Trigger Warning for transphobic violence and police violence
At the beginning of December, an altercation between a trans woman and an off-duty police officer resulted in the woman being charged with assault (h/t). The problem is that this charge is in spite of the fact that she alleges the officer assaulted her — and that two witnesses corroborate her story. The Washington Blade originally reported:
D.C. police last week arrested a transgender woman for spraying a chemical repellent into the face of a man who she says called her names and assaulted her before identifying himself as an off-duty District police officer.
Chloe [redacted] Moore, 25, was charged with simple assault following a 2 a.m. incident on Dec. 1 along the 1500 block of K St., N.W. According to court records, Officer Raphael Radon alleges that Moore squirted him with pepper spray in an unprovoked action following a brief exchange of words.
But two police sources said a sergeant and detective who responded to the scene determined through interviews with witnesses that Officer Radon initiated the altercation and may have committed a bias-related assault against Moore.
The police sources, who spoke on condition that they were not identified, said a night supervisor apprised of the incident by phone while at her office at the First District D.C. Police station overrode the recommendations of the sergeant and detective and ordered that Moore be charged with simple assault.
Officer Radon was not charged in the incident.
According to the Washington Blade report (full details can be read at the link), Moore claims that she asked off-duty Officer Radon for a light for her cigarette, when he began shouting transphobic insults and slurs. She claims that he pushed her, and fearful for her safety, she pepper sprayed him and ran. Moore alleges that Radon chased her for two blocks before grabbing her by the back of the neck, throwing her to the ground, and only then identifying himself as a police officer.
For his part, Radon claims that Moore and her friend approached him and offered him sexual services for money. He claims that when he turned them down, Moore pepper sprayed him in the face, and then ran after Radon identified himself as a police officer.
Between “cis man randomly assaults trans woman” and “sex worker randomly assaults man for turning her down,” I personally know which story intuitively makes most sense and seems more likely to me. But my personal inclinations don’t count for much. The recommendation of the responding officers, however, probably should. And so should witness statements, which corroborate Moore’s version of events:
But the report says two other witnesses backed up Moore’s version of what happened. One of the two apparently is the transgender woman who was with Moore. The report, which does not identify any of the witnesses by name, suggests that Witness 3 may have been standing nearby and was not with any of the others involved in the incident.
“Witness 3 recounted the same story as D1 [Defendant 1—Moore],” the police report says.
Local attorney Dale Edwin Saunders, who practices criminal law in the District, described as “highly unusual” the decision by police and the United States Attorney’s office to charge Moore in the case.
“This person would have never been arrested or papered if the complaining witness had been a civilian,” Saunders said. “The defendant had two witnesses corroborating her version of the events.”
One also has to wonder whether she would have been arrested if she had been cis.
Officer Radon’s version of events just so happens to follow a convenient popular narrative regarding trans women as both violent (and therefore “manly”) and sex workers. The latter allegation, particularly, is one which a set of dangerous, (trans-)misogynistic cultural biases regularly allow to work against trans women. As both sex workers and trans women are portrayed as deviant and hypersexual as compared to all other people, trans women are regularly represented as sex workers even when they are not. Because sex workers are so devalued and scorned by dominant society, accusing a person of being a sex worker becomes not only an insult (oppressing both the target and sex workers in general), but a process of dehumanization. When sex workers are seen as generally undeserving of basic safety, and trans women are viewed similarly, accusing trans women of being sex workers is an easy way to reinforce the notion that they deserve violence, belong in police custody, and are unworthy of the same basic respect and rights as other citizens.
Ms. Moore’s story, on the other hand, follows a very real pattern of behavior that is generally ignored by dominant society, in which cis men feel their gender identities and sexualities are challenged by the mere presence of a trans woman, and lash out violently against her in rage and abject hatred. Trans women are a particularly “easy” target of violence anyway, since their rights and humanity are so widely disrespected. As a result, everyone ignores the highly tenuous sense of safety that trans women live with every day, and it is officially assumed that she is the one who must have done something wrong — often, by merely existing.
But as Sylvia Renee points out at The New Gay (Trigger Warning for graphic descriptions of rape against a trans woman in a men’s prison), most people are likely to believe Officer Radon’s version of events not only because they generally fail to recognize or simply do not care about the violence that trans* folks face, but also because Officer Radon is a police officer. And police officers? Well, they’re the good guys, right? They don’t behave violently. They must be telling the truth.
A week ago, the D.C. Transgender Coalition released a statement with regards to this case. They state, in part:
“What’s especially disturbing about this case is that it features several flagrant violations of MPD’s general order on dealing with trans people,” said Alison Gill, a DCTC attorney. “Medical attention was apparently not provided promptly, and the use of degrading, transphobic language is expressly forbidden,” Gill continued. Since June, DCTC has been working with several LGBT community organizations to train officers affiliated with MPD’s special liaison units in cultural competency and relevant MPD policies. So far, roughly 70 officers have been trained in this program. “What this incident shows us is that training self-selected volunteers is only a small step toward ensuring that MPD officers fully comply with DC’s human rights law. We want to see a swift rejection of this kind of behavior from the highest levels within MPD, along with a real plan for making sure that every law enforcement officer knows and follows the law, including mandatory training for the entire force,” Gill said.
DCTC highlights a particularly disturbing part of this story that might have otherwise gone ignored: even though the responding officers apparently ultimately believed Moore’s version of events, only to be overridden by a supervisor over phone, they allegedly did not see fit to provide Moore with requested medical attention. Of course, whether they believed her version of events or not should be irrelevant to this issue — all people deserve medical care, no matter what they’ve done. But the point is that apparently even when a trans woman is seen as legitimately the victim of a crime, she is still not seen as fully human. Not fully human enough to have the injuries she incurred as a result of her victimization treated.
These allegations are despicable, but they are unsurprising. They are a part of a pattern — not only in D.C., but virtually anywhere that trans* people interact with law enforcement, or are the victims of crimes. They’re part of a pattern in which law enforcement generally treats marginalized victims as criminals. Only certain members of society are seen as entitled to safety. They’re the same members we view as entitled to commit violence against everyone else.
UPDATE: Title changed to add “cis” after critique of ciscentrism by Helen G