Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Eve of the Day of Remembrance: Criminal Justice and Our Communities

This is the opening of a recent AP report on the resurgence of anti-black racism, since Obama's election:

"Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting "Assassinate Obama." Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars. Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America. From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders. There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes."

I'm writing past midnight, having just taken part in a discussion on anti-trans hate crimes for Gender Blender Radio, hosted by Jacob Andersonn-Minshall and Rebecca Nay. This morning, I finished a quick newletter piece about the criminal justice issues facing transgender people for the Mass. Lesbian and Gay Bar Association newsletter. Earlier this week I sent someone a copy of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project report on violence against trans and intersex people in prisons, It's War In Here. Apparently, every November, I spend time immersed in thinking about crime and violence.

Perhaps it's obvious, but I think it might be worth stating: even as we mourn those of us who have been killed or hurt by hate crimes, dealing with hate crimes is not enough.

Central to the transgender civil rights agenda must be a robust and multi-faceted approach to reforming the criminal justice system and reducing violence in society. As a community, we experience extraordinarily high rates of so-called "ordinary" crimes, not just hate crimes. Not surprisingly, many of us are reluctant to report crimes for fear of retaliation and police harrassment. If we are incarcerated, we are likely to be subject to horrific violence and are at high risk of being denied proper medical care.

Not surpisingly, many of our concerns are shared by non-transgender communities of color. One cannot have a society with a substantial history of complex discrimination, human exploitation, and serious disparities in wealth and life opportunities and expect otherwise.

In turn, as the racist backlash to Obama's election reminds us, we have everything to lose if we fail not only to fight transphobia, but to fight racism and other intersecting oppressions.

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