Pride Day letter to NYPD urges reflection on over-policing and anti-LGBTQIA discrimination

The NYC Pride Parade. Photo by  Cait Stewart/Flickr

The NYC Pride Parade. Photo by Cait Stewart/Flickr

By David Brand

Leaders from two New York City public defender organizations have written a letter to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill raising concerns about the planned police presence at Sunday’s World Pride Day march and highlighting systemic homophobia and anti-LGBTQIA bias in the NYPD, a half-century after the Stonewall uprising.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Project, and Jared Trujillo, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, urged the NYPD to reflect on the Stonewall Riots, a pivotal uprising against over-policing and NYPD discrimination. Demonstrators denouncing police raids at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn in June 1969 galvanized the LGBTQIA community and helped catalyze the modern rights movement.

The NYPD plans to position thousands of officers at Sunday’s parade.

“While we acknowledge the public safety concerns, we want to point out the trigging impact such a large police presence could have on many paradegoers — especially older community members who lived through the police brutality of the Stonewall Riots as well as those who have since been targeted by biased policing,” the letter states. 

O’Neill apologized earlier this month for the NYPD’s actions at Stonewall, calling the violent raids “wrong —plain and simple.”

Despite significant progress toward equal rights for LGBTQIA individuals, the NYPD continues to treat the community — especially low-income people of color — “as second-rate citizens,” Luongo and Trujillo wrote.

They cited a recent Department of Investigation report that found that the NYPD has not substantiated a single claim of biased policing since a federal judge ordered them to investigate such complaints from the public in 2014. Overall, the NYPD has received 2,495 complaints of bias and closed 1,918 as of December 31, 2018.

“This is simply unacceptable, and it reveals that the Department appears more concerned with having these complaints disappear than truly holding accountable the officers who have allegedly committed these heinous acts,” the attorneys wrote in their letter.

They also described how police have persistently profiled trans women, particularly in Queens, and arrested them for prostitution-related offenses. 

Earlier this month the NYPD agreed to narrow its application of a controversial prostitution-related loitering misdemeanor that advocates say criminalizes “walking while trans.”

Section 240.37 of the penal code gives police officers justification to arrest a person for allegedly stopping, talking to or beckoning at others in public places. Police have used arbitrary observations as grounds for arrest, such as a defendant’s “short dress” or “tight black pants,” advocates say. Trans women profiled as sex workers have been arrested while waiting for the bus or standing near one of several gay bars along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.

One NYPD officer said in a deposition that he looked for “Adam’s apples” before determining whether he would make an arrest for prostitution, the Daily News reported.

Luongo and Trujillo urged the NYPD and New Yorkers to consider the road ahead in the struggle for equity.

“We hope Sunday remains peaceful and celebratory for New Yorkers and that all of us will be able to reflect on the past, assess the gains that the movement has made since Stonewall, and consider where our fight for equal justice heads next,” Luongo and Trujillo wrote. 

“Recognizing the historical significance of this celebration, we ask that your officers act on this day with the increased sensitivity and compassion that it so needs,” they add.

In response to an inquiry about the letter, the NYPD forwarded the Eagle a press release about the march with quotes from top brass, including O’Neill.

“The LGBTQ community is an essential part of New York City. And during 2019 Pride Month, it is the NYPD’s mission — as it is for every large event held in our great city throughout the year – to ensure that everyone can enjoy the festivities safely, free from violence and intolerance,” O’Neill said in a statement. “Our continued relationship with organizers of the Heritage of Pride March, and all of our partners’ dedication to sharing the responsibility for public safety, has again led to a comprehensive plan that stands to enhance the experience for participants and spectators alike.”