Let’s be clear on the origins of policing in America. “The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.” Some of the names have changed but the players are still the same.
June is when many in the LGBTQ community celebrate PRIDE which was was born out of resistance and in direct response to state sanctioned violence led by trans women of color, sex workers, homeless and poor people of color. Black and Brown folks were fed up with being abused, brutalized and denied humanity by the police. Even before Stonewall there were the Compton Cafeteria Riots of 1966 and Cooper Donut Riot of 1959 where trans, gender non-conforming people of color led insurrections against the police whose sole intent was to control the behaviors of minorities and protect the interests of the wealthy.
I am originally from Detroit, Michigan. Growing up in the inner city where poverty, crime and violence was ever present, it was extremely difficult as a trans youth to navigate my way in a world not designed for folk like me. From harassment in the early mornings after dancing all night at Club Heavens, being forced out of Palmer Park at sundown or being chased down Woodward Ave and thrown in a jail cell when a girl was just trying to make a coin. I speak as someone who has experienced chronic homelessness, unemployment, violence and discrimination at the hands of the state. I speak as someone who has been fighting for collective liberation for over 20 years. I speak as someone who navigates the world as a Black, poor, disabled, non-binary, fat, dark skinned trans person.
My experience with the state didn’t change much when I moved to New York City in 2002. For two years I was homeless, sleeping on trains and finally spending 21 months at Wards Island at Charles H. Gay Men’s Shelter. I can never forget it. Harassment, discrimination, sexual and physical assault, rape and psychological trauma were daily events in my life. The police would laugh, shame, blame and report back to my abusers every time I would seek help. I have always seen the police as an agent of the state and an enemy to my existence.
Three years ago I earned my MPA and relocated to Washington D.C. From the streets of Detroit, overcoming survival sex work, domestic violence, homelessness and everything else this world threw at me. I moved into a lovely two bedroom apartment in Lanier Heights with tree top palatial views overlooking Rock Creek Park, tons of natural light and a gorgeous backyard. I live in a neighborhood where I often leave my home unlocked and can walk my dog Cashmere off leash. Basically, a gentrified neighborhood. I’ve worked very hard to secure what I thought was not just “safe” housing but a home. Until my queer non-Black neighbors started to weaponized the police against me. They would call MPD at any given moment, because I was laughing “too loud”, then singing or talking “too loud”. Whenever I had friends over there was the highest probability that the MPD would show up. Once MPD came because I was burning sage and my neighbors assumed it was drugs.
Basically, I was being “too Black!” When the police arrived the first time I invited them in. I asked them was there a problem, they told me they were there because of a reported noise complaint made by the person who lived below me. MPD would eventually return at least 10 times over the course of five months at the behest of my neighbor, a gay man of color who works at Whitman-Walker Health; a LGBTQ community health center where I receive healthcare. Once the MPD came up at to my home and I was literally in the bed. They were responding to a “noise complaint” Not only was this person policing Black joy, they were use my identity as a Black trans person as a weapon to activate the police, creating contention at my home and making the place where I receive healthcare unsafe. We often ignore the ways queer cis people are violent and have no regard for cultural history and trans lives.
The evening of November 16, 2016 my life changed. In preparation for the final LGBTQ event of the Obama Administration that I curated and planned to host the next day at the White House, I held a dinner party in my home for a few close friends, colleagues and family. One this night, 12-15 MPD officers showed up at my home but this time accusing me of assault. My neighbors lied and told the police that I threw him down the stairs.
MPD were called to my home simply because my Blacknesss was perceived as a threat to my POC queer neighbors. The same queers with Pride flags in their windows. These queers called the police to my home at least ten times. I had never seen, met or engaged any of them ever before yet still saw me as a threat, enough to lie to the police. When MPD illegally entered my home and forcibly grabbed me a struggle ensued for 10 minutes as they attempted to detain me. MPD threatened to mace everyone in my home so I gave in and they dragged me out in hand cuffs and threw me in a jail cell for 3 hours. I was released in enough time to rest up, be ready for hair and makeup then off to The White House, the show must go on!
The next day I was on a flight to Miami to speak at Barry University and then to Buffalo, NY for a Keynote the day after that. I had very little time to process what happened to me. As I delivered talks in Miami and then Buffalo I was still in total shock. This horrible traumatic thing happened to me and yet I was still committed to show up for my community.
MPD’s excessive force during their illegal entry into my home cause me great injury to my body, my mind and my soul. I am currently undergoing mental and physical therapy. I have spinal injections twice a month due to the hairline fracture that has developed into osteoarthritis in my lower spine and pinched nerve in my neck that affects the sensation and mobility of the right side of my body that may never fully return. I am having the most challenging time to simply walk. But I am alive. We all know what happens to Black, trans, disabled, femme bodies when we come in contact the state. Many of us never return home and those of us who do are never the same. Every breath a Black trans woman takes is an act of revolution. Any moment could be our last.
Many people in the LGBTQ community shamed, blamed me and abandoned me. I received hate mail and death threats from white gay folk who felt their white skin trumped my right to exist. The POC respectable politically connected queers questioned why I would argue with the police. They said, “Why was she making so much noise”, “Why didn’t she just comply with the police”? “Why are Black trans women so dramatic”. I was extremely disappointed by the lack of response from Anti-violence and LGBTQ organizations who were completely silent. Organizations that profit off of trans narratives, violence and deaths. Not a single org reached out to me to see what support looked like. None of them believed that I was a victim of police brutality. Not HRC, LGBTQ Task Force, NCTE, TLC, AVP or TLDEF.
To these orgs and the rest of them I say that victim blaming is an act of violence. I say to them, I know my rights and the police have no right to enter my home without a warrant. I say to them, come and pay my bills, walk in my shoes, live unapologetically as a proud fat, Black, non-binary, disabled trans person, reject respectability politics then join me in dismantling white supremacy, anti-Blackness, transphobia and cis-het domination or get out of the way. You are taking up space.
I am grateful for my amazing Black trans folk who were there for me. My Detroit sisters Bre Campbell and Yah-Yah Nicole, Nicholas Hue McCaskill and Devin Lowe who was there by my side. All those whose unwavering love and support held me down. Folk like Ria Thompson Washington of the National Lawyers Guild made sure I had representation, the Georgetown Law Clinic that made sure there were no criminal charges against me, Amy Gellatly from Bread for the City ensured my housing was secure. The ACLU of our Nation’s Capital believed this Black trans woman and fought for my rights by suing the District of Columbia and the MPD for violating my rights. All my life I have fought for others and now there were folk fighting for me.
For Black trans bodies, state sanctioned violence goes beyond police brutality. It’s being denied access to safe housing, healthcare, employment. State sanctioned violence manifest in every aspect of our lives. Not being able to leave our homes (if we have homes) without the threat of harassment, discrimination, violence. We wake up thinking, “how much violence will I experience today”. Black trans women are being murdered in the streets while some folk want to party and celebrate Pride in ways that don’t even recognize and honor the sacrifices made.
You can never forget that Pride was born out of a riot against state sanctioned violence, more specifically, police brutality of lgbtq communities. Trans women of color have laid down our bodies and this movement was built with our blood and off our backs. Miss Major reminds us that Stonewall was a riot! Never forget your history. Create spaces for healing and always remember that you have a voice and that your voice has power.
Every day we all wake up with opportunity to be great, to be transformative, inspire others while we encourage ourselves on our own journey. Every one of us are blessed with the capacity to be a blessing to others. It is up to us to explore and discover how we can manifest and harness this wonderful gift. We all have the capacity to create the world we want to live in. The energy we let into our lives and the energy we put out into the atmosphere is all part of our personal and collective power. Being able to share my journey and learning with others as well as put into praxis in my own life the principles I believe in provide space for me to show up whole for myself and others.