About 100 LGBT Detroit residents met with law enforcement officials Wednesday and discussed what police need to do to ensure the safety of everyone, but particularly trans women of color.
The LGBT community chat was scheduled prior to last week’s murder of a 20-year-old transgender woman known as Amber Monroe, according to The Detroit News, and Tuesday’s nonfatal shooting of a 30-year-old transgender woman, identified by police a prostitute.
But attendees, including Detroit Police Chief James Craig, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, and other officials, recognized that those incidents and others gave the standing-room only gathering a sense of urgency.
“Trans lives matter,” said Lilianna Reyes. “[The recent victims] could have been you. It could have been me.”
Craig told those at the meeting Detroit police have logged 15 crimes against LGBT citizens so far this year — a sharp increase from 2014, when seven were reported.
“I know there are more than that,” Craig said. “But people in the LGBT community often don’t report crimes because there traditionally has not been a strong relationship with police. We want to change that.”
Craig, who appointed an LGBT liaison officer in 2013, said he plans to establish an LGBT advisory board that would meet monthly to discuss issues.
“We have a long history of mistrust and misunderstanding with law enforcement,” said Yvonne Siferd, director of victim services for Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy group. “So it’s not going to be easy.”
Fewer than 50 percent of crimes against LGBT residents are reported, according to Siferd, who said those who do report crimes are often subjected to ridicule and abuse by police officers.
Reyes addressed that challenge in speaking of a common “fear that trans people have of going to the police. We have to do better, and we have to make the police do better. Like a lot of you, I’m nervous around a lot of police.”
“We need information, and we know that the streets talk,” said Craig. “The only way we’re going to get information is if we have a strong relationship.”
The federal prosecutor promised to use the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek justice for anyone committing crimes against gays or transgender people. “We are committed to using the tools of our office to make a better life for everyone,” McQuade said. “That means everybody.
“What motivates me to be passionate about equality for everyone ... as a girl, I was called a tomboy. I saw how cruel small-minded people can be when you don’t fit their stereotypes.”
“We need to come together with the police and let them know the things we’re going through at the hands of police,” Siferd said. “It’s my hope that today we can start that conversation.”
The most recent local trans murder victim, Amber Monroe, 20, was a student at Michigan's Wayne State University. Although local activists told the media her name, that she was trans, and that she was fatally shot, Detroit police would only confirm the circumstances and not the victim’s name to The Advocate. Because her legal identification listed her as male, she was identified by police not as a transgender woman but as a black man, denying what friends say was her authentic gender identity.
Earlier this week, Detroit police emailed The Advocate in response to our request for clarification of the department's policy for identifying transgender victims of crime. "Our policy states that we treat all victims equally and investigate all cases of violence as we normally do regardless of gender, appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression," Sgt. Cassandra Lewis wrote. "However, we must legally identify all persons based on what is stated on their state issued identification."
“He was observed leaving a vehicle when someone inside fired a shot, fatally wounding the victim,” said Officer Nicole Kirkwood, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department. Monroe died at a local hospital.
Kirkwood tells The Advocate detectives are now investigating the murder, which occurred at 5:05 a.m. Saturday on Woodward Avenue, west of Dakota, on Detroit’s west side, a “red light district” that local activists and news media say is known as an area for sex work by trans women. That same area is where police investigated three hate crimes against trans women one year ago, including a murder, according to Detroit’s WXYZ TV.
Studies have shown that trans people of color, both men and women, experience disproportionately high levels of violence, although it is significantly higher for all trans women. As The Advocate reported in June, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims are trans women and 67 per cent are trans women of color.