender people may be reluctant to call or file a report with the police. Nor does it inspire confidence in the ability of Baltimore Police to prevent the killings of transgender women of color in their city.

But it’s not just bad behavior—it may be illegal.

“We…have concerns that BPD’s interactions with transgender individuals reflect underlying unlawful gender bias,” the DOJ writes. “BPD’s treatment of women victims of sexual assault and of transgender individuals should not reflect gender-based stereotypes and assumptions that may compromise the effectiveness and impartiality of BPD’s response to reports of sexual assault and discourage women and transgender individuals from engaging with the criminal justice system.”

Read the full report here.

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