The path of a ‘born ac­tivist’ to At­lanta po­lice over­sight board

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

The At­lanta Citizen Re­view Board is de­signed to be “a cred­i­ble, in­de­pen­dent forum where com­plaints and ac­cu­sa­tions” of mis­con­duct among po­lice and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers can be as­sessed. It was orig­i­nally started to help in­crease con­fi­dence and trust in law en­force­ment, and its mem­bers rep­re­sent lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and var­i­ous neigh­bor­hoods of the city. But in the cap­i­tal city of the state that holds the fourth largest trans­gen­der pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try, the At­lanta Citizen Re­view Board hasn’t had a trans­gen­der mem­ber – un­til now.

In Au­gust, At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed an­nounced his ap­point­ment of long­time trans ac­tivist Tracee McDaniel. In a pre­pared state­ment, the mayor said, “As a life-long ad­vo­cate for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, Ms. McDaniel will bring an im­por­tant per­spec­tive and a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence to this role. It is al­ways es­sen­tial to have mi­nor­ity voices in the room, and our LGBTQ com­mu­nity has a tremen­dous stake in pos­i­tive po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions. I am con­fi­dent Tracee McDaniel will serve At­lanta with ex­cel­lence and ded­i­ca­tion.”

McDaniel was con­firmed unan­i­mously by the ACRB in Oc­to­ber af­ter roughly two months of back­ground checks and com­mit­tee hear­ings, but her path to­ward ac­tivism had be­gun long be­fore then.

‘Born ac­tivist’ backed by gay City Coun­cil mem­ber

A child of the civil rights move­ment, Tracee McDaniel be­lieves that she was a “born ac­tivist.” Af­ter a long ca­reer in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, she heeded an in­ter­nal call to get in­volved with equal­ity agencies and grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions fight­ing against the dis­crim­i­na­tion trans­gen­der peo­ple faced in At­lanta’s home­less shel­ters. “I was dis­gusted by the fact that trans peo­ple were be­ing de­nied ac­cess,” she tells the Ge­or­gia Voice.

An Oc­to­ber 2015 re­port of the Na­tional Trans­gen­der Dis­crim­i­na­tion Sur­vey found that at least 41 per­cent of all black trans peo­ple had been home­less at some point in their life­time. At­lanta didn’t in­clude gender iden­tity or ex­pres­sion in its non-dis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nance un­til the year 2000.

McDaniel founded the Jux­ta­posed Cen­ter for Trans­for­ma­tion, an an­chor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Trans Hous­ing At­lanta Pro­gram, and has ded­i­cated much of her ac­tivist life to help­ing the home­less trans com­mu­nity.

At­lanta City Coun­cil Mem­ber Alex Wan (Dis­trict 6) was by McDaniel’s side for many of those bat­tles. “She and I go way back, hav­ing worked to­gether in the trenches fight­ing for LGBT rights. I have seen first-hand her knowl­edge base and tenac­ity, but, more im­por­tantly, her com­pas­sion and pa­tience,” he told the Ge­or­gia Voice. On a per­sonal level, he added, “I am thrilled with Tracee’s ap­point­ment.”

McDaniel’s ac­tivism has al­ways been deeply per­sonal. Her in­ten­tions through

Novem­ber 11, 2016

those early years, she said, were to “dis­abuse those un­der the im­pres­sion that we’re all law­break­ing Jerry Springer stereo­types. I also wanted to il­lu­mi­nate our hu­man­ity and the con­tri­bu­tions we’ve made to the com­mu­nity, since the be­gin­ning of writ­ten his­tory.”

Wan echoes McDaniel’s call for ed­u­ca­tion and learn­ing about the im­por­tance of the trans com­mu­nity to At­lanta, and the del­i­cate nu­ances pub­lic safety of­fi­cers need to take into ac­count when in­ter­act­ing with them. “Tracee’s ap­point­ment to the At­lanta Citizen Re­view Board adds an im­por­tant LGBT voice and per­spec­tive in re­view­ing com­plaints against the At­lanta Po­lice De­part­ment,” he says.

Strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween APD, trans women of color

At­lanta’s Po­lice De­part­ment cur­rently has two openly LGBT of­fi­cers who serve as LGBT li­aisons (nei­ther are trans) and, in the past, had an LGBT Ad­vi­sory Group serve as coun­cil and to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the de­part­ment and the LGBT com­mu­nity, but its role was ad­vi­sory and was not in­tended to en­gage in a re­view of com­plaints against of­fi­cers. Adding to her cre­den­tials, McDaniel was pre­vi­ously a mem­ber of that re­view board.

From the out­side look­ing in, it seems as though McDaniel’s pro­gres­sion from grass­roots ac­tivist to Citizen Re­view Board mem­ber was in­evitable. She cer­tainly doesn’t think so. “Hon­estly speak­ing, I had no idea that I’d end up in such an amaz­ing po­si­tion to con­tinue ad­vo­cat­ing for hu­man rights and jus­tice for all com­mu­nity mem­bers.”

For many, Tracee’s ap­point­ment couldn’t have come at a more op­por­tune time. Vi­o­lence against trans women of color is at epi­demic lev­els. The So­lu­tions Not Pun­ish­ment Coali­tion’s re­cent re­port, “The Most Dan­ger­ous Thing Out Here Is The Po­lice,” re­vealed shock­ing statis­tics about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween APD and trans peo­ple of color. 1 in 12 “of the trans women sur­veyed had been forced to en­gage in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity or ex­pe­ri­enced var­i­ous forms of un­wanted sex­ual con­tact from an APD of­fi­cer in the last year.” The re­port also found that “when it comes to trans peo­ple … At­lanta po­lice are much more likely to ha­rass than to pro­tect us.“

Alex Wan un­der­stands the chal­lenges the ACRB, the APD, and the LGBT com­mu­nity all face, but he’s op­ti­mistic: “Given the na­tion’s dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­stances of neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tions be­tween pub­lic safety of­fi­cers and trans women of color, Tracee’s ap­point­ment demon­strates the city of At­lanta’s com­mit­ment to ad­dress­ing – and ul­ti­mately pre­vent­ing – any such in­stances that take place in our com­mu­nity. I ap­plaud Mayor Reed and my col­leagues on City Coun­cil for tak­ing this sig­nif­i­cant step.”

McDaniel looks for­ward to be­ing able to tackle these prob­lems and more as the only trans­gen­der mem­ber of the Citizen Re­view Board. “I strongly be­lieve that I bring value to the ACRB. I am hope­ful that hav­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the ta­ble will en­cour­age those with com­plaints against law en­force­ment and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers to come for­ward and ex­press their voices. For far too long trans peo­ple were afraid to come forth to file com­plaints, due to fear of re­tal­i­a­tion. I hope that my pres­ence will re­as­sure all com­mu­nity mem­bers that it’s okay to come for­ward and speak out against in­jus­tice and vi­o­lence, be­cause I am there to rep­re­sent them.”

By ROB­BIE MEDWED

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