Aug Sept 2016
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Phoenix Drops 'Walking While Trans' Charges Against Monica Jones

Phoenix Drops 'Walking While Trans' Charges Against Monica Jones

Prosecutors for the city of Phoenix have dropped all charges against Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color and sex-worker advocate convicted of "manifesting prostitution" after she accepted a ride from an undercover police officer in an antiprostitution sting in May 2013, reports Buzzfeed News.

Jones's case drew international attention, including support from the American Civil Liberties Union and from actress Laverne Cox, when Jones began speaking out about how she and other trans women of color are allegedly profiled and criminalized by Phoenix police simply for being themselves in public — a "crime" many trans advocates refer to as "walking while trans."

Jones, who is not a sex worker herself, has been a vocal opponent of Phoenix's city-sponsored program Project ROSE, which purportedly aims to help sex workers find alternative employment, but which detractors say results in increased incarceration of sex workers.

For nearly two years, Jones has been fighting her "manifesting prostitution" conviction, arguing that the law under which she was charged is unconstitutionally broad in that it "bans pure speech," according to Jean-Jacques Cabou, one of Jones's lawyers. The law under which Jones was arrested describes "manifesting prostitutuion" — in other words, exhibiting the intention to sell sex — as repeatedly engaging a passerby in conversation while walking down the street, waving at cars in an attempt to stop them, asking someone if they are a police officer, or attempting to touch someone's genitals.

The ACLU has argued that the Phoenix law is too vague, in that the behaviors it describes are easily misinterpreted. For example, talking to passersby could be an indication that an individual is lost and seeking directions or that they are canvassing for a political cause. Morever, Jones told Buzzfeed News, the law seems to target specific groups of people.

"I think there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed," Jones explained. "This law needs to be thrown out because it unfairly targets women, transgender women, and people of color living in poverty. Police wouldn't [arrest] a man standing on the corner talking to a passerby."

In January, Jones won an appeal of her case, granting her a possible retrial. While the decision did not vacate her charges, the Maricopa County Superior Court court found that the prosecution deprived Jones of a fair trial when it introduced evidence of Jones's prior prostitution convictions in an attempt to discredit her. The appeal did not address the constitutionality of the law or the underlying structural issues to which Jones points.

This week's decision leaves Phoenix's "manifesting prostitution" laws in much the same state: unchanged. Cabou told Buzzfeed News that dropping Jones's charges has been a relief to her personally, but Jones and her team are disappointed that laws that can criminalize people for legal activities — and which, Jones believes, are applied disproportionately to trans women of color and low-income citizens — continue to be enforced in Phoenix.

The decision to drop charges came only eight days after Jones and her legal team appealed to a higher appellate court to have the law repealed on constitutional grounds — timing that is, Cabou notes, "coincidental to say the least."

"The law [under which Jones was arrested] is still on the books, so they could send out officers to places where there is a lot of foot traffic and arrest people who are not traditionally empowered to push back against the police," Cabou told Buzzfeed News. "Whether the city will do that after all the scrutiny of this law, I don't know. I hope not."

Cabou said he hoped city officials would consider repealing the law, but if not, "we'll blow it up the next time someone brings a case." At the very least, for now, Jones can rest easier, says Cabou.

"The case against [Jones] is officially over. Monica never has anything to fear resulting from her arrest that night. We won a total victory on that front."  

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