New York City Trans People of Color Fight Against Police Violence
Krish Bhatt sat, shaking with fear, surrounded by more than 30 New York police officers in front of the historic Stonewall Inn. It was June 25, 2017–48 years after the police raided the iconic gay bar and incited a riot that is considered the watershed moment in the queer liberation movement.
Bhatt, 21, formed a human blockade with 10 other No Justice No Pride protesters, effectively halting the NYC Pride March. Half of them clung to a banner that said “No Cops No Banks.”
“I was fully prepared emotionally for the fact that I might die that day,” said Bhatt, whose pronouns are they/them. “As a trans, gender-nonconforming, disabled brown person, I had to be.”
The No Justice No Pride protests, which have occurred in several other cities across the U.S., are just one example of trans people of color speaking out against police violence. According to a 2015 discrimination survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 58 percent of transgender people who have had interactions with law enforcement reported some form of mistreatment, whether that be misgendering or verbal, physical or sexual assault. The summary stated that trans people of color were more likely to experience mistreatment than their white counterparts.
“I’m tired of feeling scared that I’ll wake up and the next headline will be my friend’s name or my sister’s name,” Bhatt said.
The protestors faced a slew of negative comments from the parade onlookers. Booing could be heard as well as comments such as “Nobody wants this!” “You’re selfish as h-ll!” and “You f-cked up our parade.”
Bhatt said they responded to a queer man of color wearing a black “Resist” sticker who was shouting at the protestors for ruining the parade.
“I asked him why he was wearing the sticker if he didn’t support us. And he ripped it off his shirt and threw it on the ground,” Bhatt said. “It reminded me of something I heard Alicia Garza say…‘Sometimes we fight for people who don’t fight for us.’ But I guess that’s the whole point. We have to fight no matter who has our back because that’s how we all get free.”
Despite the fear of police violence and the words from onlookers, Bhatt said they no longer wanted to suffer in silence.
“The point of our protest was to make it clear that cops should not be part of the parade,” said Bhatt, “to remind people who have historical amnesia that Stonewall was a riot against police brutality and the police commit violence against our communities, especially trans women of color, every single day.”
An unfortunate reminder of this reality came just a few weeks after the protest. The alleged assault committed against Eyricka Thompson King by law enforcement at Franklin Correctional Facility in Malone, New York was the latest violent act that had the trans community and its allies in an uproar.
King is a trans woman, but was placed in a men’s facility in November 2016, after being sentenced for grand larceny. In a letter addressed to F2L (We Fight to Live), an activist group that supports incarcerated queer and trans people of color in the New York State prison system, King wrote that on June 30 she was threatened by other inmates and told not to enter the housing she was assigned. She then called a sergeant seeking help.
The letter said the sergeant along with two others beat her, allegedly threw her against a brick wall, rupturing her breast implant, and punched her in the face while yelling transphobic slurs.
The DOCCS Office of Special Investigations in Albany said they launched an immediate investigation following the report by King. The Department cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but said, “Ensuring the safety of individuals at our facilities is our highest priority.”
Kelly Harrison, 39, started the social media campaign #JusticeforEyricka to raise awareness about King. The two met seven years ago in the ballroom community, an underground LGBTQ subculture. In this community, groups called “Houses” are formed and are considered families. Thompson and Harrison are part of the House of Mizrahi, the latter being the mother of the house.
Harrison, who is herself a transgender woman, was lying in her bed after work when someone tagged her in the F2L post with the letter’s transcript. She said she broke down and cried.
“I had to pull myself together and make sure that [King’s story] was out there for the community to know exactly what was going on,” Harrison said. “Even though I’m not Eyricka’s biological mother, I still feel that I have a connection to her and I feel that she is my child like I did carry her and everything. So it really deeply hurt me to my core that it happened to her.”
According to Harrison, King only just received medical attention on July 13, an entire two weeks after the assault occurred.
Harrison was incarcerated at Franklin Correctional Facility last year, and says: “[At Franklin], the officers are against you, the inmates are against you and the medical staff works right along with them.”
Brian Downey, President of the Gay Officers Action League of New York (GOAL), has a differing view of LGBTQ relations with police. He was leading the NYPD contingent of the Pride March when the blockade happened.
“Yes, the Stonewall rebellion was brought about by police misconduct, but now we have gay cops,” Downey said. “I think it’s positive for the community to have LGBTQ cops.”
Downey said that, among many of its activities, GOAL does educational work to open the minds of the NYPD officers to LGBTQ issues.
“I understand that there’s a divide that needs to be healed. I’m interested in bridging the gap,” Downey said, sharing his thoughts on the protesters. “I bring the struggle of a gay man into the agency and we can affect change from within.”
Downey said he believes that the attitudes of officers have improved over the past few years.
However, according to the NCTS discrimination survey, in 2015, 57 percent of respondents felt they were never or only sometimes treated with respect when officers knew or thought they were transgender.
Krish Bhatt spoke of mistreatment by law enforcement when being arrested for their Pride March protest actions.
Furthermore, several of the protestors were charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration. Maura McCreight, one of the arrestees, noted that the Heritage of Pride organizers of the march asked for this more severe charge as opposed to just a trespassing charge.
“It just blows my mind and that’s the opposite of solidarity,” McCreight said. “It’s okay to protest for ten minutes and hold up a banner, but only for ten minutes. There’s no respect for diversity of tactics.”
Heritage of Pride did not respond for comment.
At the precinct, Bhatt said that they were consistently misgendered, searched under their clothes without warning or consent, denied toilet paper and made fun of by police officers on duty.
The Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information has not responded to these claims.
“We are targeted, assaulted, ridiculed and killed. I’m tired of my people dying,” Bhatt said. “I’ve personally already written my will. I want to live in a world where we won’t have to. That’s why I fight.”