Hate Crimes and Political Dynamics

We’ve run a lot of blog posts on GLBT bullying recently.  We’ve never focused directly on the incredible numbers of hate crimes that are aimed specifically at the transgender community.  An unfortunate incident in Baltimore provides an opportunity to specifically look at the bullying and assault that this community endures.  There’s a crime story playing out in the MSM that has brought some public attention to transgender victims of hate crimes.  We’re beginning to find out more of the details on the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in a McDonald’s bathroom in Baltimore, Maryland.  It’s a touchstone story because there are issues of race involved also.  This story involves two groups of people that have historically been victims of hate crimes.

Chrissy is a white woman in trans.  Her two attackers were both black teenage girls.  One was 14 and the other was 18. Video of the crime was captured by an employee on a cell phones and has made its way to the internet.  (Warning: This is an extremely violent video.)  There is also a video interview at the Baltimore Sun–posted below–of Chrissy Lee speaking about her attack and the incredible bigotry encountered by the transgen community. The police are taking the crime quite seriously and McDonald’s has issued statements condemning the crime.  Chrissy is recovering from her physical injuries. That’s the good news.

By Sunday evening, a Facebook page titled “Chrissy Lee Polis” with a picture of the McDonald’s arches had more than 800 people who “liked” the page. Many of the posters on the page pledged their support and provided words of comfort, and several identified themselves as transgender.

One poster, Robyn Webb, has a teleconferencing company, TG Works, that is collecting funds to help pay for Polis’ medical bills and help her relocate. Polis, who has not had a job or a stable place to stay for the past two years, has said she has been living with friends in the area.

Webb thought the incident should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

The police report does not provide a motive, but it quotes one of the suspects saying that the fight was “over using a bathroom.” In the report, officers said the teens accused Polis of going into the wrong one.

Many transgender individuals face public accommodation issues, Webb said.

I don’t want to make this a crime story post.  I want this to be about what Chrissy and her community face daily.  What specifically got me interested in writing about this attack was a thoughtful blog piece by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville as well as a promise I made to a reader who asked that we blog about the bullying of transgens specifically.  It’s unfortunate that Chrissy’s attack is the reason for this discussion.  I was not aware that some right wing blogs had been using the story as a way of attacking the black community. This is awful and Melissa takes the opportunity to rightly changes the frame.

I almost don’t know where to begin discussion of this incident. It’s so terrible—and yet to be shocked by a crime of this nature against a trans woman is a privilege. I am horrified and I am profoundly sad and I am angry—because this shit doesn’t happen in a void. I am relieved that Polis is physically okay, but my heart hurts for the lingering psychological effects she may experience. And I ache for members of the trans* community, and their loved ones, who have yet another pointed reminder of the hatred and fear felt by so many cis people, socialized in a trans*-hostile culture that rigidly forces people into a gender binary and lazily relies on gender essentialism and arbitrarily privileges cisgenderedness.

And I am depressed that, because Polis is white and her attackers are black, white racists are using this incident to engage in despicable racism—which is, whether effectively or intentionally, just a way of silencing discussion of cis privilege.

What is unusual about this crime is that it has made its way to the public arena, because hate crimes against transgender individuals tend to go unreported.  Additionally, transgen violence is overrepresented in crime statistics given the number of transgen individuals.  Crimes against this community occur frequently because there are several dynamics at play.  Here are some statistics to think about.

Transgender people are often targeted for hate violence based on their non-conformity with gender norms and/or their perceived sexual orientation. Hate crimes against transgender people tend to be particularly violent. Our best estimates indicate that one out of every 1,000 homicides in the U.S. is an anti-transgender hate crime.  This estimation is based on data collected by the national organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance track the number of transgender people killed each year in hate-based attacks using media articles, community reports and other publically available data.  By this count, they estimate that at least 15 transgender people are killed each year in hate-based attacks, although we believe the number to be higher based on transgender people’s common fear of going to the police and widespread misreporting.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates approximately 14,000 homicides in the country each year.  Based on these figures, we can estimate that approximately one out of every 1000 homicides in the U.S. is an anti-transgender hate-based crime.

Many victims of Transgender hate-based crime are blacks.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has placed special emphasis on these hate crimes since 2003.  This is one of the reasons that this is so important to take this dynamic back from right wing blogs that are perversely making this a racial issue.  It is not.  I want to quote from one of their articles written by Bob Moser called ‘Disposable People’ to make this point.  This article starts with a narrative about one young victim named Stephanie Thomas who began life as Stephen Thomas.

In some cases, the details remain too murky to say for certain whether these murders were hate-motivated. But all 27 have at least one of the telltale signs of a hate crime — especially the sort of extreme brutality, or “overkill,” that was all too evident in the bullet-torn bodies of Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis.

“The overkill is certainly an indicator that hate was present,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has written several books about hate crimes and murder.

“When you see excessively brutal crimes, and you know the victim is gay or black or Latino or transgender, you have to suspect that hate was a motive. There’s a sense of outrage in these crimes that someone different is breathing or existing.”

One reason it’s so tough to prove that anti-transgender murders are hate crimes is that so few are ever solved. Of the 27 murders in 2002 and the first nine months of 2003, arrests had been made in only 7 — fewer than one-third — at press time. The general “clearance rate” for murders is almost twice as high, around 60%.

“The police are very slow in solving murders committed against marginalized Americans, whether they’re black, Latino, gay, prostitutes or transgender,” Levin says.

“When more than one of those characteristics is present in a victim” — usually the case in anti-transgender murders — “they really don’t act quickly. They’re much more likely to form a task force and offer a reward when the victim is a straight, middle-class college student.”

When it comes to hate crimes that stop short of murder — assaults, harassment — it’s virtually impossible to gauge the extent of the problem. The reason is simple: the victims of anti-transgender hate crimes almost never report them.

Here is a link to a 2007 study that compares hate crime rates against groups that are protected by hate crime legislation and those that are not. Violence against the transgen community is clearly a problem.

A close analysis of hate crime rates demonstrates that groups that are already covered by hate crime laws, such as African Americans, Muslims, and Jews, report similar rates of hate crime victimization as lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, who are not currently federally protected. On average:

• 8 in 100,000 African Americans report being the victim of hate crime
• 12 in 100,000 Muslims report being the victim of hate crime
• 15 in 100,000 Jews report the victim of hate crime
• 13 in 100,000 gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals report being the victim of hate crime

Currently hate crimes based on gender expression are not covered in federal hate crime legislation. This omission persists despite evidence that transgender individuals experience a similar number of hate crimes as some other protected groups, with an average of 213 hate crimes per year.

Here are suggestions from the National Center for Transgender Equality that should remedy these terrible and frequent crimes. You will notice that the most victimized group within this segment are actually transgen women of color which places the sudden right wing interest in the crime as an obvious ploy rather than a sincere expression of support for Chrissy Lee.

Transgender people face well-documented and unconscionable levels of bias-motivated violence. This is especially true of young, low-income transgender women of color. The stigma associated with being transgender requires transgender people to maintain constant vigilance against sudden brutal violence. For years, transgender people have been murdered on an average of more than one person per month; many more have been assaulted. While a deep societal issue like hate cannot be entirely resolved by the government, the steps recommended here will result in large strides toward safety.

  • Federal Hate Crimes Prevention. Congress should pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA).[On Congress on October 28, 2009 as The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama]
  • Community Relations Service. Congress should amend Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service to respond to conflicts based on categories covered by the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
  • Day of Remembrance. Congress should pass a joint resolution formally recognizing the “National Transgender Day of Remembrance” and encouraging Americans to commemorate the lives of transgender victims of hate-motivated violence.
  • National Crime Victimization Survey. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) should integrate information about a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity and expression into its National Crime Victimization Survey.
  • Foreign Service Training. Federal government employees, human rights officers, and all staff located abroad should receive training about hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. This training should also include protocols for respectful treatment of transgender people, including the use of preferred pronouns and names.

It is unfortunate that the brutal attack on Chrissy is being used to misplace rage that should happen for any violent, hate-based crime.  It is useful to focus on all the victims of these crimes and to move forward to correct the oversight in the laws that could be used to prosecute perpetrators as well as educate the public.  A rally for Chrissy and all victims of transgender assault crimes was held in Baltimore last night.  Baltimore news stations have reported that the 18 year old involved in the incident was denied bail. You can see an interview with Chrissy’s friend Vicki Thomas who was with her at the restaurant as well as further information on the crime itself from local Baltimore TV station WBAL.

“I think it’s terrible. I think it’s inhumane,” said 55-year-old Vicki Thoms, who tried to break up the assault. “When they started really hurting her, to the point where I thought she was going to die, that’s when I decided someone needed to do something.””Transgendered men and women are far more vulnerable to attacks and violence than other members of society, and I think this should serve as a wake-up call,” said Cathy Brennan of the group Baltimore County for Equality.

“I kept screaming, ‘Stop. Get off of her.’ And they wouldn’t stop. One of the girls said to me, ‘It’s none of your (expletive) business,’ and hit me in the face,” Thoms told 11 News.Prosecutors said they are considering possible hate crime charges.”We’re looking into it. There’s obviously further investigation that needs to be done to determine whether this was done as a result of something based on sexual orientation,” said Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney John Cox.”The one employee there — I think it was the manager — said to me, ‘You do know that’s not a woman. That’s a transvestite.’ And I said, ‘So? She’s human,'” Thoms said.

Here’s the interview with Christie and the announcement of the rally by another member of the Baltimore transgen community.

22 Comments on “Hate Crimes and Political Dynamics”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    I won’t watch the video because the violence is sickening. And not unique as we have seen so often now on Facebook and YouTube where these idiots go to post their hatred for one another.

    The facts can no longer be denied: females are as capable as acting in much the same manner as males when it comes to violence and vulgarity.

    Frightening and shocking in equal measures.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup. I couldn’t watch the video either. The entire incident is frightening and shocking.

      • I couldn’t watch it either but thanks for the post.

        Re: the political dynamics. Any time there’s an opportunity to pit minorities against each other, the oligarchy’s lemmings are at the ready. I’m reminded of Obama conforming to the mentality that he had to court McClurkin sympathizers to win in ’08. Obama’s approach was bring everyone to the table, or so he said. But, when you bring haters to the table, the point isn’t to bring people together to fight for each other, rather it fosters an environment that KEEPS people hating each other and further marginalizing voices that are already marginalized, discriminated, and/or oppressed.

    • Branjor says:

      Being capable of it and doing it are two different things. Females still do it in far fewer numbers than males.

  2. Delphyne says:

    I forced myself to watch the video and it was indeed sickening. That no one except that one woman helped that poor person was simply beyond belief and that no one helped her during her seizure was even more sickening. I simply cannot imagine not doing anything to help, even if it was just to call 911 or run out to find a cop.

    The more of this sort of thing I hear about, the less hope I have for humans. That the 2 girls who attacked are only 14 and 18 makes it even worse. The laughter in the background is extremely disturbing.

    It’s so shocking I don’t really know what else to say.

    • dakinikat says:

      Some one evidently hit the woman that was trying to help. Can you imagine some one punched a 55 year old woman who was trying to stop an assault?

      • paper doll says:

        Yes that’s why people ignore what’s happening ….they will get the same. You get the same because you are disputing the aggressor’s “right” to put the beat on whomever they please. …questioning THEM!!!…they can’t take questions. That’s why they start beating the ‘other” in the first place. Bless that woman for coming to a fellow human being’s aid

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      The laughter in the background is extremely disturbing.

      Some one evidently hit the woman that was trying to help. Can you imagine some one punched a 55 year old woman who was trying to stop an assault?

      I could not watch this video…these two statements about what are on that video is enough to make me ill…society is becoming animalistic…

  3. paper doll says:

    “The police are very slow in solving murders committed against marginalized Americans, whether they’re black, Latino, gay, prostitutes or transgender,” Levin says.

    Indeed this reminds me of the post the other day about prostitute murder victims The fact that there is video of this crime is why we are hearing about it at all …like the months of rape the 11 year old Tex child endured. That case was brought to light only because there was a video.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup. You tube appears to be outdoing Crime Tip Lines.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks for remembering my post, paper doll. I’ve been continuing to read about the murders of prostitutes all over the country. It’s really shocking how the police treat different “kinds” of victims differently.

      • paper doll says:

        Indeed, BB . As my sister pointed out when we discussed your post: murders picking prostitutes goes as far back as Jack the Ripper at least…for alot of the same reasons.

  4. madazhel says:

    I am de-lurking to post this because when I stumbled upon this it two nights ago it made my night.

    Chrissy’s attack is infuriating.

    Instead of bullying and beating howsabout we all dance with each other and enjoy the music?

    Over 2 million views — the likes far out number the dislikes. 😉

  5. foxyladi14 says:

    very very sad.seems the milk of human kindness is drying up..

  6. dm says:

    Unfortunately, this “beat down” scenario is all too common in Baltimore…only the victim changes. What doesn’t change is that it’s always a ratio of at least 2 to 1 – no one is “tough” enough to go 1 on 1. In a case a couple of years ago, 2 girls (and I do mean girls – around 14) beat up a 12 year old at a birthday party with momma as the instigator, instructing her daughter to “handle her business”. Needless to say, mom was also charged in the crime. Sad commentary on our society when it’s the moms and the girls handing out the beatings…as always, it’s where are the parents??? Non-existent.

  7. Peggy Sue says:

    Well, I did watch the vid. I think the term ‘disposable people’ says it all. As long as we’re able to catagorize those who are unacceptable, unclean, whatever, these crimes will persist and be given a nod.

    A vicious attack is a vicious attack and the response from the restaurant’s manager and employees was dispicable. I heard laughter from some of the employees. You might think they were witnessing a playful wrestling match. The other thing that struck me was the only one who seemed to genuinely intercede was a not-so-young woman, who attempted to call the attackers out. It looks as if she was hit for her trouble.

    Very disturbing when our humanity [or lack, there of] is brought into sharp relief. It appeared the victim was having a seizure at the end.

  8. TheRock says:

    There are no words for this kind of brutality. And then to video the event while cheering?? And then to post it online?! I hope those two girls have a very difficult life.

    A post at American Thinker does this incident great justice.


    Hillary 2012

  9. joanelle says:

    I saw a clip on the news last night – couldn’t watch this vid – but I asked myself – how could someone video it and not help stop it?

    We live in really weird times. Disgusting

  10. Pat Johnson says:

    As a mother of a gay child I am so disturbed by this.

    Just unimaganable for me to think that my son, now an adult, could have faced this treatment. Or any mother’s child for any reason.

    My heart is heavy that this discrimination persists and embraced.

    Sorry for the Debbie Downer tone but this upsets me deeply.

  11. Fannie says:

    Viewing this video reminds me of a window in the pass………..you know when others didn’t think blacks were worthy of the same rights that they had. You know back in 1954, New Orleans…………where I grew up with seperate drinking fountains, seperate toilets, and seperate hospitals for treating the sick and injured, seperate schools, and seperate pools. And when
    you broke the rules, you were a witness to just how quick violence was applied.

    Just like that targeting, these girls think they have the right to judge others and take action to dehumanize them, to brutalize them, and to deprive them of their human rights to basic needs. It wasn’t shocking to watch those employees, and other stand their and do nothing, and make remarks that only edge them on. It’s a sad situation when people decide to be aginst you, rather than for your civil rights.

    I’m not proud of these girls, they have made the biggest mistake of their lives. And I don’t believe for one moment that their kind of action won’t happen again, it will, more than a hundred fold, it will.

  12. bostonboomer says:

    Excellent post, Dak. This attack was horrifying and I’m glad it is getting noticed.

    Can I add some positive news? The Atlanta law firm that had agreed to defend DOMA was influenced by public outrage–including from corporations like CocaCola.

    Behind A Major Law Firm’s Decision To Ditch Its Defense Of DOMA

    As public relations debacles go, this was a doozy. But the firm must have calculated that the alternative would have been worse. In the intervening week, a series of public and behind-the-scenes developments made it clear that the firm would suffer recriminations for defending what many of its top clients and future recruits — not to mention gay rights advocates — consider to be an anti-gay law.

    Sources with knowledge of the backlash confirm that one of King & Spalding’s top clients, Coca Cola, also based in Atlanta, directly intervened to press the firm to extricate itself from the case.

    A Coca Cola spokesman declined to comment on or off the record for this story, but pointed TPM to the company’s long public history of support for equality and diversity….

    Other King & Spalding clients likewise conveyed to the firm that its decision to take the DOMA case could cause them problems, both internally and with customers, according to sources who spoke with TPM. It also faced its own internal backlash.

    But it wasn’t just private pressure. King & Spalding also faced escalating protests from gay rights groups. The LGBT community in Atlanta has significant political influence, and the firm quickly became a target for major gay rights organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the group Georgia Equality — the largest gay rights advocate in the state. The groups planned an aggressive ad campaign, direct communication with the firm’s clients, and a diminution of its Corporate Equality Index ranking — the metric HRC uses to track corporate support for gay rights.

    The contract with Congress even included a shocking provision that would have barred employees of the firm from advocating for gay rights ON THEIR OWN TIME!!

  13. Jadzia says:

    What does it say that a middle-aged lady was the only person to step in, while a bunch of ostensibly young folks working at the restaurant did (less than) nothing? That’s certainly not the way I am raising my children.