Po­lice abuse ‘large part of our his­tory’

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

Michael Brown was laid to rest Aug. 25, but it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll be able to rest in peace.

Brown, 18 and African Amer­i­can, was shot at least six times by white po­lice of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wilson on Aug. 9 in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri. He was un­armed at the time and died as a re­sult of the shoot­ing.

Vi­o­lence broke out as racial ten­sions ex­ploded in Fer­gu­son, lead­ing to al­ter­ca­tions be­tween res­i­dents protest­ing the shoot­ing and po­lice who used mil­i­tary equip­ment to in­tim­i­date and break up the pro­test­ers.

Na­tional and lo­cal LGBT groups, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, signed a let­ter show­ing support for Brown’s fam­ily and draw­ing par­al­lels be­tween the in­jus­tices per­pe­trated on each group.

“Com­mu­nity is im­por­tant, no mat­ter how you de­fine it,” the let­ter stated. “We are linked to one another as neigh­bors, friends, and al­lies. Let us pro­ceed as such. We will be with you.”


For Craig Wash­ing­ton, the Michael Brown shoot­ing took him right back to the 1973 shoot­ing of an un­armed 10-year-old African-Amer­i­can boy named Clif­ford Glover in Queens, New York, by a white po­lice of­fi­cer. Sev­eral days of ri­ots fol­lowed the shoot­ing. A jury of 11 whites and one black per­son ac­quit­ted the of­fi­cer, Thomas Shea, of mur­der. Wash­ing­ton, preven­tion pro­grams man­ager for AID At­lanta, was 13 at the time.

“I re­mem­ber that he was a lit­tle nappy-headed boy like me who was killed for no good rea­son,” he told the GA Voice. “And I re­mem­ber my par­ents warn­ing my brother and I as lit­tle black boys grow­ing up in the ’60s and ’70s not to run away from a po­lice of­fi­cer or ar­gue with them be­cause they will shoot you.”

Wash­ing­ton also thought of the young African-Amer­i­can men he works with at the Evo­lu­tion Project.

“When I see in­ci­dents like what hap­pened with Michael Brown, it re­minded me of how im­por­tant it was to have safe spa­ces for our young black gay men and our young LGBT folk, and most em­phat­i­cally our young trans peo­ple, who are most fre­quently tar­geted,” he said. “It’s crit­i­cal that we have safe spa­ces for them.”

Wash­ing­ton said the LGBT com­mu­nity should be more out­spo­ken about the Michael Brown shoot­ing be­cause when in­hu­man- ities hap­pen to cer­tain groups, such as African-Americans or Lati­nos or the LGBT com­mu­nity, the of­fense is de­val­ued as a re­sult.

“We have to rec­og­nize as LGBT peo­ple, whether it’s op­pres­sion in terms of racism, sex­ism, xeno­pho­bia or oth­ers, that that is par­al­lel to our strug­gle,” he said.


Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, is quick to point out that in­ci­dents like the one in Fer­gu­son and oth­ers are the work of “bad ap­ple cops” and that peo­ple shouldn’t con­demn all law en­force­ment as a re­sult.

But he said that the LGBT com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar should have a vested in­ter­est in the Michael Brown shoot­ing be­cause of the abuse of po­lice pow­ers that is wo­ven into our his­tory. Whether it’s the gay bar raids of the 1950s and 1960s, the Stonewall ri­ots, or es­pe­cially in­ci­dents right in our back­yard like the At­lanta Ea­gle raid in 2009, we should be fa­mil­iar with this.

“For the most part, the LGBT com­mu­nity has gone beyond those days, but it is a large part of our his­tory and is some­thing we should not for­get. We should be sen­si­tive to other groups that have sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Gra­ham echoes Wash­ing­ton’s sen­ti­ments about the plight of trans­gen­der women be­ing pro­filed and ha­rassed by po­lice of­fi­cers, say­ing the abuse of po­lice power is “still very much an LGBT is­sue.”

Sharon Lettman-Hicks, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and CEO of the Na­tional Black Jus­tice Coali­tion, agreed.

“As LGBT peo­ple and as peo­ple of color, it is vi­tal that our com­mu­ni­ties de­mand jus­tice for Michael Brown,” she said. “We must stand against all vi­o­lence that has re­sulted in the sense­less deaths of too many in our com­mu­ni­ties. We have an obli­ga­tion to de­mand that all life mat­ters and to work, stead­fastly, to se­cure jus­tice for all marginal­ized peo­ple in our na­tion and world.”


The ques­tion then re­mains, what do we do? It’s an easy an­swer for U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Ge­or­gia, a civil rights icon and LGBT ally.

“It’s im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity to speak up and speak out with a pow­er­ful voice be­cause in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, we’re all in the same boat,” Lewis told the GA Voice. “When one group of peo­ple are be­ing put down be­cause of race or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or re­li­gion or na­tion­al­ity, it tends to af­fect all of us re­ally.”

Wash­ing­ton agrees, and adds that the com­mu­nity needs to show up at ral­lies re­gard­less of our racial iden­ti­fies.

“I went to the Moral Mon­day rally that the NAACP or­ga­nized and I wanted to see a lot of LGBT peo­ple there and was dis­ap­pointed not to,” he said. “We need to par­tic­i­pate as LGBT peo­ple in the coali­tion ef­fort.”

Wash­ing­ton also rec­om­mends in­te­grat­ing the is­sue of abuse of po­lice pow­ers into our LGBT work.

“We need to bring it home to our spa­ces, the spa­ces that are queer iden­ti­fied,” he said. “So it needs to be brought up when we con­vene for At­lanta Pride, or At­lanta Black Pride, or when we con­vene for Stonewall—there are so many ob­vi­ous par­al­lels with Stonewall.”

Shar­ing our sto­ries with non-LGBT peo­ple is another way to keep the is­sue on the front burner, he added—sto­ries of feel­ing un­safe or the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing tar­geted by law en­force­ment, as well as the re­sources and support that helped the mat­ter.

“If you al­low the state to ex­er­cise that in­jus­tice, the same guns will be pulled on you,” Wash­ing­ton said.

Vi­o­lence broke out for sev­eral days be­tween po­lice and pro­test­ers in the days fol­low­ing the fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown, 18, in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri. (Photo via Cre­ative Com­mons)

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