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Stop-and-Frisk Targets Transgender Community Unfairly, Study Says

QUEENS — Jackson Heights’ transgender community has been targeted by police for stop-and-frisks at more than double the rate of the rest of the neighborhood's population, a new study says.

Compounding the issue in the area, which is heavily immigrant, is the fact that the controversial practice largely targets minorities. 

"Transgender and gender nonconforming people of color are particularly vulnerable due to their visibility," the study said. "In order to combat police misconduct, there must be legislation and policies that minimize the risk of these kinds of abuse occurring in our communities."

Of the 305 residents contacted over the past year for the study, conducted by Make the Road New York and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence project, 167 listed themselves as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or “other.”

Of that group, 51 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or other respondents said they were stopped by police, a third of whom said they were also physically harassed.

But for the 69 transgender people surveyed, those numbers were higher, the study showed. Fifty-nine percent of transgender respondents said they were stopped by police, almost half of whom said they were physically harassed.

For non LGBTQ respondents, the rate of being stopped and frisked was less than half — 28 percent.

Some transgender people said they were accused of being sex workers, according to speakers on Tuesday at Make the Road's Jackson Heights office.

A transgender woman who identified herself on Tuesday as Cristina — speakers remained mostly anonymous except for their first name — claimed in a translated statement that she was leaving a club in Jackson Heights with her boyfriend when a group of undercover police officers frisked them both.

When they found condoms in her bra, she said, they accused her of being a sex worker.

“After seeing the condoms they asked if I was sure that I was not working,” she said. “I told them that I was with my boyfriend and they said that he was not my boyfriend.”

Activists like Make the Road say the practice of using condoms as evidence of sex work has been used to demonize transgender people, and point to legislation currently in the State Senate — a “No Condoms as Evidence Bill” sponsored by 17 Democratic state senators — as a step in the right direction.

The study outlined a number of other recommendations, including encouraging the use of new NYPD patrol guidelines announced in June to address alleged transgender discrimination, and the passage of the Community Safety Act in the City Council.

The council bill, sponsored by 30 council members, went to the Committee on Public Safety on Oct. 10. It would require officers to provide their name and rank, explain the reasons why they’re stopping someone and set up a new Inspector General’s office to monitor the program.

One of the Community Safety Act sponsors, Jackson Heights Councilman Daniel Dromm, said that the police should do more to build trust, and less to alienate those who live in the community.

“It’s an issue of racial profiling, and an issue of LGBTQ profiling with special emphasis on our transgendered community,” Dromm said. “The majority of LGBTQ people who have come to this neighborhood, or who live in this neighborhood, in many instances have come to live here because of persecution in their own country only to face further persecution in this country.”

The 115th precinct, which covers Jackson Heights, had one of the highest incidences of force used by cops in the city last year, according to a report in the New York Times. Officers from the precinct also made 1,209 stops in the second quarter of 2012, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. That number was down from the previous quarter, in which 1,737 people were stopped.

The 115th precinct directed questions to the NYPD’s public information office, which did not immediately respond. The 110th precinct, which covers the nearby neighborhoods of Corona and Elmhurst, did not immediately return calls.

Make the Road organizer Karina Claudio-Betancourt said she hopes the study can be the starting-point of a conversation with the precincts.

“We’ve reached out to them, and they’re aware this report is out,” Claudio-Betancourt said. “We want to engage in a more thorough conversation with them, specifically about the demands that are more directed towards the precincts.”

The study focused more broadly on the entire LGBTQ community in Jackson Heights. A gay man named Enrique told a story about a night out with his boyfriend that ended at the Junction Boulevard 7 train station.

When Enrique realized the train was coming, he grabbed his partner’s hand and gave him a kiss on the lips. As soon as they finished kissing, he said, he saw a police officer walk toward them.

“The officer asked my boyfriend if he thought what we were doing was a good example for the city,” Enrique said in a translated statement. “I quickly passed my ID to the officer, but Freddy did not have his ID.”

Enrique claims that the police then cuffed Freddy, allegedly calling his partner an anti-gay slur and putting him in a van. The outcome of the case was not clear.

“I kept trying to find out why they had arrested Freddy, but the police only kept threatening me that if I did not leave I would be arrested too,” Enrique said. “The only reason we can think of for Freddy’s arrest is the fact that we are gay and that we kissed in public.”

A lawyer for Make the Road said the organization encouraged those who say they’ve been harassed by police to contact the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a civilian agency in charge of investigating cases of stop-and-frisk, though she said some have found the process fruitless.

“There is a level of suspicion in the community, and dissatisfaction that the process is ineffective,” the lawyer, Marika Dias, said.

A spokesman from the CCRB said the agency does not keep complaint records based on sexual orientation, which he said would include transgendered people.

There are no immediate plans to take legal action against the city, Dias said, but she and Claudio-Betancourt both said that they hoped the study would spur broader change.

“Individual cases don’t resolve a systematic problem,” Claudio-Betancourt said. “That can only be done through legislation.”

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.