Local GLBTs reveal varied treatment at hands of law enforcement

Despite generally reporting good relationships with local law enforcement, Knox area GLBT citizens also tell their stories of identity-based harassment, unwarranted “gender checks,” underreporting of crime due to fear of retribution, and myriad other problems. The local citizens reiterate concerns highlighted on a national scale by the recently released Amnesty International (AI) report, “Stonewalled – Still demanding respect.”

The AI report, part of their OUTfront! Project advocating for GLBT rights worldwide, details information gathered between 2003 and 2005 from GLBT victims of gender-based violence, survivors of police abuse, activists, attorneys, and law enforcement officials from across the United States. While AI is well known for spotlighting human rights abuses around the world, this report focuses solely on American problems.

Local responses to queries regarding positive or negative interactions with local police recount instances ranging from unnecessary traffic stops, unnecessary/unwarranted arrests, placement in gender-inappropriate housing, lack of proper medical care for HIV/AIDS and other patients, and other problems.

Greg W. cites an example concerning an arrest for domestic violence. “When I got to the jail and had to be searched, the guy doing it was rough in spite of me telling him I had swollen and tender lymph nodes. The booking officer witnessing this handling [of] me [said] that, ‘If you hadn't done anything wrong, you wouldn't be here, so shut up.’ Oh, really? Guilty until proven innocent? So I told them all exactly what I had ‘done wrong,’ having an argument with my husband, which I had said would continue after the police left. The arresting officer had told me that saying this was considered a threat, and so he had cuffed me as he was telling me this. They looked at the arresting officer like he'd really messed up, and they started being a LOT nicer to me, especially considering I had no prior record of anything, ever. They were aghast that I didn't have my medicines.”

Other local reports include instances of unnecessary traffic stops and citations.

“I had an interaction a few years ago with a police officer in the Bearden area. It was about 9:00 p.m. one evening and I was on my way to deliver some produce from the garden to an ill friend. I was pulled over for two reasons: my black mustang had allegedly been seen in the area hours before (which was news to me,) and my tag had a rainbow sticker on it. I was given a ticket for solicitation of all things and told that my sticker was against the law, being on the tag,” declares a local gay male who wishes to remain anonymous.

Interaction reports came from rural as well as inner-city gays. One person reported that interaction with police ran the gamut from good to bad. Another anonymous writer says, “Not all my dealings with the law have been a horror store [sic] but the horror stores [sic] are there just like the good ones. I would say there are more bad ones then good ones.”

“I have to say that I feel like the city police – and by city police I am talking about the Lexington, Ky., and the Knoxville police – are better at dealing with it than the county police are there are officers that do not care that you are GLBT, and the ones are bothered will make your life a living hell or they just deal with you and send you on your way,” notes a gay male respondent. “I also feel like that at times we are victims of hate crimes when dealing with law enforcement by the way they treat us. Take my word, there are some in law enforcement that once they get your number that you are GLBT, they then make it their job to make your life a living hell with the law.”

While no local law enforcement agencies have a designated GLBT liaison, with the exception of the Knox County District Attorney General’s office, there are ways you can help to give our community a voice in this important area.

The Knoxville Law Enforcement Training Academy does incorporate a segment on GLBTs in their basic training course for law enforcement officers. Bob Galloway, Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Knoxville is an integral part of that portion of the cadets’ training.

Captain Don Jones of the Knoxville Police Department points to a Diversity Training Panel that is open for participation by members of the GLBT community. “We focus on treating everyone as a human being,” states Jones. “The message here is respect. In the Academy, we try to enlighten our cadets so that they can make rational, legal decisions.” Jones also noted that interested persons can participate in the panel by contacting Carol Scott of the Police Advisory and Review Committee.

In Knoxville, the Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) gives citizens an additional avenue of recourse when confronted with police abuse. The Committee offers an additional review of incidents investigated by the Internal Affairs Division of the Knoxville Police Department.

“We are here to strengthen the relationship between the police and the citizens they serve,” asserts Carol Scott, Executive Director of the PARC. “The Mayor appoints all of our members who serve the community by providing an additional safeguard against abuses.”

PARC originated after a tremendous public outcry several years ago that arose after Juan Daniels and Andre Stenson, both black males, died in two separate incidents involving local police.

Although PARC does not currently have a GLBT representative member, Scott says that community members are welcome to apply. Terms on the committee are limited to no more than two consecutive three-year terms. Members should exhibit leadership qualities and have a background indicating an interest in public service.

Applications should be sent via email to Margie Nichols, Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations, at mnichols@cityofknoxville.org, and should provide a detailed description of how you can contribute to PARC. Be specific in your inquiry as Nichols accepts applications for more than thirty boards, commissions, and committees that provide public input and participation for different city agencies and services.

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