As a queer Southeast Asian woman, why do I care about getting police out of my neighborhood and out of schools? Simply put, the police cause harm to queer and trans people of color. To understand what that looks like, we need to go back and take a look at the history of policing and understand how police use their powers to enforce white heteronormative gender binaries.
A few years ago, I attended a concert with a trans fluid person who was my partner at the time. They presented a bit more masculine, but you could tell they were gender non-conforming. As we lined up to go through security I could sense my partner’s body tensing up. They had previous bad encounters with security in the past and it was traumatizing for them. When it was my turn to walk in, the male security officer did a quick scan with his metal detector wand and took a quick peek into my purse.
My partner went next. Before we were even able to speak, the officer’s hands went to my partner’s chest, searching up and down. I was in shock. There’d been no heads up or warning about the physical search. They did not ask if it was OK to search their body. There was no explanation. It was a lose-lose situation.
That was the moment I fully realized that trans and queer people are not seen as whole beings, but rather objects that need to be corrected by any means. Trans and queer people don’t fit neatly into the binaries and boxes set up by our society.
Law enforcement zeros in on gender non-binary folks by using physically and sexually violent tactics, such as strip and body cavity searches. This is a dehumanizing act and is often used with trans and queer people to exert power and enforce the gender binary. This in turn forces trans women into men’s prisons and solitary confinement, while failing to protect queer and trans folx who are the targets of homophobic and transphobic attacks.
In 2011, CeCe McDonald, an African American trans woman, was harassed, violently attacked, and followed. She took matters into her own hands and defended herself, causing the death of her attacker. Instead of the state protecting McDonald, they decided to lock her up. Presented with no other options, McDonald plead guilty to manslaughter.
That same year Ky Peterson, a black trans man, was attacked and knocked out. When he regained consciousness, he was being raped. Peterson protected himself the best way he knew how to in the moment and killed the perpetrator. Peterson was able to free himself from that traumatic situation but only to be met with the full force of the criminal justice system. The legal system did not see him as a victim and survivor of physical and sexual assault. Peterson was charged with manslaughter.
Throughout history there have been countless policies used to criminalize queer and trans people—and to utilize the police to enforce them. The fight for LGBTQ rights and the birth of Pride really came from the Stonewall Uprising, led by black and brown trans women and other queer activists who stood up to the constant police raids on LGBT bars during the 1960s.
Reclaiming our history, our radical roots, means understanding how the celebration of Pride is antithetical to supporting the presence of armed police in our schools, among other things. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, then, we must carry on the fight that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera pioneered for trans and queer justice and liberation.
We need to go beyond conversations and learning. We need to go beyond monuments. Action needs to be taken. We have a responsibility to protect those most marginalized people, and I can tell you that more police is not the solution. The best thing we can do is to take the police out of our communities and places of learning. We have to empower young queer and trans people of color by shifting power to them. We have to be committed to investing in their success. We need to pour resources and money into queer and trans leadership development, health, wellness, and talents.
Join me in supporting Freedom Youth Squad, the young black and Southeast Asian leaders at Freedom, Inc. who are at the forefront of the campaign in Madison to get cops out of schools. The No Cops In School Campaign is about divesting from the police and investing in youth of color, and envisioning a new world with alternatives that are rooted in the community and not in punitive punishment.
For more information on the campaign please email Freedom, Inc. at [email protected].