Black Voices

Stop And Frisk Too Harsh On Gay Blacks And Latinos, Advocates Say

In September 2009, a woman was standing outside of a convenience store in Manhattan's 6th precinct in the West Village around 1:30 a.m., when a New York City police officer flashed a light in her face and waved her over.

The officer told the woman, who is a transgender female, that she was being arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The woman, who had no prior criminal history, asked the officer to explain how he came to this conclusion.

"I've seen girls like you come around here all the time," the officer allegedly said, according to a formal complaint against the police acquired by The Huffington Post. "Just because you're dressed differently doesn't mean you're not a prostitute."

She was not arrested then. But when the woman went to the nearby station to lodge a complaint, she said she was initially waved off by officers until something prompted them to attempt to handcuff her. (The formal complaint did not include details as to what caused the officers to react this way.) Things allegedly escalated from there: Several officers pushed her to the floor and one of them shoved his knee into her face, she alleges.

As the officers transported her to central booking, one of them allegedly said, "I'm not sitting next to that."

She then reportedly was made to sit handcuffed next to an elevator for hours, and was charged with resisting arrest. She was released the next day with no formal charges brought against her.

She filed a lawsuit against the city and settled for $27,500 and attorney fees.

Many activists say incidents like these are typical of how gay people of color are criminalized under New York City's "stop and frisk" policy, the controversial policing tactic that officials say is meant to curb gun violence. With stop-and-frisk policing, cops are given wide discretion to stop, question and search any person they deem suspicious.

The city made 684,330 such stops last year, a record high, even though only about 10 percent of them resulted in an arrest or summons. According to the Wall Street Journal, the overwhelming majority of those stopped -- 87 percent -- were black or Latino. Critics say the policy is tantamount to racial profiling, and rights groups filed a lawsuit, arguing that stop and frisk is discriminatory and violates constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure.

Although police officials could not be reached for comment, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the policy last Sunday at a black church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, saying stop and frisk has saved the lives of many Blacks and Latinos while the number of people incarcerated has lowered from the last decade.

Dozens of advocacy groups, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Action Network, as well as unions and church groups from around the city, are preparing for a silent Father's Day protest in Manhattan on Sunday to protest the policy. Several organizations that have long fought against police brutality against gay people of color, like the Audre Lorde Project and Streetwise and Safe (SAS), say they hope the protest brings attention to how stop and frisk affects LGBTQ blacks and Latinos, who are often overlooked.

"Trans[gender] and gender-nonconforming people feel this in specific ways," Lorenzo Van Ness, a member of the Audre Lorde Project, told HuffPost. "They're profiled as sex workers, sexually harassed or have derogatory slurs yelled at them."

SAS youth leader Chris Bilal said that he has been stopped several times by police, who assumed on those occasions that he was carrying illegal drugs. In those instances, he said the encounters played out the way they do for straight black men who are stopped. "Sometimes it can look the same," he said.

But Bilal, who is black and gay, said he was once stopped while dancing in a park with his friends late at night. The police rifled through his belongings -- not looking for a weapon, but for condoms, which he said the cops would take as evidence of prostitution or intent to have sex in a public place. "Straight privilege" -- the benefit of the doubt extended to heterosexual people by police -- "is not a privilege that we have," Bilal said.

He said that for gay people, these encounters are complicated in subtle, crucial ways. Transgender people, for example, may be assumed to be presenting fake identification to officers because their gender identities and new names don't match their official documents. For the gender-nonconforming, that could mean getting a citation for disorderly conduct "because you didn't act the way you should act, according to your gender," or as police are expecting a man or woman to act in that situation.

SAS regularly holds "know your rights" training sessions to help LGBT individuals learn how the law protects them from certain kinds of questioning and detainment.

There are few reliable statistics about how many LGBT people are stopped by police in New York City. But Andrea Ritchie, coordinator of SAS, said that at least a quarter of gay youth become homeless at some point in their lives, often due to family stresses. This puts many of them on the street, which raises the likelihood of unwanted police encounters. (According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 20 percent of all homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBT, even though LGBTs make up less than 10 percent of all young people.)

Ritchie also cited a recent study in the New York Law School Law Review that found gay youth were twice as likely as straight people to report "negative sexual contact" with the city police over a six-month period. But for various reasons, Ritchie said, gay people on the whole are reluctant to file formal complaints.

Ritchie said the inclusiveness of Sunday's silent march against the policy is heartening. "What is gratifying ... is how we're able to walk into these organizational spaces, as our whole selves, and to really mobilize around policing as it affects us and as it affects people in our communities, so we can demand an end to discriminatory policing of all kinds," she said.

WATCH: Civil Rights Groups And Unions Rally To Protest Stop And Frisk