Are defunding the police and mass incarceration LGBTQ issues?

    Protesters outside of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Photo by Jennifer Amell.

    One of the major demands of Black Lives Matter Philly (BLMP) is to defund the police. Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney pledged not to increase the police budget for the next fiscal year. Yet, this is a far cry from BLMP’s demand that the city decrease the police budget every five years until fully defunded.  But, how would defunding the police affect the LGBTQ community at large? 

    On the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, amidst thousands of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters, there was a small group flying blue, pink, and white banners that read: Black trans lives matter. These banners also carried Tony McDade’s name, a Black trans man murdered by police. The current national conversation has evolved not only to uplift Black trans lives but also to ask tough questions of the carceral and justice system. 

    Enveloped by rallying cries at the protests last Sunday, one Black trans woman who chose to remain anonymous stood proudly supporting a Trans Pride flag. When asked if there was room for Black trans lives within the larger BLM movement, the protester responded: “There are trans and queer Black people. All Black lives matter. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. All of those intersect. I want to show up for my community, but I need the reciprocity to be there. That’s a big part of the protest for me is seeing people show up for the margins they don’t sit in.” 

    Ciora Thomas, Celena Morrison and Naiymah Sanchez — three trans women of color who serve on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBT Affairs — released a joint statement in honor of Dominique Rem’mie Fells, a Black trans woman who was recently murdered in Philadelphia: “Trans people have been facing genocide across the country and within this state, because we are born into a cistemic system that is intentionally set up for us to fail and fall by the hands of others or ourselves. Our society is collectively responsible for every death in the Black trans community, and we must continue to demand to be recognized and to be protected.” It is precisely this “cistemic” — or cis-gendered, systemically corrupt— Criminal Justice System that bears scrutiny when asking if defunding the police is an LGBTQ issue. 

    Lambda Legal conducted a 2012 survey entitled “Protected and Served?” in which they asked LGBTQ respondents to share their lived experiences of police mistreatment and incarceration. The survey found that transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) folks are twice as likely to have been to jail or prison than the rest of the LGBTQ population and TGNC folks of color are more than four times more likely to have been incarcerated. The survey also found that 70% of trans women reported being misgendered and sent to men’s prisons, while 47% of trans men reported being sent to women’s prisons. While incarcerated, 28% of TGNC respondents of color reported physical assault by a jail or prison staff member, 37% reported sexual harassment by a staff member, and 66% reported being verbally assaulted by a staff member. These statistics bolster the larger point that trans people of color are disproportionately incarcerated and experience assault and harassment within these institutions. 

    The Sentencing Project released a 2018 “Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System” which cited that when compared to 8% of all adults with felony charges, 33% Black men possessed felony convictions. Having a felony on your record comes with a lot of consequences. Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed S.B. 6, an act that prevents people convicted of drug or sex offense felonies from receiving any public benefits for 10 years. In Pennsylvania, people who are convicted of a felony also lose the right to vote while in prison.  

    So, what does all of this have to do with defunding the police? The Atlantic cited that lower budgets would lead to a dramatic decrease in mass incarceration. Some groups, such as Black Lives Matter cite full defunding of police as a means to end mass incarceration. The Black Philly Radical Collective believes that full defunding of police and complete abolition of the prison industrial complex are the only answers to end mass incarceration and repair the racial disparity in this country.  

    Ms. D, a Black trans woman who was recently released from prison to the Philadelphia area believes that defunding the police and prison abolition is not the answer. However, she believes that police policies are indeed a concern of the LGBTQ community. “The cops don’t know how to handle  LGBTQ+ people,” said Ms. D, “so they act with violence.”

    Conversely, the protester PGN spoke to said, “The whole carcel system is transphobic inherently. We have to break down all these systems and make sure people are safe and protected and we have to start by representing all of our siblings, not just the cis and heterosexual ones. No one is free until we are all free.”