Update: Meeting scheduled for Friday in response to threats of rape at Gay Day event
We received notice that there is a meeting being held Friday at 6PM at The Network (345 Atlas Avenue in Eastown), in response to the threats of rape that were directed at people gathered in Cherry St. Park for Gay Day this past Saturday.
Someone who attended the event filmed an interaction with people who were protesting Gay Day. During this interaction, one of the men said that it was be justified to rape women and specifically the woman filming because of the “sinful nature” of the LGBT celebration taking place at Cherry St. Park.
The Grand Rapids Police Department was called during this confrontation, but the police told those who called that the group of men had the right to assemble and engage in “free speech.”
Several local groups have responded to this by claiming that what the men were doing had gone beyond free speech and was actually hate speech, since they threatened to rape some of those who were present at the Cherry St Park.
The Tolerance, Equality and Awareness Movement (TEAM) sent a letter to the Grand Rapids Police Department that called the incident hate speech, that the GRPD should formally charge these men and that, “they should be prosecuted to the fullest extended of the federal law, namely the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.”
In addition, the local chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) also posted a letter sent by a NOW member to the Mayor of Grand Rapids and the Police Chief. This letter states in part:
I expect the elected officials of Grand Rapids to work to make my community as safe as possible for all citizens. In this situation the GRPD’s failure to take action to protect our community from such horrendous threats of violence is alarming and unacceptable. I believe the GRPD’s failure to act condones threats of violence and inadvertently encourages this type of behavior in our community.
While it is certainly understandable that people are outraged over the threats of rape directed at people who were part of the Gay Day event on Saturday, it is a bit disconcerting that people believe that the police are really committed to preventing violence in this community, particularly violence against the LGBT community.
A recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality entitled “Injustice at Every Turn” made it clear that nearly half of all the Trans people surveyed felt uncomfortable in talking to the police and that 22%, about 1/5 of all respondents, felt harassment by the police, with that percentage even higher amongst people of color.
The work of the national women of color organization, INCITE! also speaks to police abuse of women of color and Trans people of color. In their toolkit on Police Violence Against Women of Color and Trans People of Color also makes it clear that police violence directed at women of color and Trans people of color is extremely high and that continued collaboration with law enforcement agencies not only gives legitimacy to police departments, it prevents communities from finding real alternatives to relying on cops.
The marginalization of a gendered political analysis of state violence also de-prioritizes the work of developing community alternatives for safety, support, healing, and accountability from domestic violence, sexual violence, homophobic/transphobic violence, and other kinds of gender-based violence within our communities.
Dean Spade, in the amazing book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law, argues passionately that hate crimes legislation has no deterrent effect on people and only “strengthen and legitimize the criminal punishment system, a system that targets the very people these laws are supposedly passed to protect.”
Spade goes on to say, “Could the veterans of the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria uprisings against police violence have guessed that a few decades later LGBT law reformers would be supporting passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law that provides millions of dollars to enhance police and prosecutorial resources?“
Locally, we have seen how the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has engaged in sting operations that target gay men in parks, just for having conversations with people. The question for all of us to ask is do we want the police to prevent violence or do we find other models that are not based on punishment and violence?