Monday, April 13, 2015
By Cindy Soohoo and J.M.Kirby
After an almost two-year legal battle, this February, Phoenix prosecutors dropped criminal charges against activist Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color. Jones had been arrested and convicted of violating a prohibition against “manifest[ing] an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution.” The statute criminalizes such behavior as engaging passersby in conversation, waving at cars, or making “any other bodily gesture.” An appellate court reversed Jones’ conviction on a technicality and ordered a retrial.
As an ardent transgender rights and sex worker rights activist, Jones noted that while the prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges was positive, it denied her the opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. She stated, “it is a small win in our larger fight for justice. There are so many trans women and cisgender women who might be charged under this law in Phoenix and similar laws across the country.”
Jones’ case illustrates the phenomenon that human rights activists call “walking while trans.” This describes the rampant and widespread police profiling of transgender women of color as sex workers. Jones joined activists in Geneva to raise this issue before the U.N. in advance of the U.S.’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review. Speaking to the ways that police use anti-sex work laws as a tool to harass transgender people of color, she said, “as long as the police can target my community using these anti-sex-work laws, we will never be safe from violence, including the violence of incarceration.”
Community and human rights groups have documented how a combination of discriminatory police practices and vague and overbroad statutes have led to the harassment and criminalization of transgender and gender non-conforming communities. In 2005, an Amnesty International report found "a strong pattern of police unfairly profiling transgender women as sex workers." Reports and testimony from groups like Make the Road in Queens, NY and LGBTQ youth group BreakOUT! in New Orleans show that transgender women of color continue to be subject to police violence, including arbitrary arrest, and police profiling. A 2013 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that transgender people are seven times more likely to experience physical police violence than cisgender people and that among the transgender community, people of color are more than twice as likely to face police violence.
On Wednesday, April 15 at 6 pm, CUNY Law School’s NLG and OUTLAWS are hosting a panel and workshop that will bring together transgender rights activists and the legal community to learn about and develop strategies to challenge the criminalization and discriminatory police practices targeting transgender women of color in New York City. Scheduled speakers are:
Emma Caterine from Red Umbrella Project
LaLa Zannell from Anti-Violence Project
Olympia Perez from BlackTransMedia
Monica Jones from Sex Workers Outreach Project--Phoenix
Aisha Lewis-McCoy, Criminal Defense Practice, The Legal Aid Society
Lynly Egyes from the Sex Workers Project at Urban Justice Center
The event is free with Spanish translation and light food, but RSVP is required: http://bit.ly/19RdXdk