Rosendall testifies on hate crimes and GLLU
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Rosendall testifies on hate crimes and GLLU

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265, Washington, D.C. 20013 (202) 667-5139

Testimony on

Hate Crimes in the District of Columbia and Police Response to Reports of Hate Crimes

Delivered before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary

November 20, 2009

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson. I am Rick Rosendall, Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, founded in 1971.

Yesterday, the Mayor’s office released a report titled “Bias-Related Crime in the District of Columbia.” It contains a glaring omission that severely undercuts the credibility of the rest of the report: while the word “transgender” appears several times in descriptions of the GLBT community, and “gender identity or expression” is included among the protected categories, “gender identity or expression” is not included as a “Type of Bias” in the table of hate crime statistics.

Reports in The Washington Blade and Metro Weekly in recent years have shown that transgender citizens are the targets of the greatest proportion of hate crimes. If they are included at all in this report, it appears that they are being lumped in with “sexual orientation,” despite being a separate category. We are glad that the report recognizes that “sexual orientation hate crimes account for a growing proportion of all hate crimes,” but the evident failure to track hate crimes based on gender identity or expression is unacceptable.

We understand that FBI reporting standards only include certain types of hate crimes, though these need to be revised based on the recently passed, transgender-inclusive federal hate crime law. But to the extent that FBI reporting standards are narrower than under D.C. law, the Metropolitan Police Department should separately track hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and combine them if necessary in reporting to the FBI. The categories on the police incident report, Form PD-251, need to be updated to include all the D.C. categories.

Today, ironically enough, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This evening at 6:30 p.m. we will gather at the Metropolitan Community Church at 474 Ridge Street, NW to commemorate the victims of anti-transgender violence and recommit ourselves to violence prevention and education. To learn that our own police are not even tracking anti-transgender hate crimes as such is mind-boggling. Rendering the members of this at-risk community invisible in this way is almost worse than the individual hate crimes because the invisibility is structural.

In a November 8 news release on the 2009 Trans Day of Remembrance, our friends in the DC Trans Coalition noted, “A lack of consistent identity documents, fear of prejudiced and hateful officers and other factors can create complicated problems when interacting with police.” They added that “police harassment on the street and the threat of being arrested and sent to jail remains a constant problem for many.” This was reiterated by Sadie Baker at a community meeting on Tuesday, November 17 with Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes and Special Liaison Unit officials. A lack of trust is warranted when all too often police officers themselves are part of the problem rather than the solution.

On Tuesday, Groomes described the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit as an award-winning unit while showing no concern that it has been starved of resources for the past two years. She promised to share the curriculum for officer training on the GLLU with community members, but that promise was made before and the training is to begin at the end of this month. Given that Groomes herself acknowledged that the GLLU is a model of its kind, we cannot fathom why Chief Lanier appears determined to dismantle, if only by attrition, the core group of officers—which is now reduced to two because of leaves of absence.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Sampson McCormick described an incident in Ward 8 in which he and friends managed to overpower some assailants and hold them until police arrived, but then the police treated the victims as the perpetrators and let the assailants go free. The officers, according to McCormick, also made homophobic comments and denied that the GLLU existed. Is this the kind of law enforcement we are paying for?

The sheer ignorance we are seeing in the wider police force can hardly be resolved by training the couple of dozen officers who volunteered for the upcoming GLLU-related training. We were promised once again on Tuesday that there will be in-service training for all officers, such as at roll calls, but we have been waiting for years for results. Meanwhile, the Chief is effectively dismantling an award-winning unit that has earned respect and trust throughout the GLBT community. It is hard to explain this other than by an arrogant disregard for the concerns of activists who have striven to cooperate with police. It is not enough for officials to say that open bias on the part of officers is unacceptable. When discriminatory behavior goes unpunished, the message received is that the fine words coming from the top are hollow and can be disregarded with impunity.

In short, Mr. Chairman, we have a seriously flawed report on hate crimes and a police chief who resists using the invaluable resource of dedicated community activists. It is a sadder state of affairs than we would have expected just a few years ago. We are glad at least that the police have abandoned the use of checkpoints which were the subject of a lawsuit and represented both a disturbing disregard for civil liberties and an unsustainable, publicity-centered approach to crime fighting. We need to bring the community back into community-based policing.

Thank you.

[Addendum: Chief Lanier testified before I did, so I had the chance to respond to some of her statements. I included the following remarks in my oral testimony. For one thing, I pointed out that the 57 officers who had volunteered for the upcoming training represented the total volunteers for all four Special Liaison Units — not only the GLLU but the Latino Liaison Unit, the Asian Liaison Unit, and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit. Of the 57, only 23 volunteered for training specific to the GLLU.

[Another error I pointed out was the Chief's repeated use of the phrase "sexually oriented hate crime" when she appeared to mean "sexual orientation related hate crime." A "sexually oriented hate crime" sounds like a sexual assault.

[I pointed out that I have been a member of MPD's Fair and Inclusive Policing Task Force, formerly named the Biased Policing Task Force, and confirmed Mendelson's observation that it had not met at all in 2009. I said this illustrated the Chief's reluctance to hear any criticism, which was also illustrated by her suggestion that her critics were a small group of activists who did not represent the majority of the community. I said that her attempt to pit the wider community against the activists was a sad waste of a valuable perspective.

[No one has ever suggested that the GLBT community was exclusively located in Dupont Circle or 3D. Quite the opposite. Maintaining a centralized unit was always about coordination and cohesion, not about neglecting any part of the city. If the core unit were returned to its original staffing level, it might not be able to handle everything but it would do a better job than we're seeing now. We all agreed to, and supported, the plan to train officers in all the patrol districts. That doesn't take away from the need to maintain a robust core unit.]

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