Transphobic violence: the video

// 20 June 2008

transgendersymbol.gifIt is something of a truism that women are second class citizens – and transsexual women merely second class women. This has been graphically demonstrated this week with the (belated) news (via Pam’s House Blend and others) of the beating of a transsexual woman, by a police officer. The attack – on February 12 (the same day that Lawrence King was murdered) – was caught on the CCTV cameras as Duanna Johnson was being held in the booking area of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, Memphis, Tennessee, after being arrested for prostitution.

The CCTV footage (click here to see the video on the WMCTV Memphis website) clearly shows Officer B. McRae walk over to Ms Johnson and hit her in the face several times with his handcuffs (wrapped around his knuckles). During the attack, Ms Johnson was held down by the shoulders by another police man, Officer J. Swain.

After taking several blows to the head, one of which split her skull and drew blood, Johnson stood up and swung back. But then she sat down, and Officer McRae hit her in the face again. Then he maced her. On the tape, other people in the room are seen turning away and fanning their hands because of the smell.

To add insult to injury, when a nurse (employed by the Sheriff’s Department) finally comes into shot, she goes directly to Officer McRae to provide medical care – for a scratch on the back of his head. You can see it in the video: she walks right past Ms. Johnson, who by now is handcuffed, lying on the floor and clearly in pain.

And what was the cause, the justification, for this horrifying brutality? Ms Johnson refused to respond to hate speech from the officer:

"Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was [to be fingerprinted], and I responded by telling him that wasn’t my name – that my mother didn’t name me a ‘faggot’ or a ‘he-she’, so he got upset and approached me. And that’s when it started", Ms Johnson said.

The Memphis Police Department has since confirmed that Officer Swain (a probationary officer) has been "separated" from the Memphis PD. And the attacker, Officer McRae has been given a desk job pending an administrative hearing.

As Pam Spaulding says in her post: "It’s an enraging reminder that while each civil rights gain in the LGBT community is meaningful, we cannot rest until we are all safe, all free from discrimination."

Later edit: Alex Blaze at The Bilerico Project has an update post which carries the perhaps surprising news that Officer McRae has filed an assault charge against Ms Johnson.

In his report, McRae said Johnson swung at him and threatened to shoot the officer in the head. He said he was punched repeatedly in the head and neck by Johnson, whose first name is listed as Dwayne in the report.

Also, note that although Ms Johnson was arrested for prostitution, the charges were dropped. There is no evidence and no reason to believe that she is a sex worker.

Click here to read the full post over at Bilerico.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.

(Cross-posted at bird of paradox)

Comments From You

Anne Onne // Posted 20 June 2008 at 11:23 am

That’s awful, it’s beyond words. There’s no excuse for an officer to go assaulting someone under their charge for no reason, and no excuse to treat transgender people as ‘less’ than anyone else. And the nurse ignoringthe clearly injured detainee? Evidently once arrested you hand in your right to dignity or medical treatment. Ugh.

What worries me is not only that this happened once, but that this knd of thing is systemic, with some officers routinely using their job as an excuse for violence against defenceless people. It’s really true that any public service job that involves a degree of authority attracts two kinds of people: the ones who want to make the world better, and the ones who know the power in the job will give them cover to do what they wish. Clearly, this police officer was of the latter type.

Davina // Posted 22 June 2008 at 6:45 pm

As I was reading this, I thought, ‘I’m not surprised – and I bet she’s black, too’.

And I don’t mean to say that if she were white the beating would be any less horrific. I’m saying that this type of crime doesn’t surprise me and it’s fucking depressing that I expected Ms Johnson to be a WOC. I mistrust authority anyway, having witnessed two instances of police corruption in my lifetime and read about a thousand more.

On the very slight upside, at least there’s good sympathetic media coverage – a smal sign of progress.

Michelle Taylor // Posted 14 July 2008 at 8:08 am

As a pre-op transwoman I’m always aware of the contempt and hatred that people feel towards someone like me for breaking societal gender-norms. Because I pass as a biological woman I’ve never really experienced transphobia… but occasionally, when I have had to reveal my trans status, I have experienced bigoted reactions that I have found upsetting. My heart goes out to Ms Johnson, stand up and be proud sweetie!

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