Intersections of Race, Gender, Sexuality & Policing: Voices of the DOJ Investigation into the Baltimore Police Department
The following is an edited transcription of a public radio broadcast that originally aired on The Marc Steiner Show, a daily public affairs radio show on NPR affiliate WEAA-FM in Baltimore, Maryland. You can also listen to the podcast, embedded below.
Marc Steiner: Last Wednesday, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released their Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, which they started last year after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. This report comes a week and a half after Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped charges against the three remaining officers connected to Freddie Gray’s death.
Today, we hear directly from some of the people whose testimony informed the final DOJ report — specifically those complaints that deal with gender and sexuality. Several months ago the Center for Emerging Media began working with Power Inside to gather stories from woman, trans and queer people experienced abuse at the hands of Baltimore Police officers. Some of these voices are testimony given directly to the Department of Justice. Here is long time no Outgoing Marc Steiner Show Producer Stefanie Mavronis who produced this story.
Stefanie Mavronis: When the Department of Justice came to Baltimore, one of the things they were specifically interested in was understanding police misconduct and abuse through an intersectional lens. What does police brutality look like when you’re a woman? A trans woman? A gay man? A lesbian woman or queer person? Then, how are those identities further compounded by race and the reputation of the neighborhood you live in? And do those interactions with police change even more if you’re addicted to drugs or involved in the sex trade?
You’re probably familiar with the #SayHerName campaign, which critiques the framing of police brutality as violence perpetrated against black men — which doesn’t acknowledge the many black women who die at the hands of police in disproportionate numbers. So, in the context of policing in Baltimore, why is it important to understand police interactions and misconduct through an intersectional lens, one that takes into account race, class, gender and sexuality?
We tend to have a male-centered understanding of police brutality that doesn’t always recognize the unique experiences that women and gay, lesbian, queer & trans people have with the police, and we should really see police abuse as a spectrum — a spectrum of systemic behavior that runs the gamut from the refusal to take reports of sexual assault, to unnecessarily invasive searches, to stalking, to disrespect and verbal abuse, to coercing people to be unofficial informants, to physical abuse, to sexual coercion, to death. Because so much of this “gendered” abuse plays out in private and secluded spaces, it’s not usually caught on camera. It doesn’t go viral. The way this kind of police abuse plays out is often less visible, but it’s no less structural and important for us to understand.
In this special, we’ll be hearing directly from a handful of women and one man who share their “gendered” experiences with Baltimore Police. One warning: the content of these complaints — which were all given to the DOJ as part of their Baltimore investigation — is very graphic and at times disturbing.
Section 2 of the DOJ report is titled, “BPD ENGAGES IN A PATTERN OR PRACTICE OF CONDUCT THAT VIOLATES THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND LAWS, AND CONDUCT THAT RAISES SERIOUS CONCERNS.” One of the main findings within that section: BPD’S HANDLING OF SEXUAL ASSAULT INVESTIGATIONS RAISES SERIOUS CONCERNS OF GENDER-BIASED POLICING. The report cites examples of police failure to take reports of sexual assault, especially when those reports come from women involved in the sex trade; a detective asking “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?” to a woman trying to report an assault; an email from a prosecutor who wrote about a victim of sexual assault: “this case is crazy. . . I am not excited about charging it. This victim seems like a conniving little whore. (pardon my language)” to which a Baltimore police officer responded, “Lmao! I feel the same.”
I sat down with Kiara, one of the women who made a complaint for the DOJ report. She talked about her experience trying to report a sexual assault to the Baltimore Police. Just a note: the names of the people whose voices are featured in this special have been changed to protect their privacy.
Kiara: Well if you report it it ain’t like it’s going to be reported. I got raped … Actually I got raped six days after I had my baby and I told the police and they was like, “What did I do?” And I had my hand cut where the rapist tried to cut my throat and I grabbed the knife and I got raped a block away from my house. My coat was bloodied all up and when my sister called 911 and the police called first and all they was asking was, “What did I do?”
They wasn’t concerned if I got raped. I was really scared to answer their questions because I had a warrant on me but I got raped and you’re worrying about what I done? What I supposed to do to get raped? Who deserve that. You know you should be looking for … I felt like they should have took me up the hospital immediately did whatever they supposed to do like Law and Order. Like, they ain’t did none of that. I ain’t never leave the house. I never got a rape kit done. They shot me up with some stuff in my arm so I wouldn’t feel the next high. And the ambulance driver did it because the police was right there in my mother’s house and all they do was shot me up with a needle. I never got saw. I reported the rape to the police. I never reported it to the hospital because they never took me to a hospital. They shot me up with some kind of stuff in my arm and my little sister wound up making me stay with her.
Stefanie: When asked whether anyone from the Baltimore Police Department ever contacted her:
Kiara: Never did. That’s like when I had … You remember, I lost my baby in jail. Do you remember I got drug by a police car and I didn’t know I was pregnant at the time I got drug by this police car. And this is how I have this mark right here on my hand cause I tried to jump on the truck. The police was chasing me and I got drug down the street. So, they take me to the hospital and I must have been knocked out and they put me in the MRI machine. And I’m pregnant and I lose my baby. Yeah. And I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know the law, but they killed my baby because they never should have put me in the MRI machine. Full body machine and I lost my baby.
Stefanie: For context, Kiara is black woman who is a mother and a grandmother who has been in recovery. Even when she herself was experiencing police abuse, she still had the wherewithal to know it was unjust. Kiara loves nature and has a great sense of humor. She has become a fierce advocate, fighting to create a reality where other people don’t have to go through the things she went through when she was living on the street and working in the sex trade in Baltimore. She started on the streets at the age of 16 and first had sex with a police officer at 18. She talked to me about the common practice of dating police officers or having them as clients.
Kiara: I was 16 years old when I started out there. It was some of my friends younger than that. You understand what I’m saying? You gotta remember I’m out there with my little sister so she was definitely younger than me. It’s juveniles too. You gotta remember I started out there as a juvenile. So did my sister. So did countless of my friends. We started out as juveniles.
We got addicted. I got addicted in jail as a juvenile. I was 15 years old when I went to Baltimore City Detention Center. And I went there not from being on drugs. I wasn’t even on drugs, didn’t know nothing about it. I went there for running away. And they waived my rights. My mother couldn’t afford to get me out on bail so I end up in jail. Going to school back and forth from the men’s side, me and another inmate. And we started getting packages from the boys on the other side for the other inmates on our side. We was the juveniles that’s going to school with other juveniles receiving packages from inside. So yes, the whole system is corrupt. Yeah.
And I shouldn’t have became an addict. I was already sick, but I became an addict in jail. That’s what they need to understand. I ain’t get … nobody introduced it to me, the stuff on the street. I got introduced to crack cocaine in jail, Baltimore City Detention Center.
Stefanie: The DOJ report touches on the police coercing sex. From the DOJ report: “One of the women interviewed informed BPD investigators that she met with a certain officer and engaged in sexual activities in the officer’s patrol car once every other week 'in exchange for U.S. Currency or immunity from arrest.'" This is something that Kiara discussed with me, and the way that this practice leads to women becoming unofficial informants for the police.
Kiara: I had many encounters with police but not all of them was bad. Like I said, most … they wasn’t all bad because it ain’t like I ain’t enjoy dating them. I mean, I’m just going to be honest. They gave me enough money to get what I want. I was happy. I met one that I didn’t even know was a police until he took off his clothes because he was undercover. And that’s when he had his badge on and I was like, “Oh shit! You’s a police!” and he said, “Police need love too.” I said, “Okay.” I sure did. (laughing) And my sister and them was downstairs getting high so I thought we were about to get raided, but we didn’t and he paid me very well.
I mean, I don’t think all of them are bad but I think the bad police are the ones that wanna fight you and make you do things that you don’t wanna do. I mean, if you’re out here tricking and it’s fast change no robbery I guess that’s fair but that’s illegal still. But I mean if I’m doing a service for you, you should be giving me my money. There’s times they’re not giving you your money. It’s either you’re going to jail or you’re gonna give me some. If they’re not gonna give you no money you’re just gonna give them some head or you’re gonna have sex with them and then they’ll let you go on your own way to make yourself some money because they gonna get theirs one way or the other and you just have to be prepared for it.
Stefanie: Here’s an excerpt from Kiara’s complaint to the Department of Justice that highlights the ways certain police officers have used their power to coerce already vulnerable women — those who are addicted to drugs or involved in the sex trade — into having sex or performing sexual acts with them.
Kiara: He was in his police car. I assumed he saw me. He started talking to me, asking me where I was going. I told him where I was going and when he inquired about propositioning me. The way he propositioned me was, “Could he go?” And I was like, “Sure.” And I didn’t care. And as long as I wasn’t going to jail I didn’t care. I knew exactly what was happening because I heard about him. I knew that either I was gonna go to jail or I had to go to bed with him. The reason we knew was we knew about several police officers. There was one that drove a cruiser and he had shades on and he drove through the day. And all he had to do was look your way and you looked at him, you nod your head and that mean meet him. And you go back there and you meet the police back there and y’all have sex. It’s very secluded.
I was staying in a vacant house, he knew that it was also another girl. She was in there. And he would proposition us and he would give us money. He would buy us something to eat. And he’d let us go in exchange for sex and we did it. At the time we didn’t care because it kept us safe in the house that we was in and nobody … We didn’t have to worry about the police coming to rob or raid it because we all got high in there. We took our dates in there and he was alright with it. He even protected our dates. He knew it could be a whole crowd of people in there getting high and he wouldn’t lock none of us up as long as we’d have sex with him.
He would give you exactly what you want. He would let you go cop. He would give you things off his clothing like his number tag. He would let you hold the little police cuffs. It’s like little police cuffs to his tag and let you hold his name badge to go cop with it and bring it back. And he’d sit in the house while we’re there. Yeah, cause I had to cop the coke and he’s sit in the house. He parked his car.
He was the officer that started fighting on the prostitutes that was out there. And he locked me up for what’s called “hindering.” And he said I was hindering. I was never taken to jail at all. I sit in the police station next to him. And he made me give him some head on the way back home. For me to get back from the police station to the area where I belong to get my ride back because it’s a long walk from the station house where he took me to back and I had to give him some fellatio on the way back. And I’m not the only one.
Stefanie: In her DOJ complaint, Kiara recollected a time when she watched that same police officer physically abuse a friend who was also addicted to drugs.
Kiara: He beat her really bad. And locked her up. And I don’t know what charge he gave her but just like he beat me. And when he fought me it scratched my knees up here and because it started getting late, dark I wanted to make me some money or I wouldn’t have a play to stay, I’d be on the street. And when I got out there to go down there to make it I went to the bar. I actually went into the store first and I went into the bar and there’s unmarked car. It was a green car. I said, “That’s the police.” And he grabbed me and locked me up for hindering. He would beat all the girls.
Stefanie: In her DOJ complaint, Kiara also described being stalked by a particular Baltimore police officer she once had sex with. She and her boyfriend at the time were spending the night in an abandoned house.
Kiara: We were coming inside the vacant house. We both got put out a recovery house so we end up staying in a vacant house. He broke into a vacant house while we was both asleep. And for him not to lock us up I had to sleep with him. And he gave me $20 to get me some crack. I was homeless and so why wouldn’t I? He was somebody that provided my crack and something to eat. So, I was an addict and I was homeless. He provided the necessities that I needed at that time. That’s what I thought I needed, anyway.
Stefanie: Kiara also described a time when a Baltimore police officer protected a drug house she was staying in, bought drugs for her with cash from his own pocket, and had sex with her. This is the audio from her DOJ complaint.
Kiara: I had just copped and it was a black officer walking the beat. He says something to me. He was in uniform. And I says something back and it wasn’t like he said anything like … He wasn’t asking me where I was going. He wasn’t saying … He didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. He made me feel comfortable enough to say what’s up.
I had on a little short skirt and I lift it up cause I had no underwear. We didn’t wear underwear under our skirts. And he was like, “Where you going?” And I said “Well we’re going around the street.” And he parked his car. I waited there and I opened the door and we let him in. Everybody seen him. People knew. And I told him that the boy was upstairs that I wanted to get my crack from. He gave me money out his pockets to get my crack. I went upstairs I got my crack from upstairs. Then we came back downstairs. I smoked and we had sex. I pulled his pants down and he allowed me to have sex with him. He wanted to have sex with me. I wanted the crack.
Stefanie: In her DOJ complaint, Kiara expressed sadness and confusion over who she could trust while she was living on the street.
Kiara: You don’t wanna believe people will do you like this. You end up homeless and people that you trust like law enforcement … When you go for them for help and they proposition you because the first police I went to … I actually got abused by my friend that night and I was walking. And I had copped. Me and my friend got into a fight because I had just got off a date and he wanted most of the money and I gave him most of it, but I was left with $10 and I had to do all this stuff for it. And I had to get back out on the corner and I ran into a police officer that propositioned me and I thought I was going to jail. I remember going to jail. I really would have rather at the time gone to jail than do the things I had to do for him.
I got assaulted in the summer time one time. Actually in the house. I had gotten a date that day and he beat me. The date tried to rape me inside the house and I told him about it and he do nothing. He didn’t do nothing but proposition me. You don’t know who to trust. You get lost for a long time.
Stefanie: Kiara talked about how she was threatened with arrest if she didn’t have sex with officers in a secluded area. This same “secluded area” was described by other women who made complaints to the DOJ and appeared to have been frequented by multiple officers who patrolled that same district.
Kiara: The women is the moneymakers. I mean, the drug dealer needs the women and the police officers need the women. The police need them to tell certain stuff to get certain information about drug dealers, and they are the women on the street. They don’t wanna go to jail so they are gonna snitch a little bit. Sometimes they will snitch. You’re just a friend. You’re more like I’ma do this for you and then in the case of if you get caught up you do this for me.
A confidential informant, all the police know about them. Even though I’m a convict, an ex-con or however you wanna call it, I wasn’t in the system with the state to be known as an informant. I was more along as a criminal. I’m not there to help them. I was there to make crimes. If you, you know … They would lock me up but certain police wouldn’t because they knew I was helping them and stuff like that. Like, it was certain houses that was raided in the neighborhood and it was a lot of us in the house. Only three went to jail but everyone should have went to jail that day but certain people knew certain officers and they let us out. They let us out because we still had a debt to pay. A lot of us. We still had houses that some of them had to hit. We had to be there for them to hit it. We had to be in the house. We already knew we wasn’t going to go to jail because we was addicts. We as the addicts had to stick in the house and get that dealer caught.
I had got a dealer caught and they wasn’t looking for that particular dealer at the time, but because they couldn’t catch this one person they gave me three bags of ready, the gave me the money to cop these three bags, but they couldn’t catch the guy because he was on the bike so they told me to tell him about somebody else and I did. You understand what I’m saying? Confidential informants, I guess they have numbers. I know a few couple of informants and they got paid for their information. We didn’t get paid for our information. We had sex and we got high and they was sitting around accompanying to make sure our tricks paid us our money. It wasn’t just me tricking with the police. It was me tricking with my other dates if the police came there past the vacant house I don’t want him to get locked up either. I need that money from him too. It was like this, like we sitting around each other. We just sit back and talk. Oh you work here, I don’t. I’m a client. And they was my clients too. And I became they client too, but it wasn’t like a job for me like I’m not on paper. I’m not listed nowhere in Baltimore City or anywhere else as a confidential information. I’m not a snitch but I will tell the police certain things — at that time — to get my drugs that I wanted, yeah.
Stefanie: One small note about this next excerpt from my interview with Kiara: when you hear her refer to “they/them” she’s talking about the Baltimore Police Officers she’s interacted with.
Kiara: You ain’t never safe because you don’t know … If they need to get your quota they are gonna lock you up regardless. See, it’s a certain time that the police gonna make their quota and you just gotta hope that this day ain’t their quota day because you going to jail no matter what. You could give them head, you still going to jail. They will let you smoke your last pipe hit before you go. You still going. It doesn’t matter. They gotta make they quota.
The police, they wouldn’t lock up the drug dealers. They take they drugs and they money and they pass it along to tricks. So who’s the police and who’s the drug dealer? This is something I witness. We all witnessed it around the way. We all do it. All of us have participated in it. We all know who they are and they all know who we are. It just that some of us got clean and we still out here. We still know what goes on around the way.
If you still using, if you clean and you still here, they can’t wait til they slip and that’s the honest to God truth. They might see them walking through, they might see someone having a bad day. They gonna remind them that they still a junkie and they probably offer you something. That’s why I hate coming down this way. Because there’s certain times, certain ones, certain people still recognize me. Certain people don’t. Certain officers have and they have propositioned me around the way because I’m not using, I look healthy, and that’s what they want. If they could get you like that, that’s even better. They will call you by your street name and they know your real name because they arrested you before. They let you know they got something for you. Sometimes they pull you to the side or they could make you look like you had did something wrong.
They tell you, “Sit down.” And they frisk you and stuff and I’m like, “Man, I ain’t even do nothing.” And they got you now, they got you where they need you to be: alone. Some people paying attention, some people might not be paying attention. And then they might be like, “Are you still using?” They ask you those questions. “No.” If you ain’t using, you might not be good for them or you might be good for them. They don’t know if you need some money. If you got 8 months under your belt from being clean, you still an addict. You still thinking dope fiend. You still got the dope fiend mentality. It’s like you feel like you got to have something to keep up with the rest of the people that’s got clean because you ain’t got the clothes, you ain’t got the looks, you want the hair done and stuff like that. So, you feel inadequate because you not living normal. You’re trying to be normal but you’re not normal. You try to keep up so you still keep some of the habits. You get clean and you still trick in some of them officers is still out there. Some of the dealers is still out there and you might not get no drugs but you gon’ get cash. They gon’ get what they want. You don’t think it’s gonna be you. You don’t think you’ll end up homeless. You don’t think you gonna end up being with countless of men and then let alone being with … you think the police are supposed to be there to protect you and serve. You don’t think they’re going to proposition you. That’s the last thing you think.
But then when they do, you thinking, “Well, you still being protected.” In your sick mind you say, “Well, I’m still being protected. He ain’t gon’ lock me up and he gon’ give me some money and I can get my stuff? Well I feel protected.” In your sick mind you feel like this okay because that’s what your brain say. It’s okay because he a police and he gave you the money and you doing it in front of him and he still ain’t did nothing. So, you safe. I feel safer smoking it around him than I would around somebody that asked me for it. “Could I have a piece?” (laughing) You know? You want to smoke it to yourself.
They think it’s funny. They think it’s hilarious people. We don’t matter. They don’t think we matter as normal people. They wouldn’t help us like they would help normal people. It happens every day. It happens all the time. And I don’t even live in this city no more. But I got friends who live all over the place because they still out here. I still talk to people. We on Facebook. And it’s going on everywhere. The people that supposed to help you end up once they know you have this background they play on it. Say like you a thief and I’m a prostitute. They ain’t gon’ mess with you because your background say you might rob them. But my background, cause I’m a “known,” say that I’m easy. You gotta think about it. It’s saying that I’m willing to do whatever it is for a price. That’s how they look at us like a piece of meat in the market. They size you up and see if they want to take you. (laughing) That’s what they do. They know every one of us. They know. They know what you will do. They do the kind of stuff you will do and what you won’t. Before they pick you up they done already heard.
Stefanie: Something that has gotten a lot of attention from the DOJ’s investigation into the Baltimore Police Department is the frequency of unconstitutional stops, which in some cases included invasive strip searches. Here’s Kiara again:
Kiara: They search you in public. Males! Not … they ain’t got. We was told that only females could check a female. You have the males checking the females too. Lifting up your shirt, digging in your shirt, digging all in your underwear. It’s not appropriate. You on the street. I don’t think you have a right to touch me but thank god they have body cams now so. If they gon’ really use them. Because they could cut them off when they want to. If they don’t want to be seen they could cut if off for a second. So I don’t think they should cut nothing off. What you gotta hide that you gotta cut off your camera. You ain’t doing nothing wrong. Don’t cut it off. The body cameras are only to put people that … We are all under surveillance.
Stefanie: You know I can imagine some people listening to this just being shocked about what they’re hearing and maybe saying in their minds this must have just been one police officer you’re talking about, two police officers…
Kiara: No, it’s a lot of police officers. It’s no one police officer. It’s so many police officers in this particular area I can’t even count them on one hand. That’s how many there is in this … I can’t count them on two hands and that’s just in this area right here. It’s this bad, this area. And it ain’t gon get better. I don’t care what nobody say. I don’t know why everybody acting like they don’t know what’s going on but people on the street know what’s going on and it’s been going on way before Freddie Gray got killed.
Stefanie: But as much as Kiara sees this as a systemic problem that is deeply entrenched in the BPD, she has been working to hold Baltimore police officers accountable for their behavior towards people addicted to drugs and involved in the sex trade. It’s personal to her because many of her friends are still out there and so is her sister, who recently relapsed after many years clean.
Kiara: I think I’d die if I go out there. And I don’t think I wanna be with nobody else. I don’t want nobody touching me that I don’t want touching me any longer. And I just, I’m scared. And that’s my biggest fear so that’s why I talk to my counselors and my therapists and we talk about it in groups. One day at a time. I just, I’m making it. One day at a time. Because I still get scared because it ain’t like you don’t get broke and you don’t still have them thoughts. It’s 8 years and I still think about money. I still think about when I had issues what to do next. And if it wasn’t for my friend telling me “When do you don’t know what to do, don’t do nothing,” and brainwashing it in my head for years. It took countless other people like I said to keep saying things to me in my life and even though you think that I wasn’t listening, I was listening … but I didn’t know how to use that information at that time.
The changes came with the people that came into my life. It was certain correctional officers that participated in my life because they seem something in me and I don’t know what they saw but they seen it and no matter how much I fought and they seen some quality in me. And then I learned it took years to discover it in myself and I didn’t see it in myself until I start doing some of the things they suggested me to do. Go ahead write my poetry, write a journal. When I’m feeling bad write it down, talk about it. Don’t get it bottled up.
So when you trying to get help from a therapist, a psychiatrist, and these are the things that I need to get help with it was like … it was hard for me to receive them because I didn’t believe them because the people that supposed to protect me before did other things than protect me. Like, I’ve been molested. I’ve did sexual favors for police officers that supposed to protect me. I did things that I’m not proud of to people that supposed to love me. You know what I’m saying? I realized that they just took advantage of me and my situation and then I forgive them. That’s all I could do, forgive them and move on. And I forgive myself because it wasn’t my fault. I was an addict and it’s not my fault even though I still have, I still tremble with the fact that I did all these things but I was sick at that time.
I didn’t think that nobody was ever gonna love me. You think that you’re a piece … I know me, I didn’t think I was worthy of being loved. You know? I thought I would go to jail back and forth. I thought that would be routine for me for the rest of my life. I hadn’t seen myself going nowhere. I thought I would be homeless. And somebody say, “You ain’t gotta be this way.” And even though they say it, you don’t see nothing out there after they say that … It sounds good but tell me everything gon’ be alright, but if you can’t gonna put me in a situation to make me feel safe, how do I supposed to believe that everything’s gon’ be alright if you expect me to get clean. You expect me to not be on that corner the next day but I’m gonna be sick if I don’t.
If you still out there I would ask them what’s the best way to help you because only they know what’s best for them. We think we can help them. But we can’t help them. They’ll get you high before you get them clean. They know what they need but they don’t have the strength to go ahead. So, if they tell you how to help them, try to help them with what they need. Not by giving them drugs but if they saying, “Well can you just take me here?” or “Keep me,” or “Let me sit with you for a few minutes,” because sometimes people be tired of getting high and they just need a place to sit and think and regroup because they just gotta, you know, a little dose of reality. And they trying to clear their mind but before they can because they ain’t got nowhere else to go, here comes somebody else selling or here come a trick that’s saying “Hey, you dating?” You ain’t even got a chance to clear your mind. I mean, my prayer was “Lord Jesus meet me where I’m at on the corner smoking crack,” and he met me. (laughing) I ain’t lying. That was the truth. And that was my prayer every time I hit that stick and people say, “You crazy. Why you talking to God when you smoking?” Because I need him. I’ve did a lot of done things so I need help and I’m getting better every day. I’ve been better for 8 years so I’m glad about that.
Stefanie: Kiara’s story illuminates how police interactions can become even more complicated when gender is part of the equation. So what can be done about it? The DOJ report emphasizes the need for the police department to work to gain community trust and restore important community partnerships as a path forward. Kiara has her own thoughts about what needs to happen before things will change:
Kiara: How you change? By screening your police. You need to screen them and you need to do the same thing you would do for a registered sex offender. You need to do that with the police and see if their minds right. You have these sex offenders looking at these little pictures. Let the police see and then you’ll see what kind of police you got working. Because they minds are messed up too because they having sexy little girls. It’s some of us that’s 16–17 years old. The police having sex with prostitutes, the young girls on the street, just like me. I started out there when I was 16. Say you trying to do right. You can’t live in these crowded houses. You don’t want to go back to the drug house. And you thinking I’m clean, I’m gonna get myself together, I’m gonna go in that house and apply for me in that house. I’m gonna apply for me an apartment. Well you go through so much just to get this apartment you might be on a list for 19 years before you get it, you know.
And it’s just a shame because you got all these vacant houses. Build them up. You can fix them. And then you can put them people in the house and they be in the situation where they can get their lives together. But you not tryna get their lives together. You putting them in programs where the programs making money off of their little bit of money. You understand what I’m saying? Then they say they gotta get out of that program. So when they get out of that program where is they going? They still don’t have nowhere to go. You know? Then you go to transitional. You can’t live like that especially these women, some of them got children. Might be trick babies, might be not. But regardless, they are children. You know what I’m saying? They might want to raise they babies. They probably don’t want the state raising their babies. Well give them a chance. And stop making it so hard to get them Section 8, or to get them into a home because they might can afford $400 a month, they might can afford $500 a month. But my thing is they got drug dealers in houses, you know, staying. And they paying they rent because they selling drugs out their houses. You know? So, it’s like how can he get a house and he selling drugs. Here I ain’t doing nothing and I can’t get a house. I feel sorry for the homeless people and I know one thing: it took me a long time to get this Section 8 that I got. And I love it.
Stefanie: Earlier, we heard a testimony that illuminated the context of these gendered police interactions, which appear to be sistemic from the experiences of the women and men interviewed and the DOJ’s own conclusions. Marc sat down with someone who has seen in her daily work just how commonplace and systemic these kinds of interactions and abuse can be, Jacqueline Robarge. Jacqui is founder and executive director of Power Inside, a human rights and harm reduction organization that serves women and girls who are survivors of gender-based violence and oppression.
Marc: So the Department of Justice came to Baltimore to do this investigation after Freddie Gray was killed. And to see issues around police brutality, and race and police. So with Power Inside and the women you work with from the street, what does that have to do with the DOJ and how does that fit into all this?
Jacqueline Robarge: The women we work with have a lot of encounters with the police. Some of them are difficult, some of them are violent, some of them are unjust. And like any survivor of violence they have right to a remedy or to report it. But because of the way the system is structured, they often haven’t reported it. So when the DOJ came into town, women started talking about what will change. So it was a natural next step for us to support women who wanted to do complaints. The DOJ did a lot of extensive outreach to the community. And so some folks had already heard that they were taking complaints. But because of the nature of the experiences that women have with the police, sometimes they need support, especially if they have literacy issues, or it was very very traumatizing. We’ve been trying to help survivors make these complaints to the Department of Justice.
Marc: So when you say the women need support, that they’re survivors, what are we saying that’s happening in the street? What are purporting is happening between some police and sex workers?
Jacqui: So our program works specifically with women. Some of the experiences the women have aren’t exclusive to women, but I focus mainly on people who survived violences, who are being neglected. So oftentimes that’s women who are sex workers, who are homeless, who have a mental illness, who are vulnerable in some way, who are visible to the police. For example, a woman of color who is homeless might be more likely targeted by the police for a stop, search, or questioning, if they are under the gaze of the police. Any police stop with a woman takes on a gendered tone because there is a particular culture within the Baltimore City police department that informs the interaction. Oftentimes it means that if that police officer is not professional, has untreated trauma of their own or is a violent person, they might act in a way that is gendered and also brutal. So what that looks like is sexual violence, slurs that are gendered, kicking pregnant women deliberately, disparaging women for being bad mothers or easy or promiscuous, just for being out at a bus stop.
Marc: Not necessarily a woman who is in the sex trade?
Jacqui: Not necessarily. So if you are a woman in an area where there is any kind of street economy, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, whatever, prostitution, it’s possible that a police officer could use the enforcement of prostitution for a proxy to engage a woman in a conversation, engage in a strip search, solicit sex.
Marc: Male police officers engage in a strip search?
Jacqui: We’ve had women strip searched on the street, in public. Women asked to lift their skirt up, undo their pants, I mean it’s really extremely violating number one the search itself. I’m not a lawyer, I can’t give legal advice, but the search itself seems quite dubious. And then the nature of the search. Having someone disrobe in public is quite common. And then when you add to that gendered slurs it’s a sexual assault. You can’t disparage someone for being a whore and using that language, asking them to strip in public and not have that be a trauma and that’s why I refer to women as survivors.
Marc: So this idea I think that most people haven’t thought about or heard, gendered police brutality, that you talk about. I don’t think people could even define what that is if they heard it.
Marc: You hear about police brutality, you hear about the verbal and physical abuse of citizens and the rest.
Jacqui: It’s very very common but not talked about. So if you look at UN peacekeepers globally and the sexual assaults that they’ve engaged in. If you look at what’s happened anywhere the United States has set up a military base and you have military personnel engaging in sexual violence. The amount of control that mostly male law enforcement, military personnel or security forces of whatever sort have in a community allows the intersection of power and control over women to kind of be magnified by police and military power. So whatever power an assailant might have is magnified if you’re a police officer.
Marc: Are we also talking about women who say they have been not just physically brutalized but sexually assaulted, brutalized, forced to have sex. What’s the extent of what we’re talking about here?
Jacqui: There are a range of behaviors that are slurs, threatening behavior while women are handcuffs, very invasive pat downs that clearly are crossing a line into an assault. Coerced sex meaning a police officer might come up and say “if you don’t have sex with me I’ll arrest you” to actually forced sex. We have to remember that police officers have weapons, they have a radio to call in for backup. Sometimes this happens with one police officer but sometimes there’s two police officers. So they have a look out for their violence. Talking to women it’s shocking to see the extent of the types of violence. So we had one woman tell us a story about being arrested in a house raid where she had expressed she was not involved. And she was not clothed. They handcuffed her and there were multiple police officers because it was a house raid and they were arresting everyone in the house. And there was a gauntlet of police officers that she had to walk through and they were jeering and making sexual comments and innuendos as she walked through a line of police officers. I mean it’s very insidious because she had so little power in that situation. Not only was it humiliating but she actually didn’t know what was going to happen after she was in the car because what we’re also hearing is that when they’re in the patrol car, if they stop at the station, or if they go to a regular place where the police officers know where to go, the sexual assault can be happening outside of any sense of safety, outside of the person’s neighborhood, in a very secluded place or inside of a police station.
Marc: You talk about gauntlets, I mean, how pervasive is this? Are we talking about, from the experience of the women you’re working with. Are we talking about something that looks as if we have some really bad actors and rogue officers or are we talking about something much deeper?
Jacqui: Well, it’s clearly much deeper because it is a national problem. The Associated Press did a story I think last year about the number of police officers who lost their badges over sexual misconduct. So it’s a nationwide problem, it’s a global problem. But in Baltimore City, it’s in every police district. And Power Inside has been talking to hundreds of women per year for the past fifteen years. There has not been a month that has gone by that we have not heard a story from anywhere in Baltimore that this is happening. So it’s everywhere.
Marc: The question I think most people listening to this and hearing these stories is how can this go on. For some people it’s hard to fathom, even for me, that the police don’t condone this behavior on the part of their officers, that this is not being stopped or investigated.
Jacqui: I think it’s like violence against women. It’s minimized and we’re talking about victimizing the most stigmatized group of women that have really very little protections of any sort. So people truly believe that a woman involved in prostitution cannot be raped. And people believe that a drug addicted woman deserves what she gets. That if only she got drug free that somehow she wouldn’t be at risk. That a homeless woman is more a sympathetic character than she is a figure than a victim of crime. When you add that the police have the power to do what they do completely unchecked it doesn’t surprise me that it just happens. It’s a fringe benefit of policing. Sadly some officers come in and take what they want. And it isn’t just sex, it’s drugs or money or some other need that they’re getting met. Violence against women is part of our culture. So police have a particular culture that is unchecked that is violent why wouldn’t sexual violence be part of it. I’m not sure why it’s so shocking because it’s–
Marc: Because you’d think that people from the Commissioner’s office, from the MAyor’s office, the State’s Attorney’s office would be aware of this.
Jacqui: They’re well aware of it. We’ve had multiple conversations with them in our office, downtown. I think what happens is that we put the blame, or the burden of coming forward on the victim, knowing how difficult that is. So I think that it is by design that they default to saying that no one comes forward. But how could they come forward when you’ve made it clear that they will not be believed. The few times that we’ve had complaints actually go through, they’ve moved a sexual predator from one district to the other. That is their remedy. And in every district, that person is going to have access to other women. I don’t know why that would be an appropriate response to a police officer engaging in sexual misconduct on the job.
Marc: So are these part of the interviews that were given to DOJ?
Jacqui: These are the stories that the women wanted to tell in service to helping the city change. They took a lot of emotional risk bringing up really painful stories to tell the Department of Justice what had happened at very difficult times in their lives or sometimes not so difficult times in their lives. And they’re telling the Department of Justice in hope that it stops. And feeling like this is their last chance. They have never been afforded the opportunity to give anonymous complaints and they fear for their safety. And so the Department of Justice investigation is the first chance they’ve had to tell their story without having to fear for their safety.
Marc: When people looked nationally at the case of Officer Holtzclaw in Oklahoma, who was convicted of multiple counts of rape and sexual battery against women, sodomy and other sorts of things that he was convicted of. This was seen by America as an aberration, as a bad cop who got his due.
But you’re alleging and saying in terms of what’s really happening with this city and maybe most cities in America is that it’s not an aberration. It may not be every officer on the force but it’s more pervasive than we realize.
Marc: And it must be something also deeply systemic that we don’t want to address it.
Jacqui: As we’ve move forward to really understand the extent of police brutality in Baltimore we are just now learning about how deep the physical brutality is. We already know how difficult it is to report sexual violence for anyone. So I think that we are only scratching the surface by telling some of the stories that we’ve had. I think there’s many many more. Potentially thousands.
Stefanie: Last hour, we heard from Kiara, who talked about how she was coerced into having sex with police officers in exchange for money or immunity from being arrested; how police were physically and verbally abusive to her and her friends who were also involved in the sex trade; and how police refused to take reports of sexual assault seriously. It’s not just Kiara who has experienced this kind of “gendered” police abuse in Baltimore. And it’s not just one or even a handful of officers. It’s a deeper structural issue and a deeper cultural one within the police department.
Gail, whose testimony also contributed to the DOJ report, is a black working mom who spent the past few years overcoming the barriers to finding employment with a criminal record, pursuing housing, and facing discrimination on many levels. Yet, she continues to overcome and works as an advocate for women who are homeless, facing homelessness, dealing with drug addiction, and involved in the sex trade. This is the audio from Gail’s DOJ complaint:
Gail: He said, “Do you know I’m a police?” He showed me his badge and “You know I’m a police,” and “Here’s a favor for a favor. You do me and you get out right here. You don’t, you going to jail.” So for not going to jail I’ma do him … but to turn around to still get locked up for prostitution. Like, say you get in a car and it’s always your word against mine. It ain’t right cause they can touch you, they can fondle you. I can’t just touch your breast, touch in your vagina, touch your vagina, strip you outside … If you think that I have drugs on me, take me into an alley, pull my pants down, spread my buttcheeks open and do that to me. All because you wanna get a free feel. And that’s called being “debriefed,” you know. Being publicly humiliated outside.
And it ain’t female cops doing it. It was males. And males was not supposed to touch females. They had to call a woman officer to do it. They going down your shirt and feeling you up or putting stuff on you and say that you had it and it’s still happening to today. You know? Thank God that I don’t have to live like that no more. But I still see the harassment. You see it all over the TV. You see the corruption. But I’m still the scum, the bitch, the trick, the crackhead. But you still wanna see me. You still wanna feel me up. You still wanna harass me.
I had a lot of interactions with the police. I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 18 so I done seen a lot. I done experienced a lot being in the lifestyle as far as from selling drugs to prostituting. You know? I would get asked … The days I was prostituting I would get into the police car that’s supposed to be undercover … Vice. They would say, “Do a favor for a favor. You give me fellatio, you don’t go to jail.” Then they would come back. You give them the fellatio. They come back, spin the corner and still lock you up for prostitution. Or I could be sitting down being harassed for nothing. Because they know me. Like, “You junkie bitch!” You know, “You ain’t never gonna be shit but a junkie. You crackhead!” You know? “You prostitute! Get the fuck up out my neighborhood. Get the fuck away from me!” You know? Shit like that, you know. Spitting all in your face and just real nasty.
It was a time where I would just get locked up because not for no apparent charges just because they never could catch me in the act and once they finally caught me they was so happy. They was so happy that they just locked me up for just walking down the street. You know what I mean? So I got a lot of disorderly conduct because you’re not supposed to just grab me for no apparent reason and call me all out my name and things of that nature.
Stefanie: Nia is another woman whose complaint informed the DOJ’s report. She is also a black mom who commits her time and energy to advocacy work, especially to get young women off the street. Nia has testified in Annapolis on behalf of people trying to return to the workforce with criminal records and she is in recovery. This audio is from Nia’s DOJ complaint:
Nia: It was a time when I was arrested falsely. And there were some little drug dealers, little friends that I knew because I lived in the neighborhood and I prostituted in that neighborhood. That’s where I bought my drugs. At this particular time I was not buying any drugs. Police came through, harassed the young man, harassed me, and locked both of us up. I hadn’t done anything. They actually looked on the ground and found the empty plastic bag that crack cocaine be in and tried to charge me with it. So they took me down in the police car to Rite Aid’s parking lot where the police officer, he deliberately kicked me out of the truck that they carried us in and get into another paddy wagon. He actually kicked me out. Physically kicked me out. And my knees were scarred up and everything. So when they transported us, I was complaining that my knees were hurting and wanted to tell them what happened. So, to cover up the whole thing, they decided that they would give me another chance and let me go home. But I did report it to the Sergeant. Next thing I know, he went and told them to release me.
Another incident that I had, there was an officer. He had a whole lot of people who were complaining about him. He would harass us. He would come through. If I didn’t have my ID, he would lock me up every time for not having my ID. Then, he would try to say that I was lying. He just harassed me. Matter of fact, it was in the spring because I had on a little sweater. He had me sitting on the ground. And I had on a skirt. He was, “Do you have your ID?” I said, “No, you know I don’t have my ID. I told you I’m getting assistance to get my ID.”
“Now, I told you next time I saw you you better have your ID,” he said. “What’s your name again?” I told him my name. He typed it up and said, “When I type it up, your picture better come up with it or you’re going down, we’re taking you down to CBIF.”
Well I said, “My picture should come because I’m giving you my right name.” I gave him my legal name and all my aliases and he still swore that my picture didn’t come up and he arrested me. Two days later, he did the same thing but he had a partner with him. His partner had one of those little hand held things where they look up people. He said, “Before you take her to jail, let me see if I can look her up.” And he did and my picture came up. And do you know this officer actually fussed with his co-worker and said, “Don’t interfere with my interviews.”
I’m not actively in the streets now but I was randomly stopped in the area where I live at now because the area I was in, and it was kind of getting dark. I guess they figured that they wanted to harass me, and stop me, ask me for my ID. I presented my ID to them then they asked me the whole questions knowing that they see my whole record there. “Have you ever been arrested before?” I said, “Yes.” “For what?” And I told them, “For prostitution and for personal possession of drugs.” All of a sudden he said take my coat off. It was the wintertime and he was searching my coat. And then he said, “We’re going to have a female officer come” and search me. And around that time … remember when it was raining last week? I had to sit on the ground. Yes. And I had just come from my chemotherapy, yes. And waiting for the police lady to come. And when the police lady came, she actually took me, opened the trunk of the car, and actually physically searched me. She physically made me squat and cough and she went all underneath my breasts and all in my underwear and stuff.
Interviewer: Did you consent to a search?
Gail: No. He told me that’s what he was going to do, that’s what he was going to have done. He said, “Why you gotta walk down this street? Where you live at?” I said, “So what have I done?” I said, “I didn’t do anything. I was coming from visiting a friend of mine.”
He said, “Well don’t put your hands in your pockets, you know, put your hands up.” I was like, “What’d I do?” He said, “Just let me search you because there’s something tells me that you’re just coming from buying some drugs. You look like you’re nervous.” I was walking down a known street for drugs. Every street that I live around is known for drugs. I said, “I might be nervous because I had been arrested before” and I said, “I know how crooked ya’ll can be.” I said, “I’ve done everything I can to stay out of trouble.” I said, “I just don’t like the idea of being stopped.” I said, “I’m just nervous because I don’t know what’s going to come of this because I’ve been treated unfair before so of course I was nervous.”
Only thing I had was my money and my door key in my pocket and my ID. And he had laid that up on the hood of the car. And she opened up her trunk and took me back there, and that’s when she went underneath my bra, and start searching my bra. And then she’s like, “Can you undo your pants and pull them down to your knees? Can you squat and cough?” She lifted up her hood, I guess you can call it trying to get someone some privacy. That’s a four way street. What kind of cover you giving me? It goes on, it’s terrible. And that happens all the time. Not just to me. But especially when they run your name and find out that you have had some kind of law, you know, breaking the law thing in terms of being a prostitute or a solicitant. Oh, Lord knows.
I only got maybe violated twice where I had a male officer that reached down in there, to see my breasts. And I know he wasn’t supposed to. He said, “Be quiet.” He said, “You want me to do this or you rather,” for … you know… and I said, “Look, just go ahead.” I said, “You probably just getting your thrills anyway.” He said, “How would you know?” That happened so much it’s just…
I’ve been asked questions like this, like “How much do you charge for head? I’m curious, how much do you charge for sex?” I was a witness to a murder and they was transporting us … Matter of fact, me and my husband was in the car, my husband was in the car too with me. We was in one of them cars. They were providing transportation because we were witnesses. We weren’t under arrest or anything. We were witnesses. He said, “I want to ask you something.” I was like “Yes?” He said, “You been locked up for prostitution before?” I said, “Yes.” I said, “Why?”
“Because I’ve always been curious, how much do you charge for head?” And I’m thinking “Excuse me?” Then he asked my husband, “Man, what you was getting a cut of it?” They thought it was funny. “Say ’cause I’ve been wondering,” you know, he said, “Shoot, my wife, I pay a fortune. I might be better coming out there where ya’ll are.” My husband looked at me and I was hurt and embarrassed, I was. And I caught myself at that time, doing something good to help? Mmm-mmm.
But what I think is so unfair, when somebody helps law enforcement to correct a wrong, to get the bad guys, you say. And give you help while you’re doing it but afterward they just cut you loose. They don’t care, they don’t care what happens to you afterwards. It’s just like “thank you. Bye.” They put you out of protection. They don’t care if you have nowhere to go or not. If you’re from the streets you’re going to go back to the same place where you were or in that area and then your life is threatened all because you tried to do the right thing. That will make you not even want to do the right thing. That’s why now people don’t want to get involved. And I know I wouldn’t do it again if somebody paid me because my life means more to me because they just throw you away. You know, they use you to get what they want, and once they get what they wanted, to hell with me.
I’ve been approached by officers, have taken pictures of my legs and stuff. Because they knew that at that time I was using drugs. And we as ladies of the night, we try to get as much money as we can to support our habits. Plus that’s the police. If you don’t do what they say, your butt going to jail. And you’ll be treated badly, they’re gonna make you sit on the cold cement, and they gonna take their time transporting you. And they’re not gonna let you go to the bathroom. If you say you have to use the bathroom real bad they be like “well, you’re gonna have to hold it till you get to Central Booking.” And then it take them to hours to get to Central Booking.
They treat us differently, they call us bitches, whores, prostitutes, tricks. You know, I’m sure when they lock us up, I’m sure they don’t offer men sex favors for release. I’ve been offered to give head, fellatio, I’ve been offered to have sex for information or they’re gonna lock us up, or just for a favor. I was being transported for loitering. And the transporting officer, he said, “You know I’ve helped a lot of ladies out with little charges like this.” He said, “Because I’ve got a little spot back there where nobody will see us. This ticket right here, if I don’t produce this ticket, then what happened never happened.” I went and did what I had to do, I didn’t want to go to jail. I gave him some head, he told me just make sure I didn’t get it on his uniform. And so he left me right there, pulled off in his paddy wagon and went about his business.
Stefanie: In her DOJ complaint, Nia talks about one officer who was physically violent with women involved in the sex trade and had a woman who was struggling with drug addiction dance on top of a police car for entertainment. This is from her complaint.
Nia: They used to have her on top of the car stripping and dance on top of the hood of the car naked, stripping and stuff for him and his buddies because you know she be out of her mind on the drugs and they be laughing at stuff out there in public. He would spit on you. He would slap you in the back of your head. Now, here’s the story. I was in a car accident with a client, but he ain’t know that and he came to the accident. I wanted a police report number so I can go to the hospital and insurance like everyone else, but just because I was tricking, but he didn’t know that was a trick, he told me “I’m not giving you no number, because I know that’s a trick.” I said, “No it’s not.”
He said, “You’re gonna deny, you’re gonna stand here and argue with a police officer.” “Honestly,” I said, “he’s not a trick.” He said, “Look, either I’m gonna lock your ass up or you’re gonna go on about your business, because you know you’re lying.” And you know what I did? I went on about my business because he’s always threatening to lock you up for something. He is horrible. He should not even have a job. He’s terrible. He will pay you $40 for some head and he’ll take you to abandoned houses in certain parts. All this is done in the night time. They don’t be doing the sex thing in the daytime, at least not for me. I don’t know about the day time girls because I was more of a night time girl.
I’ve gotten paid by him. I seen him. He pulled me over because he’s always pulled me over for like chit-chat or whatever and he was like, “Meet me on the garage right there.” And they park in the alley, back there. They pull back there in the alley. After he got his car back there, I went over and made sure nobody was looking and went on back there. And he was like, “You know I always loved them legs of yours don’t you?” He said, “What you getting ready to do? What you trying to do?” I said, “What you trying to do?” He said, “You look like you don’t feel good.” I said “I’m coming down. What you want? Because time is money and money is time.” That used to be my favorite thing to say.
He was like, “Come here. Give me your hand.” And I gave him my hand and he put it down on his clothes where his private part, where his penis was. He had my hand rubbing up and down on it, and then he unzipped his zipper and he said, “Come on, I’ve been wanting to do this with you for a long time and you know we can keep this between us.” So I got on the passenger side and got in the front and I went on and gave him some head and he was another one like, “Just don’t get it on the uniform.” And after we finished, I got out and he gave me $40 and I said, “Thank you.” Then I hauled ass to go get me some drugs.
I got stabbed in the alley. I got stabbed by somebody I had told no to. I didn’t want to trick for them and I got snatched and stabbed in the alley up in my back and my neck. That’s what’s wrong with my finger right there. But anyway, when I got to the hospital, the officers that were at the scene came to the hospital and they wanted to know what happened and they said, “We have a report that you didn’t have on no underwear.” I don’t know how they found out I didn’t have on no underwear on. He said, “And we can’t make a complaint for you because you were in the process of prostitution.” I said that I want to press charges. I can describe the person. He said, “Well why did we hear you didn’t have no underwear on and we really can’t make no complaint for you because you was in the act of prostitution.” And I told him while I’m sitting up here laying in a hospital bed, stitches on my hand, my neck, my back and everything and I’m like, “Eh, no I wasn’t.” He told his partner, “Yeah, let’s go to the next one,” and just ignored what I said and kept right on going.
Interviewer: Did they make a police report?
Nia: You know what, I don’t know because no one ever followed up on it. But nobody never came and they could find me, they knew where I was and knew who I was. Because they knew exactly what abandoned house I was in because they know everybody. They know where everybody at. You can report a sexaul assault to a police officer and I’m gonna tell you what they say: “You have no damn business out here tricking.” They don’t report none of it. Unless for some reason or another you done got assaulted so bad that the ambulance and everything had to come, but it has been told to me, personally, because I’ve been raped numerous times by clients. I’ve known the clients! And could tell them who it was and they was like, “You ain’t had no business out here tricking.” They don’t report shit. Excuse my French. You know you flag them down and, you know, say “I just got raped.” And he’s walking down the street, he right there in the blue car. And they say, “You ain’t got no business tricking,” and they pull off. They have no consideration. They don’t do they job it’s like we just trash, like something to be thrown away. Whatever happened to us, happened to us and they join in with the noise and that’s how you’re made to feel. You’re made to feel like the only way you’re gonna survive out there in the streets with the police is that you just got to do what they want you to do or take the abuse and the neglect that they give you to keep them from locking you up because you don’t want to get locked up and be in there sick and ill off of drugs, that they know you’re on drugs because they know that’s where they got the upperhand at.
I’m gonna tell you about the last one that had happened to me. I went with a trick. I went down there next thing I know, it’s quick and fast. It’s easy to explain. Next thing I know, I was waking up. We had went down the steps of this house, you know, for cover and next thing I know, I was waking up and I had seen him just running down the alley. He had choked me out and I guess he thought I was dead and thank you Lord… When I got myself together, it came to my mind, “Oh my God. This man just choked me out … This boy rather.” And he was and I seen him running down the alley because I guess he thought I was dead and I knew he had raped me because my pants was down. I was out just long enough for him to … maybe not had raped me but he got scared. I could tell the way he was running and I let him run. I didn’t try to get him. I stayed still and I let him go, let him run. When he got out of sight, I came out the alley and I was staggering because I guess my oxygen had been cut off and everything, and I seen the police officer and I stopped him and I told him what happened.
And you know what he told me? He did say this: “You better be glad you’re not dead, but there’s nothing I can do. What do you expect for us to do? Run after every one of y’all tricks because y’all put yourself in that predicament? You need to stop tricking” and pulled off.
I refuse to die on the street and have nobody care about me. Even if I died in the street they’d probably just write it up in the street like, “Another prostitute dead from tricking” and that’s it because that’s all you hear. That’s all you see on the paper, that’s all you hear on the news. You don’t hear no “further investigation.” Nothing like that. They just say another one known for prostitution in that area. You feel like there’s no use in reporting it because the police don’t do nothing about it. They tell you you shouldn’t be doing it so why do we go to the police? And then he might ask you to give, do the same thing to him because you reported it to him. So have sex with him. You could try to report somebody for abusing you sexually and they might ask you for some head or for some sex. If you say, “Can I speak to your Sergeant?” Look, they ignore you. You can’t report it to nobody because they ignore you. You can’t even get it to nobody because they’ll ignore you cause you are tricking. You are a prostitute so it’s like you have no rights, so as soon as they find out you’re a prostitute that’s it! Report in the trash. They are so rotten it is sad.
Stefanie: From the testimony we’ve heard so far, it’s clear that there is another element to police interactions with women who are addicted to drugs or involved in the sex trade or both. But sexuality is another factor that compounds race and gender in police interactions. One of the DOJ complaints was from Shawn, who is young, male, black, and gay. He’s a survivor of same-sex domestic violence, an issue that is hardly acknowledged in the LGBT community often leaving victims with very little support. He’s a student who works to help Baltimore youth. This is from Shawn’s DOJ testimony.
Shawn: When I first met a cop and I was telling him the story about what happened to me, he was just being playful. He wasn’t taking me serious. I felt it was very inappropriate when he was … Oh my God … it’s so hard to talk about. He asked, “So you really put it on him?” Like, sexually. I was in his car, the cop’s car. I was just sort of quiet. Still like shaken up. That’s when he asked me, he was kind of joking, like “You must have really put it on him.” I thought that was really inappropriate.
At first I thought maybe he was doing his job when he said, “Maybe you two were fighting” or anything like that. And I was just like, “No.” I was still shaken up or whatever. But then when he was insinuating that I was sort of sexually so good that it drove the other guy crazy … and that was just really uncomfortable for me. I just kind of laughed deliriously and sort of brushed it off.
I was reporting how he hit me and how long he was forcing me to stay inside the room and inside the house and how he wasn’t letting me leave and stuff like that. He was harassing me by phone and looking for me at my place of work and kind of wandering around my neighborhood and stuff. And I was asked a number of times — not by this cop — I was asked by this cop, but I was asked by other cops, “Were we sexually involved?” And maybe they were doing their job. But the one instance where he was saying I was so good, I felt that was really inappropriate. I feel like he wasn’t really receptive. He wasn’t really taking notes or anything like that.
Stefanie: In his complaint, Shawn says that when he went to court for the domestic violence incident, the officer who was involved in the case never showed up.
Shawn: Also, it was really just stressful to just be there and be in the same room with that person. For them to not hear my case because the officer who originally filed wasn’t present at the court hearing. That’s what the judge said. We can’t proceed with it or something like that because the original officer wasn’t there. Of course the abuser wasn’t really being truthful about what he did and that was emotional in itself, but for the officer to not show up? That was a strain on me.
I really feel like maybe they thought that we were fighting each other and it wasn’t really a domestic violence situation. I don’t think they really understood what was happening, and I think they didn’t believe me that I wasn’t fighting back. They were really just discrediting it a lot and just trying to blow it off, especially the male officers that I would speak to. I’m definitely a little standoffish to male officers just because I don’t really know how they’ll deal with a queer person or someone who is dealing with a crime that is maybe a hate crime or something like this which is intimate partner violence between two males.
Stefanie: Jada, a young black woman who recently and unexpectedly passed away, echoed the kind of gendered treatment she received as an out and proud lesbian woman. Jada was incarcerated at a very young age but turned her life around. Despite the challenges she faced in getting work with a criminal record, she worked hard to get work where she could, even if it required long public transit commutes. She defied all stereotypes of what was possible for a woman with a felony record, and she committed herself to rescuing animals and bringing women together to reduce violence inside of women’s prisons. Here’s Jada in her DOJ testimony:
Jada: I was gone for the holidays. In my area where I live at it’s been like a lot of break-ins and robbery. And because someone was of my height and weight and I wear boy clothes, they assumed it was me. So I just so happened to be coming back from out of town and I’m talking to one of the neighbors. Police come up to me and ultimately just ask me for my ID so I’m trying to figure out well, what he need my ID for. He said he had a report that I had broke into the store or something. I don’t even know what he talking about. So I asked him, “Well can I see the video tape or is there a video tape or something to prove this because I was out of town. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He wouldn’t give me any information.
He assumed I was a guy at first and I kept telling him I’m female. He wanted to search me and all that and I’m like “Nah. You’re not gonna search me because you don’t have probable cause,” but he was trying to. I guess he was trying to say that because I wasn’t going to show him my ID he had every right to frisk me to see if I had any weapons on me or anything like that. I wasn’t doing nothing but standing there talking to my neighbor. I’m not loitering or nothing. We all standing outside just talking and enjoying ourselves and they just came outta nowhere and basically was harassing me for real.
I guess once he really realized I was a female, it still took him 10–15 minutes before he called the female officer. Then when she came, I explained the whole situation to her. I don’t know what they discussed on the sideline. All I know is when she came back to me she was like everything’s okay. We’ll, you know, look more into it and after they look more into it I asked her could I get a report of it because that was like harassment to me because you like harassed me.
I don’t know if he was just being arrogant because I’m a dominant female, and that’s most male officers anyway. If you’re a dominant female, cause I dress like a guy and I could be talking to a female, like most male officers, you could be talking to a female and they feel some type of way about it. Like, we trying to take over the world or something like that. If she like females, she like females. That has nothing to do with you anyway. If we having our regular conversation that’s no reason for you to come over and just try to make a scene and then try to … I guess like agitate with them when I do really say something. You not really locking me up for anything serious but you’ll lock me up for disorderly conduct. Or try to say I was loitering when the whole time I’m not even loitering. We could be walking and talking and we just stopped for a minute. Or, “You been standing here for too long, let me talk to you for a minute,” and stuff like that.
They have an ego problem. And it intimidates, I guess, dominant females intimidates the male character, cause if it was the regular female, she had on her girl clothes and she walking, a male officer would treat her differently and be nice to her. Might even try to holler at her and do all that. I done even had them holler at me and do all that like Sir just do whatever you gonna do and let me keep on walking. I’m not bothering you, don’t bother me. I’m tryna get where I’m getting at and you holding me up.
I done missed busses and all that just cause officers just wanna be petty for no reason. And then just write you a simple ticket like … what is this ticket for? For nothing. “You been sitting on the bus stop too long.” I gotta wait for the bus! How am I gonna get home? I got a bus pass. I even had it happen to me when I was getting off of work one day. It was some stuff going on Downtown. I ain’t had nothing to do with that. I’m standing there just getting off of work. If I wouldn’t have had my uniform on, they was gonna lock me up. I ain’t had nothing to do with nothing that was going on. I’m just waiting for the bus to get home. I still had my uniform on. That’s the only thing. Like, “Look Sir, I just got off of work. I don’t even know what you talking about. I ain’t got nothing to do with what just happened. I just got right here from another bus waiting for the next bus to go home. That’s it.” They ain’t care. They called the patty wagon and everything. They really was trying to take me down. If I didn’t have my uniform on they probably would have locked me up for real.
I done had some of them just say little … like cussing me out or trying to, you know, come at me like asking me something like, “You wanna be a man, I can treat you like a man. But you a woman the whole time. I can show you how to be a woman.” Stupid stuff like that.
Stefanie: In her complaint, Jada describes a time when she was at a bar with a female friend and got hassled by the police while smoking a cigarette outside.
Jada: Now, if I’m with my female friend, they get to stay inside the bar. I go outside and smoke a cigarette and next thing you know I can’t even go back in the bar. “You gotta move. No, you not going in there.” I try to explain to them I’m old enough. I can have a little drink and enjoy myself and chill. I ain’t bothering nobody. I ain’t doing nothing. “No, you have to get off the premises.”
Stefanie: Jada also describes an encounter with police at her home during a New Years Eve party.
Jada: Everybody was in the house. We was in the house and in the backyard. And I guess the neighbor or somebody called and said it was too much commotion going on or something … I don’t even know what the story was but once the officers came in, the more focus was on me than anything because I’m trying to figure out well like what’s going on? This is my house, Sir. Ain’t nobody really bothering nobody. When just out the blue most of the attention was basically on me. “Well you need to clear the house and do this and do that,” and I’m like, “Well, Sir, it’s New Years. Everybody is having a good time. Most people out here is partying too. Their music is more louder than my music. So what do you mean?” Just because it’s me, me dressing, and then it was a house full of females and then I had my little gay homeboys and they had their boyfriends in there and I had some of the neighbors in there too, like everybody was just mingling, but it was more focus on me than anything. And my homeboys and them being gay they was looking around like, you know, given certain looks towards them, like Are y’all done? Y’all can just go ahead on y’all own business. Y’all done. Ain’t nobody doing nothing here. It’s nothing going on. And they just told them turn the music down and at a certain time go ahead and clear the house out. And if they had to come back, I’d be the one getting locked up. Like, I ain’t really like argue-argue back with them. I just let my homegirl, my little friend, I let them take over. You go head on and talk to them.
So they started talking to the officer and he was all smiles and skinnin’ and grinnin’. Talking to them and everything. But you was just sitting up in here with a big problem with me but then you smiling in their face because they was dressed more feminine. Like it’s a problem just dressing in a dom way or just dressing in male clothes and stuff like that. Now if I had on girl clothes they probably would just be hitting on me and then letting me go. It’s wrong. How are you going to treat me like that but you don’t treat the average person like that. And there ain’t too much you can do about because they’re the police and once they lock you up you have to go through the whole process of sitting there, getting booked, then get finger printed and all that just for you to get around to the place and they say “we’re going to let you out on your own recon.” The more you sit there and try, “oh what was the officer’s name? Oh we can’t find the report.”
One time when I had got locked up, a guy had robbed a bar and me and my friends were walking, I think we were going to my homegirl’s house and we were walking. We were walking and talking, I’m talking to my little friend, we steady walking. And just out the blue, this officer hopped out the car. “Put your hands up?” “What am I putting my hands up for?” Still telling them the whole time I’m female. “We got a report that there was a robbery around here.” And the guy said he saw me running out the bar. How you see me running out the bar when I just walked out the house and we’re all walking together, walking up the street. So i’m trying to explain to him and he still doesn’t believe me. So he called the female officer, and the female officer grabbed my ID, took all of that. Locked me up. Did all that. Took my ID. When they released me they never gave me my IDs back, none of that. And then they just let me out the next morning a couple hours later. They just let me out“Oh you can get released.” “Well where’s my stuff at? “We don’t have no reports that he took anything.” “Well how do you know my name for writing me up for any of that?” because I didn’t give them anything. It wasn’t me, I didn’t rob the store, I don’t even know what you’re talking about, I just walked out the house. So I had to go through the process of getting my IDs and all that back again.
When they locked me up that day, they slammed me straight down on the ground, and it was the guy officer. When they took my ID they just straight slammed me on the ground. And the whole time I’m telling them I’m female, you don’t have to use such force, none of that, you just tell the female to do whatever. They slammed me all around. I didn’t know what was going on. As you can see I’m a whole female. I don’t even have on the exact clothes that you’re talking about. So where you getting it from? Then I’m walking with a whole bunch of people. So you’re telling me I done went and robbed the whole store, made it all the way around here in no time, and changed clothes that quick and just started walking with somebody.
You can tell them all day long you’re a female. If a female cop don’t get there in time enough or a female cop ain’t on duty automatically they just get away with it. Because it’s your word against theirs so what can you possible say. Then the first thing is, well “they being disorderly, they intoxicated. A whole bunch of nonsense over nothing.”
I don’t think nothing’s really gonna help because they don’t care. They don’t really understand. They don’t care about people being lesbians, gay, any of that. They feel how they feel. It’s more crazy if it was a feminine female and another feminine female, they ok with it. But if it’s a dominant female and a feminine female, they don’t like it. If it’s man and woman, they don’t like it. And regular females, feminine females, they deal with it too. Officers saying why you got to deal with a dom, you need a man in your life, why don’t you come holler at me, and stuff like that.
Stefanie: Despite these experiences, not everyone thinks the police are all bad. Here’s Gail again from her DOJ complaint.
Gail: All police not bad. Because I done met some police that truly could have locked me up. You understand? But, they turned the other cheek. You know, you respect me, I respect you.
Stefanie: The Department of Justice found that the majority of white residents they interviewed found the Baltimore Police to be respectful and responsive. The majority of black residents said that officers were regularly disrespectful. In her DOJ complaint, when asked whether she trusts the police, Jada responded:
Jada: Most situations I’d rather take care of it myself. Unless it’s like, you know, something that’s dead serious and they arrive on time and then it could be something serious. But for the most part, no.
Stefanie: Despite what they’ve experienced, women like Kiara and Nia have ideas for what needs to change for the police to really be held accountable. In her DOJ complaint, Nia stressed the need for jobs in the community and a clear policy around body cameras and their use by the police.
Nia: It’s happening because they have nobody where it can be recorded. Like if I stopped a police officer and he got that body cam, if they’re mandatory to turn them on at the beginning of their shift and mandatory to turn them off at the end of their shift it’ll work because if I stop you, a police officer, and I stop you for any reason and that body cam is on then you gonna do your job because you can’t turn it off on my interview, me telling you something is wrong. You gonna have to, because it’s like forcing them. I think they getting … as long as they can’t turn it off while they’re on duty and that’s the only way it’s gonna work.
I want jobs. Speak up regardless. And places like Power Inside and other places like that, go there and report it to them. They can help you. Y’all can help. Y’all can help the people, help us get the things that we need because they’ll listen to y’all because y’all are not prostituting. Y’all can like be our representatives and help us get through to these people and let them know that we people too. And everybody deserves a second chance. Everybody deserve for their rights to not be taken from them.
Stefanie: Kiara, in her DOJ complaint, made a case for legalizing sex work.
Kiara: They should legalize it so they stop saying it’s prostitution. Then there’d be a lot of people with a job. (laughing) It was a lot of stuff going on out there. I know it’s still going on out there. All I know is when I do be down this way, I see certain officers that still are out here so I know they doing the same thing. If you ain’t get caught, you ain’t gon’ change. You’ll do the same thing.
The reason I’m doing something different is because I ain’t trying to get caught. (laughing) So you gon’ get caught eventually when you doing bad stuff because what in the dark come to the light. You gon’ get caught. It shows. You think you’re getting away with it. You ain’t getting away with nothing.
Stefanie: We’ve heard testimony from 5 people: 4 women and one man. There might be a tendency to shrug off these complaints as being from only a few people. But one thing the DOJ report found — after months and months of interviews and thorough research — was that in Baltimore, there is a general lack of respect for the communities police officers police, especially if those communities are predominately black. The DOJ found regular unprofessionalism and bias in the way Baltimore police officers police the streets of Baltimore. It’s not a leap to understand how a general attitude of disrespect, disregard, and unprofessionalism in how you police would also manifest itself when not only race, but also gender and sexuality enter into the equation. For many in Baltimore, especially when you’re black and living in a predominately black neighborhood, these kinds of interactions with the police are a part of daily life. These interactions come when you’re on your way to work, waiting for the bus, or walking around with friends.
But if you’re still having trouble seeing this problem as a systemic one, there’s more evidence in the fact that this kind of gender-bias in policing has become a national phenomenon. In December of last year, former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted on multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse and sentenced to 263 years in prison. His victims were all Black women, the majority of whom had records from drug arrests and being involved in the sex trade. Women in Baltimore talked about how police would make assumptions based off of their criminal backgrounds, which could then be leveraged for sex in some instances. That was one of Officer Holtzclaw’s tactics as well.
“They treat us differently. They call us bitches, whores, prostitutes, tricks. You know, I’m sure when they lock us up — I’m sure they don’t offer men sex favors for release.”
Then, in the process of making this report, the Oakland story broke. It was found that over the past 20 years, a group of police officers from Oakland and other agencies in the Bay Area were soliciting sex workers, engaging in unofficial informant relationships, sexually harassing victims of crime, and coercing sex, sometimes with underage girls. It resulted in the resignation of the Oakland police chief, the investigation into officers in other area police departments who were implicated in the Oakland probe, the resignation of implicated officers, and the investigations of officials across multiple law enforcement agencies.
Police have power and authority in our society, and they’re given that power with the goal that they will keep us safe. But it’s clear that that power and authority can also be used to target some of the most vulnerable members of our city, those that we might also be least likely to believe when they speak up because of their prior criminal records, because of the time they spent addicted to drugs, or because of the time they were involved in the sex trade.
With these testimonies and with the DOJ’s detailed report, the Baltimore Police and the City of Baltimore as a whole have a real opportunity to make radical reforms and changes. There are changes that must be made on the policy level concerning warrants, bail, and the citizen reporting process. There are deeply systemic issues that the Police Department must address from the race and gender biases in policing the DOJ highlighted in their investigation; and the transphobia, homophobia and misogyny that runs through the department and throughout much of our society. This is a classic example of what happens when the most vulnerable people in our society interact with those who have power and authority. There is no better example to really highlight the true definition of structural racism. It’s the intersection of racism, misogyny and power.
But this is also a light because there is a real opportunity here to explicitly look at police abuse through an intersectional lens, to wrestle with the lived experiences we heard today and what is written in the DOJ report. If done honestly, we can be on a path towards healing our city.