It has been almost three years since The Advocate asked if the New York City Police Department has an endemic problem with transgender people. Now, in the case of at least one trans man from Harlem, it appears that problem indeed exists.
Marlow White, a 51-year-old African American transgender father of four daughters, filed a $2 million federal lawsuit August 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. White claims the NYPD discriminated against him based on his gender identity after he sought help following threats by his neighbor, Napoleon Monroe, according to a September 4 Huffington Post report.
Reached by phone on September 9 in a joint interview with his attorney, White told The Advocate that the trouble began March 20. He claimed Monroe, the boyfriend of his neighbor, Ana Amezquita, threatened him and his family in their Harlem co-op apartment after discovering that he is, as White said, “a black man of trans experience.” White noted in the phone interview that Monroe neither lives in nor leases a unit within his building, and is only a frequent visitor of Amezquita. Attempts by The Advocate to reach Monroe were unsuccessful at press time. In its report, The Huffington Post notes that Monroe denied White’s version of the events.
After approximately a month and a half of tense encounters in White’s building, in which White says he ignored Monroe’s attempts to talk to him in the hallway, White received a series of hostile text messages May 3, allegedly from Monroe, sent from Amezquita’s phone. Screenshots of the text messages from the Huffington Post report reveal that the texts include threats against White and boasts of domestic violence: “I’m going to speak with your wife and see if she needs my company when you and her go threw [sic] things. Ill talk to her and treat her way better than Ana. You wanna play dumb, let’s play motherfucker! I just slapped Ana. Come protect her! I’ll cut your fucking head off lil man.”
Three days after receiving the text messages, White alleges, Monroe threatened his partner, Natalie Lewis, in person, and a verbal dispute unfolded on the street in front of their building. White explained over the phone that when police arrived they refused to file a report about the harassment against White and the officers ignored Monroe while he made transphobic comments on the street in plain view and within earshot of the officers and witnesses. Even though White visited the 28th Precinct station house later that day and showed police the threatening text messages, the NYPD refused to file a report about the threats against White. Without a police report, White could not request an order of protection legally mandating Monroe to stay away from White and his family.
“It took two weeks, repeated requests, and the threat of contempt of a state-court order before the NYPD reluctantly accepted and filed a criminal complaint from Plaintiff,” White’s attorney, Donald Dunn, noted in the text of the lawsuit, a copy of which he provided to The Advocate. In the September 9 phone interview, Dunn also explained that when he accompanied White to the 28th Precinct to serve notice of the lawsuit, attending police continued their disrespect of White. “It was as if [White] had to be physically harmed or even killed to receive action from the police,” Dunn said, “and even then the disrespect of people of trans experience continues.”
In a September 14 email, Sgt. Michelle Martindale of the NYPD’s LGBT Liaison Unit told The Advocate, “We are not allowed to discuss the case that [White] has brought against the City of New York. You can email Deputy Commissioner Public Information for a possible response.” Calls to the deputy commissioner were not returned by press time.
White’s case is the latest to detail ongolng violence against trans people in New York City and allege problematic police responses. The Advocate reported that in 2014, Kimy Hartman suffered brain damage from a transphobic beating. In 2012, The Advocate announced that the NYPD had changed its policies after Temmie Breslauer sued the department for chaining her to a wall for 28 hours upon her arrest for using her father’s discount subway fare card. Now trans people in custody are supposed to be kept in facilities that comport with their gender identity, not assignments at birth, and the practice of “chaining” has been curtailed in the revised guidelines. Chaining is a form of police harassment in which arrested trans individuals are chained to walls, bars, or chairs at holding facilities with arms upraised or in other vulnerable positions whereby other inmates may abuse them.
In the phone interview, Dunn deplored the ongoing dehumanization faced by trans New Yorkers, emphasizing that hate crimes and police mistreatment ignore trans people’s significant contributions to their community: “White was one of the principal people that got the building designated as an affordable housing co-op by the city. He helped renovate it and make it livable for many people. White is a father — he's an activist in his community.” Indeed, White worked as the Harlem resident representative for the Harlem-Bronx LGBT Task Force.
Dunn described himself as “a married white heterosexual man with adopted daughters of color” who lives in the Bronx and who bonded with White over play dates with their children long before Dunn ever knew that White was, in fact, a trans man. “I grew to respect [White] as a father and a man long before I became his attorney.”
“This lawsuit speaks to the intersectionality of cisgender folks and people of trans experience,” White said over the phone. White suggested that the respectful way that he and Dunn interact as fathers is the model for how all people should treat one another, including the NYPD. “I want everyone to know that this lawsuit is a fight for respect across all our differences in this city,” White said. “I fear for my children. I want the words ‘protect and serve’ to mean something.”