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USA: Police mistreatment and abuse widespread in LGBTI communities

“The police are not here to serve; they are here to get served…every night I’m taken into an alley and given the choice between having sex or going to jail.” Amnesty International interview with a Native American transgender woman, Los Angeles

A new Amnesty International report reveals that police mistreatment and abuse of LGBTI (LGBT) people in the USA is widespread and goes largely unchecked.

Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, which commissioned the report, said:

"Across the USA LGBTI people endure the injustices of discrimination, entrapment and verbal abuse as well as brutal beatings and sexual assault at the hands of those responsible for protecting them -the police.

"Some, including transgender individuals, people of colour and the young suffer disproportionately, especially when poverty leaves them vulnerable to homelessness and exploitation and less likely to draw public outcry or official scrutiny. It is a sorry state of affairs when the police misuse their power to inflict suffering rather than to prevent it."

In the 150-page report, Stonewalled: police abuse and misconduct against LGBTI people in the United States Amnesty International focuses on four cities:

  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • San Antonio

and surveys the 50 largest police departments in the country about LGBT policies and practices.

The report includes information from several hundred interviews and testimonies.

Amnesty's findings strongly indicate that there is a heightened pattern of misconduct and abuse of transgender individuals and all LGBT people of colour, young people, immigrants, the homeless and sex workers by police.

At times, the mere perception that someone is gay or lesbian provokes physical or verbal attacks.

The mistreatment and abuse documented in the report includes:

  • targeted and discriminatory enforcement of statutes against LGBT people, including so-called "quality of life" and morals regulations
  • profiling, particularly of transgender Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights as sex workers
  • verbal abuse
  • inappropriate pat-down and strip searches
  • failure to protect LGBT people in holding cells
  • inappropriate response or failure to respond to hate crimes or domestic abuse calls
  • sexual harassment and abuse, including rape
  • physical abuse that at times amounts to torture and ill-treatment

Young gay men and advocates in Chicago told Amnesty of a police officer who, according to one man, will "remove his badge, gun and belt and then beat you unless you give him a blowjob, after which he’ll just leave you there."

A Native American transgender woman reported that two Los Angeles police officers handcuffed her and took her to an alleyway.

One officer reportedly hit her across the face, saying "you f---ing whore, you f---ing faggot," then threw her down on the back of the patrol car, ripped off her miniskirt and her underwear and raped her, holding her down and grabbing her hair.

The second officer is also alleged to have raped her. According to the woman, they threw her on the ground and said, "That's what you deserve," and left her there.

While it is impossible to obtain accurate statistics, the Amnesty report shows that transgender people, particularly Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and the young, suffer disproportionately. A large percentage of transgender people reportedly are unemployed or underemployed, leaving the population more vulnerable to homelessness or situations that leave them exposed to police scrutiny and abuse.

Amnesty welcomed the initiative taken by several police departments to improve their practices.

The West Hollywood Station of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has a Gay and Lesbian Conference Committee that is open to the public and allows police to stay in touch with community concerns. However, the Amnesty report demonstrates that despite initiatives such as these, police departments nationwide need to do more to protect LGBT people

Michael Heflin, Director of Amnesty International USA's OUTfront program, which focuses on LGBT human rights, said:

"Police officers are hired to protect and serve all of their communities, not only the ones they deem worthy. Every human being, without exception, has the right to live free from discrimination and abuse, yet LGBT people nationwide are afraid to report hate crimes or other abuses to the police, who at times prove themselves to be the criminals. If we can't count on law enforcement to set an example, hate crimes and discrimination will continue to flourish in a land that otherwise has made relative headway in the fight for LGBT rights."

Under international law, everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, is guaranteed the fullest enjoyment of his or her civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The United States is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the principal international treaty that lays out fundamental rights such as freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

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