Escalating Police Violence and Transgender People

In an atmosphere of increasingly aggressive, militaristic tactics by police against American citizens, the brutal treatment of transgender people by law enforcement exposes the intensity of hatred in society against an entire class of people -- and how ramped up police actions are playing out against them.

Long before the pepper spray incident at the University of California-Davis outraged the world, an Occupy Wall Street protester, a transgender man who was arrested during an October 1 march on the Brooklyn Bridge, was separated from other protestors, put in a cell with violent criminals and humiliated. A Morristown, Tennessee transgender woman was held in jail for 21 days last month after protesting in the parking lot of the local motor vehicle department office; she'd merely gone topless in protest, trying to bring attention to the DMV's hypocrisy since it wouldn't recognize that she is a woman and allow her a name change. And in the latest incident to surface in the media, a California transgender woman who presented no threat to anyone was allegedly tasered in the stomach and then in the crotch while on the floor by federal rangers who seemed hellbent on tormenting and torturing her.

This kind of brutality by police against transgender people, sadly, is nothing new. In almost every study of violence against LGBT people - which itself has increased in proportion to other groups in recent years -- transgender people bear the highest proportion of violence, from bashers on the streets and from the police. But in this climate of increasingly militaristic tactics by the police amid an era of protest it's important to note how it is playing out for a despised minority.

Justin Adkins, after being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, told me how he'd been subjected to a humiliating genital pat-down, something that no other protestor of the over 700 arrested that day was forced to undergo. He was segregated from other protestors, put into a cell with violent criminals. Police officers came by, mocking him and laughing at him. Later, he was chained for eight hours to a railing inside the only rest room for prisoners, humiliated as others were brought in to use the rest room. Justin Adkins was given no food or water while other protesters were fed.

Andrea Jones was arrested after she took her top off in the DMV parking lot in Morristown, Tennessee, outside Knoxville, after the DMV would not recognize tht she is a woman and change her name on her driver's license (as the Social Security office had very easily done). If she wasn't considered a woman for the sake of getting a license, she reasoned, why should she be considered a woman if she goes topless, exposing her breasts? The police arrested her for indecent exposure, calling her "Mr. Jones" throughout the incident;. the charge carries a possible lifetime of being included in the National Sex Offender Registry.

Shockingly, Andrea Jones was held in the local jail for 21 days on an simple indecent exposure charge, pressured each day to plead guilty (which she refused to do) in order to receive a two-day sentence and be released. In an interview she told me that she was treated terribly in the Morristown jail, put in cramped quarters with violent criminals -- men, not women - and she lost ten pounds because she was not fed adequately. On top of this terrible indignity, she lost her job at the American Book Company because of her arrest and incarceration.

Then there was the video that went viral in recent days. Brooke Fantelli, a transgender woman and a former off-road race car driver, well-known in the off-road community, can be seen in a video standing up with her arms in the air, clearly no threat to anyone, as a federal ranger then uses a taser on her after stopping her during a photo shoot in the Imperial County desert in California. The shot to her abdomen causes her to drop to the he ground, writhing in pain. Then once on the floor, the ranger tasers her again - in the crotch.

Blooger Autumn Sandeen, who spoke with Fantelli, gives some of the details:

Although Brooke began her transition two years ago, Brooke's California driver's license still had her old male name and her old male photo. She was incorrectly told by her physician that she needed to live two full years as a female before she could change her California identification.

After Ranger Petter saw Brooke's identification card, Brooke said he went from referring to her as "ma'am," "her," and "she" to "sir," "him," and "he." She then said the ranger went to referring to her as "dude."

Sandeen knows first hand about the subhuman treatment of transgender people by many police. A Navy veteran, she was among several protesters who bravely chained themselves to the White House fence last year to bring attention to President Obama's foot-dragging on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal. She was referred to by federal police as "it." Her account, as well as those of Justin Adkins, Andrea Jones and Brooke Fantelli, are just a few among scores of cases in the media in recent years, and many cases just in recent months, of often brutal treatment against transgender people by police amid a climate in which all Americans, and particularly those who exercise their free speech rights, are increasingly subjected to harsh police tactics.