Q: I’ve never been arrested, but it seems like I get a harder time from the police than some of my friends. Am I imagining this?
A: The LGBT civil rights movement has its roots in standing up against police harassment. In the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, bar patrons fought back against a police raid that targeted LGBT people. Today, for many populations, statistics continue to show disproportionate rates of arrest and detainment.
The New York City police department’s stop-and-frisk policy targets already marginalized communities, including low-income people, people of color, LGBT people, people living with HIV, and immigrants. In 2011, for example, young black and Latino males (age 14 to 24) made up less than 5 percent of the city’s population, but were targeted in more than 40 percent of the stops. Indeed, the number of stops of young black men alone exceeded the number of young black men in the entire city population.
Law enforcement problems also exist at the federal level. For example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program – which purportedly prioritizes the deportation of the “most dangerous and violent offenders” who pose a threat to public safety and national security – has actually resulted in the arrest and detention of immigrants for minor traffic infractions. According to www.immigrationpolicy.org, between October 2008 and September 2011, in Maricopa County, Ariz., 60 percent of those deported had minor convictions or were non-criminals; in Jefferson Parish, La., 87 percent had minor convictions or were non-criminals. Nationally, 26 percent of those deported under Secure Communities had no criminal convictions.
These kinds of abuses contribute to mistrust, doubt and fear of the police in our communities, and may prevent people from calling the police when they are victims of a crime. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/), from 2006 to 2010, 51 percent of violent victimizations of persons living in urban areas went unreported; of those, 21 percent of the victims said the reason was that police would not or could not help. During the same period, 33 percent of violent crimes against people age 65 or older went unreported, and 65 percent of sexual assaults went unreported. An astounding 76 percent of victimizations that occurred while at school went unreported. These numbers are troubling, and they are increasing: The percentage of unreported violent crime that was not reported because the victim felt the police would not or could not do anything to help nearly tripled from 2005 to 2010 – from 7 percent to 20 percent.
Lambda Legal has a long history of standing up to police mistreatment, joining court briefs opposing anti-immigrant laws and joining a coalition in New York to challenge the city’s stop-and-frisk policy. Lambda Legal is now gathering information on this issue by conducting a survey about the experiences of LGBT people and people living with HIV when dealing with police, school security, courts and the prison system. Whether your experiences have been positive, negative, or mediocre, everyone’s input is necessary to capture the full scope of our community’s experiences. Take the survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/protected-and-served-survey.
Thomas Ude is a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people.
If you think you have been discriminated against or have been the victim of harassment because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status, call Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or see lambdalegal.org/help