Illusions of Safety: Policing Hate Crimes Won't Make Us Safer

June 9, 2013

Editor's Note: Guest blogger

Naa Hammond, Development Director at FIERCE, has a deep commitment to creating sustainable social justice movements and communities in New York City and her home countries, Ghana and Zimbabwe. A graduate of New York University who studied Social and Cultural Analysis and Urban Design and Architecture Studies, Hammond offers this reflection on the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ violence in NYC -- and the murder of Marc Carson in particular -- from the perspective of a queer immigrant woman of color.

Today, I feel sad in my bones because it could have been me, or someone I care about. It might be the next time. This thought haunts my mind. The night that Marc was murdered, I was walking around the West Village--oblivious to what would later happen--totally lost in a false feeling of safety in a neighborhood where for the first time at the age of 19, I openly held the hand of a girlfriend in public. I was lost in a false feeling of safety because I'm not always read as queer, and like many LGBTQ people, I believed the illusion that we're safer in New York City.


Hearing about the homophobic murder of Marc Carson transported me back to feeling small, afraid and alone as a queer surviving homophobia in Zimbabwe. Even though this isn't the first time something this senselessly horrific has happened (or will happen), it still shook me to realize that someone could decide to end another human being's life for being gay.  It shook me to realize how little has really changed. 


I know that people die every day because of homophobia and transphobia--sometimes through violence like this, sometimes because we internalize hate and turn it in on ourselves or direct it within our own community. Sometimes it's a slow death caused by living without what we need, or who we need, or who we need to be.  Too often--most often-- we fall victim to a system that neglects us, targets us, and lets us die, willfully.


I've heard some folks use Marc's tragic murder to call for more enforcement, more heavy "preventative" policing in queer areas where black and brown, trans and homeless queer folks are already heavily policed.  Just this week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced in a New York City Council LGBT Community Report email that:


"At my request, the NYPD has agreed to increase police presence in the areas where hate crimes incidents have occurred, including setting up temporary headquarter command vehicles. These deployments will continue at least through the end of June and the culmination of LGBT Pride Month."


Since the incident, I've heard calls for more funding for police and more stringent punishment of hate crimes against LGBTQ folks...and I understand.  I understand people's thirst for accountability. I'm thirsty for it too, but it makes me sad that we're asking for accountability from an unaccountable system: a system that routinely oppresses people of color, queers, youth, poor people, and immigrants. 


We cannot ignore that the police, particularly the NYPD, systematically targets the most vulnerable communities with abusive and discriminatory policing practices, especially Black and Latino folks. We can't ignore the fact that in 2012, the 6th Precinct, which covers the West Village, aggressively increased stop-and-frisks by 23% - the largest percent increase in the whole of New York City. The latest statistics from NYCLU also show that 83.5% of the stops in 6th Precinct were conducted on Black and Latino folks, yet these racial groups make up only 8% of residents in the area. Invisible in these statistics are our experiences as LGBTQ people of color who face daily profiling based on our race, gender, class, immigration status, and sexual orientations.


When LGBTQ communities seek policing and hate crime legislation as solutions to hate violence, it puts the most vulnerable among us at further risk of violence from the state. In our fear, we strengthen an unaccountable Prison-Industrial Complex that feeds on our fear of each other--that NEEDS our fear of each other--our division, our distrust of each other, to criminalize us and keep us down.


Hate violence must be treated as a systemic issue. To me, the gunman who killed Marc Carson wasn't acting alone. He wasn't the only person accountable. There was a whole society, a whole system that failed, that delivered the message that this kind of violence was warranted, and that low-income straight people of color have something to fear and a valid reason to hate queer people. We're made to believe that we pose a threat to each other and that it's ok to fear one another, attack each other, or keep each other's communities' in check, with either interpersonal violence or institutional violence executed through things like policing and hate crime legislation.


Where are those messages coming from? Who started them? Who benefits when queers blame poor straight people of color for queerphobia? Who benefits when poor straight people of color view queers as a threat? How do we survive as queer people of color who fall at the intersections of communities that are being pitted against each other?

I'm not pretending we don't have work to do before we can overcome the divisions between us. We've internalized a lot of oppressive beliefs. We can't stand in solidarity with each other until we're actually dedicated to working on the hate, oppression, and prejudices we hold. This is heavy, healing work and the thought of it is exhausting and liberating. And I'm sure as hell not there yet.

So what do we do in the meantime? I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't hold Marc Carson's shooter accountable. I'm just scared of a future where we turn to our oppressors to save us from each other. I'm scared when we want to criminalize each other even further, in an attempt to end hate violence. So far, that strategy hasn't worked. The legal system rarely brings us justice, much less liberation.

I hope we can find a way to bring each other the things we want: safety, accountability and healing. After all, we are wise, fiery beings. There are many communities already working in transformative ways to prevent violence towards and within the LGBTQ community.  From the Audre Lorde Projects' "Safe Neighborhood Campaign" in Brooklyn that develops community-based safety strategies that don't rely on policing, to Communities United Against Violence in San Francisco organizing trans and queer survivors to replace cycles of trauma with cycles of safety and liberation.  These and many more powerful examples highlight that LGBTQ people are already practicing community accountability and creating safety without having to rely on oppressive policing and legal systems that never have our best interests at heart.


I want to end this post by saying that today, in the midst of feeling sad, I got to read Alice Walker's poems Our Martyr and Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit while sitting in the sunlight, do phone-banking to keep Queers for Economic Justice's shelter project going, and spend delicious hangout time with a friend. Feeling those joys simultaneous with heavy thoughts is a reminder that we're so strong... strong enough to hold both. Strong enough to be creative and resilient in the face of trauma. We're so much stronger than we think.


Source: The Bilerico Project