Lost in the public discussion over the practice that led to more than 600,000 stops last year are the stories of many transgender immigrants who claim that this practice has created an environment that often causes them to fear walking around their own neighborhoods.
A group of these immigrants organized at Make the Road New York’s Jackson Heights community center on Thursday, June 7, seeking to bring public attention to the harmful impact they feel the NYPD’s practice has on their lives. Karina Claudio-Betancourt, lead organizer of the protest and a march later on in the day, explained the group’s goal of expanding the outlook of anti-stop-and-frisk advocates.
“It’s affecting a lot of people around New York City, predominantly black and Latino men, and that’s kind of the narrative that’s out there,” Claudio-Betancourt said. “We want to put another perspective on the issue as well, saying ‘yes, black and Latino men are being stopped,’ but also there’s many communities that are affected from this practice.”
Stories of harassment and abuse highlighted the event, as members of the group explained how stop-and-frisk has led to officers profiling them as sex workers based on an arrest policy that allows police to confiscate condoms as evidence of prostitution.
The group is supporting a bill in the state legislature that would end this policy, as well as serious changes to the NYPD’s practices.
“The transgender community in Jackson Heights is being particularly affected by it because usually when a transgender woman is stopped and frisked, it leads to violence, it leads to abuse, it leads to verbal harassment,” Claudio-Betancourt said.
The group wants a change to the stop-and-frisk policy that provides respectful treatment of transgender people in the community. Cristina Herrera, who works with a gender identity program at the LGBT center in Manhattan, described the city’s policies as sending a mixed message on condom usage.
“We’re always encouraging community-based organizations to distribute condoms,” Herrera said. “But the NYPD on the other hand has historically been accusing us of using condoms to do sex work.”
Herrera, a resident of Jackson Heights for 20 years, echoed what many others said, depicting a pattern in the neighborhood of transgender immigrants believing that they were unfairly and disproportionately subjected to stops in a way that made them feel less safe, not more.
This protest fell on the same day that a group of City Council members, State Senators and Assembly members travelled to Washington, D.C., to call for the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the stop-and-frisk policy as a civil rights violation.
Among these local politicians was Councilman Daniel Dromm, who represents the group. Dromm was represented at the Make The Road protest by his LGBT liaison Michael Mallon, who said the councilman supports the group.
“The council member thinks what’s happening is really important, and that there needs to be major change in the way the NYPD are policing our neighborhood,” Mallon said. “People are being stopped in communities in which they live for no reason, and it’s creating a very fearful environment.”