Harassed and discriminated transgender supported at Liberation in Truth
From outside on the sidewalk on Halsey Street, looking through the plate glass windows, it seemed as if the 50 or so people seated on folding metal chairs with their backs to the street could easily have been at one of those quaint storefront-church weekday revivals or services before the era of megachurches. Instead, it was an occasion when Liberation in Truth, together with the American Civil Liberties Union-New Jersey Chapter (ACLU-NJ), hosted a rally and civil rights information session in support of Diana Taylor, also known as Christopher Moore, an African-American transgender woman, who was harassed and arrested by Newark’s police.
The audience seemed transfixed when Taylor, originally from Houston, Texas, began to tell her story of what happened almost a year ago, occasionally lapsing into colloquialisms with some flamboyant elements thrown in as the emotion of the memories surfaced. Hewing close to some of the details in the complaint, in her narrative, she provided more information. She said that in anticipation of celebrating her birthday, she had that day paid extra special attention to her toilet, even to ensuring her hairpiece was well coiffed, and with a feeling bordering on giddiness, she headed to a computer repair shop to have her laptop repaired. But the feeling of euphoria quickly evaporated, she said, when she was suddenly stopped by two Newark city police officers.
The complaint (Diana Taylor v. Newark Police Department) states that Taylor will be represented by attorneys at the law firm Smith Mullin, along with support from the ACLU-NJ. The defendants, the City of Newark Police Department and Newark Police Officers G. Maiorano, C. Nunez and Lieutenant Carillo, state that on March 23, 2009, the police officers stopped Taylor while she was walking on the street. Maiorano, the complaint stated, demanded, “Where are you going with all that hair?” (in reference to Taylor’s wig), then asked, “You don’t look like you belong around here… Where are you from?” The complainant alleges that when asked for identification, Taylor couldn’t produce any, but gave her given name, Christopher Moore. The police officer then said to the other as if to satisfy a bet, “You’re right; I owe you $10. It’s a man.”
Out in the street, and by this time a small curious crowd had begun to gather, Taylor said the police officers taunted her, asking her about her sexual orientation and calling her a “chick with a dick,” a “faggot,” asking her if she engaged in anal intercourse, and if she was a “pitcher or receiver.”
“When the police stopped me, I thought to myself that my growth was being stopped, and I thought of the fight for civil rights,” Taylor said.
She described to the audience that as she protested to the officers, asking them why they were harassing her, and telling them she would sue them, that they adopted a more forceful attitude toward her. As she was being handcuffed, she said she had visions of not wanting to go to the police detention facility at 31 Green Street, which she said was “pissy.” She said that she struggled to keep her mental state intact because she didn’t want this experience to make her fall apart and to make her want to attempt suicide, as she had once when she was a teen.
In defiance and in determination, she said to the audience, “I wasn’t going to let them send my body back to Houston in a body bag.”
According to her Facebook page, Taylor said she was forcibly placed in the police squad car and transported to the Second Police Precinct, where six unnamed police officers joined in and made fun of her. While still in cuffs, one of the police officers fondled her genitals and made lewd comments, and another commented about not wanting to touch her for fear of contracting AIDS. After a while and more protestations, Carillo ordered her released, but instead of allowing her to leave the precinct, the police kept her handcuffed and insisted on driving her to her home, which was an estimated one minute or .3 miles away. In the car, she found herself with the two officers who arrested her. They threatened her by saying, “they knew gang members in her neighborhood that would harm her if she pursued legal action or complaints against them.” One of the officers said, “You don’t know who you’re [expletive] with.”
Taylor said she refused to allow them to intimidate her and tried calling the police precinct to file a complaint. On one occasion when she called, Carillo tried to dissuade her from making the complaint. Then when she went to the precinct to file the complaint, Carillo refused to accept it and tried again to prevent her from filing it with the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. But, after persisting and filing the complaint, about a month later, Taylor was served with two criminal summonses, accusing her of littering and disorderly conduct, backdated to the date of her arrest.
Seeming to contradict Taylor’s claim of being prevented from filing her complaint, Detective Burgos of the Internal Affairs Bureau said that complaints could be done by filling in a form and faxing it, completing it online, taking it in person to a precinct where the supervisor has to accept it, or over the phone. Burgos said that the Bureau honors all complaints. Also seemingly at odds with Taylor’s stance against the police is a photograph on her Facebook page where she posed with a New York City police officer, alongside a squad car, with a caption: “My Boo, to nice to b a cop so…sweet.”
Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ, said that Taylor contacted her office a few weeks after the incident took place. She said it took some time to marshal resources, including a cooperating attorney and preparing the complaint. “It’s fairly normal for it to take several months before we file a case.”
In a flurry of email correspondence seeking to humanize Taylor, rather than have her be referred to as a case file, and to provide missing information in the complaint, Jacobs who had previously given Taylor permission to speak with Out In Jersey, said that she had advised Taylor not to answer any more questions. A subsequent email from Taylor said that she agreed not to do an interview with anyone at this point, but then added in a later email that the police had threatened to take her to a place called “Green Street.” Questions about whether she is living in fear have not been answered.
Jacobs said that while witnesses from the event on the street have come forward to assist with the case, she did not provide their names for corroboration. She added that there were a number of police officers at the precinct who saw what had happened, but who have not come forward. She added that by assisting Taylor with her case, the ACLU-NJ hopes to get justice for Taylor, as well as reforms within the Newark Police Department—especially with regard to better training and improvements in reporting and processing of complaints in the Internal Affairs Department. But while the complaint demands relief in the form of compensation from the city and the officers, it does not specify a sum, and when asked about a figure or amount, Jacobs said she did not know.
Those who also spoke at the rally included Newark City Councilor Ron Rice, representing the West Ward; Gary Paul Wright, executive director of the African-American Office of Gay Concerns; and Jacobs and Ed Baracas, staff attorney with the ACLU-NJ, who explained in a question and answer session citizen’s rights and how to respond to the police. In the audience were representatives of the City’s LGBTQ Commission, Joseph Panessidi and Al Cunningham, and Pastor J. Jackson, a minister with Liberation in Truth.
Wright, also a commissioner on the city’s LGBTQ Commission, said, “We know there are a lot of young gay people out there who are being bashed and are afraid to speak up. We don’t want to take out the police department, but we’re here because we need to hear this information and as a body representing the commission to get this information to the mayor.”
Jacobs and Baracas exhorted the audience to greater awareness of their civil rights provided under the U.S. Constitution and under the state’s constitution, especially against stops, searches and seizures, and the treatment those victimized by the police have endured.
The Newark Police Second Precinct web site, maintained by Detective Jim Bircsak, lists their 2009 crime statistics showing an 11% decline in aggravated assaults for 2009 over 2008; there is no listing for the number of complaints against police officers. Rice said that what happened to Taylor is ridiculous and shameful, “The police powers need to be checked. We’re getting too many complaints.”
An email enquiry to Todd McClendon at the Newark Police Department Media Office acknowledged receipt of a request for a comment on the case and about the number of complaints made against police officers in the last year. McClendon replied that the department cannot comment on pending litigation and referred any other enquiries to the city’s law department.
Having dealt with similar cases—including violent attacks and even murder against members of the transgender community—Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said, “Diana’s story is all too common among transgender people, who experience inordinate levels of harassment and abuse at the hands of law enforcement. The Newark Police Department must takes steps, including training all of its personnel, to ensure that transgender Newark residents are treated with the same dignity and respect as all of Newark’s other citizens.”