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Chicago City Council prohibits police profiling of trans* people
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-01-21

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By a unanimous vote January 21, the Chicago City Council approved the expansion of an existing city ordinance prohibiting police profiling based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability, military discharge, marital, financial or parental status to include gender identity and national origin.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) was co-sponsor of the ordinance. "It came to the attention of council members through [Attorney General] Eric Holder's work adding gender identity to the prohibition of racial profiling," Tunney told Windy City Times. "I've been involved with this for a long time knowing that the relationship between the community and the police has had its ups and downs. We have worked for years making sure that sensitivity to the transgender [community] was mandatory as part of [Chicago Police Department] initial training and reeducation. I think it's even more important, not just for the recruits, but for the existing workforce."

Tunney added that a number of Chicago advocacy organizations will assist with gender identity training and sensitivity. "We've had issues over the years on Halsted Street and with local recognition of the transgender community," he said. "We've also heard about too many issues where transgender people in custody have not been treated well."

Tunney said that it took three months for the expansion to pass.

Executive Director of ONE Northside (formerly the Lakeview Action Coalition) Jennifer Ritter applauded the move. "We had worked for several years to draft an internal police policy around the treatment of transgender individuals and worked with [the CPD] to agree to it," she told Windy City Times. "This sounds like a great next step."

She added that it was the treatment of LGBT youth in Lakeview by both local businesses and the CPD that spurred the organization to begin work on the policy. "It's kind of Lakeview's dirty little secret, and not a very well kept secret, that despite the fact that it prides itself on being such an open community, there are youth being harassed by the police," Ritter said.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th Ward) was a fervent supporter of the expansion. "It's important that the transgender community feel safe and know they are not going to be discriminated against by the Chicago police," he told Windy City Times. "In addition to the ordinance passed today, it's important that the police department continue to do ongoing training and that's something that they have embarked upon. This is a very important step, but I think that ongoing awareness and training is also critical. My colleagues are going to work to make sure that continues."

In a press release, Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Chersakov said that "adding gender identity to the anti-profiling law is a major win for the city's transgender residents. The ordinance recognizes the unique situation that transgender people face in achieving full equality, and it enshrines in law that they should be treated fairly and with understanding."

Reactions from two members of the transgender community were mixed.

Activist and collective member of the Transformative Justice Law Center of Illinois Monica James suffered decades of profiling, abuse and harassment by both the CPD and the Illinois Department of Corrections. James was a 2014 delegate in the 2014 Community Against Torture (CAT) convention in Geneva, Switzerland during which she gave a speech to members of the United Nations which focused upon the profiling and targeting of transgender women of color by law enforcement and its devastating repercussions and resulting disenfranchisement of the transgender community.

"Any time we can get something in writing, dialogue and the representation of transgender, gender non-conforming and queer community members, any time we can get language included in laws and the policy of how government interacts with that community, I think that's a great step moving forward," James said of the ordinance.

However, she added that training will only be effective if entire department received the training "whether they are in the field or on administrative duty," she said. "But also I only think it's going to work if training is facilitated and implemented by people from the community who have suffered from the targeting of trans folks and the LGBTQI community as a whole. Law enforcement has the opportunity to make mistakes behind closed doors and have them corrected."

A former Board member of the Lakeview Action Coalition, Chicago trans activist and Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inductee Christina Kahrl believes the expansion of the ordinance does not address the fundamental problem with the CPD's August 2012 General Order concerning "Interactions with Transgender, Intersex and Gender Nonconforming "Individuals."

"These problems are unfortunately still there and create a liability issue for the city," Kahrl said. "We're talking about people with IDs with the wrong gender marker because they can't afford to change their ID's, their names or to get a doctor's note to take to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the gender marker changed. By only looking at people on the basis of how their gender marker is set up on their ID, the police department have basically set up an economic model for the dispensation of justice for transgender people. You're only going to be treated properly if you can afford to be treated the way you self identify. Too many transgender people in the city of Chicago, particularly those who are going to have any interactions with the police, are the most at risk for not being in a position to afford any of the associated expenses to change their gender marker. The General Order grew out of the realization that trans people and particularly homeless trans people were being harassed by the police. They are still in the crosshairs but the General Order doesn't do anything to address them."

Kahrl doubts Tunney's statement as to how CPD training and sensitivity will occur and who will deliver it. "Although he participated in conversations with then the Lakeview Action Coalition and was involved with an effort to create a City Council ordinance that would have been favorable to the police, he does not have all the information at his disposal," Kahrl said. "We talked a lot about the need for in-person training. We wanted and recommended a stronger implementation effort. We did not want the Chicago Police Department to go with a virtual learning mode. I have seen no evidence that it has actually happened."

In March of 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service launched transgender training materials that were intended to be disseminated to police departments across the country. The object of the materials is that those participating in training will "learn relevant terminology, understand the misconceptions that impact the prevention of and response to hate crimes and develop an awareness of strategies and resources for successful collaboration."

Both Kahrl and James have assisted the DOJ with such training.

"I would like to find out what the CPD has in mind in terms of actual implementation and training of police officers particularly around trans people and trans issues," Kahrl said. "And I would like to see them change their policy around IDs."

"We've got people pointing the finger at law enforcement and law enforcement pointing their fingers at the community," James said. "The bridge is never mended because mistakes are being made publicly. If the CPD can receive the training from trans men and women who were targeted and impacted by the system, I think that it would be a plus, not just for the trans community but for society as a whole."

Windy City Times reached out to The Chicago Police Department on multiple occasions in order to determine if a training plan is in place and who or what organizations will be delivering it. The CPD told Windy City Times that inquiries had been "forwarded to the appropriate department."

[Note: This article was updated on Jan. 25.]


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