A new report finds that California police profile and arrest trans women at alarming rates. The report was from California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (RIPA). This annual report analyzed data from 18 law enforcement agencies in 2020. The report focused its analysis on transgender profiling, with troubling results from the previous year.
The total number of trans people stopped by police was low in comparison to the overall cisgender population. However, the RIPA report discovered that when officers perceived someone to be a trans woman, they were 2.5 times more likely to be searched, detained, and/or handcuffed than their cisgender women counterparts. To put this number into perspective, police officers who stopped trans people proceeded to take actions against them above 60% of the time. They also arrested approximately 29% of trans women. In addition, people who were viewed as LGBTQ+ and then stopped were more likely to have used the justification of “reasonable suspicion” against them by police, compared to those presumed to be straight.
What’s the History Behind the Police and the LGBTQ+ Community?
Protesting against police violence has been a massive part of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. One of the most notable examples is the Stonewall Riots, which were initiated due to frequent police raids targeting queer and trans people. In addition, three years prior to Stonewall, Black and brown drag queens and sex workers in San Francisco participated in the Compton cafeteria riot where they rebelled against police violence.
These days, police brutality against Black transgender people is being brought into awareness, with allies and activists protesting against police injustice. For more recent examples, the shooting of Tony McDade has caused people to riot against police injustice. There were also the killings of two Black trans women in the past two weeks, Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells in Pennsylvania, which has pulled the violence faced by Black trans people into focus.
On June 14, 2020, about 15,000 people attended a Black Trans Lives Matter rally with speeches from activists like the writer and editor Raquel Willis and Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Polanco. Polanco was a 27-year-old Afro-Latina transgender woman who died at Rikers Island in 2019, the main jail complex in NYC. She was put in solitary confinement and had a neglectful staff failing to provide her with life-saving medical care 47 minutes after having an epileptic seizure.
How Many Transgender Lives Have Been Lost Due to Violence in 2020?
Fighting against police violence and the profiling of transgender people is more important than ever. Transgender lives have always been at risk for violence. In 2020, it was the deadliest year on record for transgender people being killed in the U.S.
At minimum, there have been 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed in other violent ways. Mostly these transgender women were Black and Latinx transgender women. In addition, the numbers are likely higher since many of these stories go unreported or are not properly reported.
What Does RIPA Recommend That We Do About California Police?
As the RIPA board summarizes in its report, police officers can’t always accurately judge a person’s gender or racial identity. So, in essence, these numbers aren’t a total representation of how often discrimination occurs. However, the trends have shed light on the significant disparities in how police treat people who they believe are visibly trans, especially Black.
RIPA recommends that police work with the trans community must meet a long-term goal to increase accountability. However, people need to take direct defensive action to protect trans people from police in the meantime.
In 2022, allies, advocates and activists must fight for the dignity and safety of transgender people. It is also important to seek justice, which means fighting against police violence wherever possible.