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The divide between APD and the LGBTQ+ community

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@lewishamdreamer via Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0 license
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When Albuquerque Pride’s board announced that the Albuquerque Police Department would not be invited to this year’s pride event, New Mexico Equality Executive Director Marshall Martinez was not surprised. 

“The reality is the LGBTQ community has always had strained relationships with law enforcement.” Martinez cited the fact that pride is a recognition of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, which started during the 1969 stonewall riots. “That history is important because those riots were police brutality riots, in reality. It launched forward a public campaign to achieve quality and liberation for queer and trans people. That started because the police were specifically mostly trans folks, but queer and trans folk as a whole.” 

Fast forward 53 years, and over-policing for the LGBTQ community is still an issue. In a statement posted on abqpride.com, President Suzi Alexander explains that the decision to not invite APD “was based on the consideration and compassion for some of the LGBTIQ community members’ concerns with senseless shootings, beatings, and bullying of LGBTIQ people” 

Martinez said the data collected from around the nation supports this community outcry. 

“What we know from data across the country, including some anecdotal data from here in New Mexico, we haven’t collected it systematically yet, is that LGBTQ folks are over-policed, over accused, and over-incarcerated. We represent significantly higher portions of the population of people who have been detained or arrested by police or have been charged and convicted of crimes than the portion that we represent of the general population.” 

Even when APD had a presence at the 2021 pride, it was not without pushback from the community. Alexander said she personally fought for the department to have a booth. 

“It makes a lot of sense that in a space where we want that community to be celebrated and to feel safe, that not inviting your opposer, your historical, long standing opposer might be something that people feel strongly about.”

That was T. Michael Trimm, Executive Director of Services & Administration at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. Trimm said that roughly 90% of the individuals that visit their organization’s drop-in centers, which help connect individuals with services such as healthcare, case management, basic needs, and housing & employment, have  experienced some form of over-policing, harassment, and physical harm from law enforcement. Other circumstances played into these interactions as well, such as the individuals being un-sheltered, or self-medicating. 

Trimm gave an example of how a couple days ago, a police presence was down the block from their center and they were worried that participants walking to the center, their safe space, would accidentally encounter police and it would end up being a bad scenario. 

“But the disparity and the factor that really stands out is that these folks are trans and that police target them, so much so that we at the center, our staff, we are on high alert if we see a police vehicle, we worry about the safety of our participants.” 

Martinez said this is daily reality for LGBTQ community members.

 “Those of us who live in this community, who live with this identity on a daily basis. We know that if its dangerous in general to interact with Albuquerque police, it’s more dangerous for us who are obviously queer, more dangerous for those of us who are obviously trans.” 

With a sharp divide between the LGBTQ community and APD, the question of how these two groups can foster a better relationship remains unanswered. In the statement on abqpride.com, Alexander said that after their inclusion at last year’s Pride, APD said they would remain in contact with the organization, but they never heard back. Officer Chase Jewell, who is the APD LGBTQ Community Ambassador said the miscommunication is partly on him. 

“I probably should’ve reached out to them sooner, I was assuming that due to the nature of our relationship and how we have previously had in-person meeting and they have access to my work cell, my email inbox as well, that if they needed something, they could have shot my a text or given me a phone call, or shot me an email as well and I would’ve been able to get back to them.” 

But Jewell did say he should’ve taken initiative and reached out to the organization first instead of waiting for them to reach out to him. 

“I would primarily say it’s our fault as the police department for not being over top on the communication. We should have definitely done a lot better on when we comminuted, how often we communicated with them, but as I said earlier , this is all a process in rebuilding the connection with the community, I’m learning that they as an organization expect more consistent communication from me, and that’s what’s going to be the narrative from me moving forward.” 

In terms of the community saying the police department has senselessly beat, bullied, and shot them, Jewell said he was surprised. 

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community and being an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department as well. None of the coworkers disrespect me for who I am and don’t disrespect the community members for who they are, what they identify as, and so that statement, I know its a national and international state she (Alexander) is making because there are departments and there are people out there who have done wrong against LGBTQI+ members of our community throughout the entire country. I just hope they don’t have that vision about the Albuquerque police department and about us here in New Mexico and specifically with APD, we have never, to my knowledge, working with this agency for nearly 4 years have ever had any issues with excessive force on an LGBTQI member.” 

Jewell said he had a conversation with Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, who said he wants to help build a better relationship with the LGBTQ community. 

Trimm said that the intersections in which LGBTQ+ members are in, also plays a part in the interactions they experience with police officers. 

“Our participants are not only just trans people, but there are so many intersections and that is what makes their interactions with the police more dangerous. They’re not only trans, but they're black and brown, they are poor, they are unsheltered, they are substance users, they are sex workers. They are all of these things that police historically and currently don’t like and abuse and attack and over police. So all of those things mixed up together is what makes the police presence at our drop-in center specifically terrifying. Not scary, but terrifying.” 

Trimm also said the trust the LGBTQI community members have for the police is also broken, citing an example of police responding to a call they made concerning a participant of their organization being contacted by a former domestic abuser. 

“We had an instance with a participant who had been a survivor, who is a survivor of a horrible domestic violence incident, she almost lost the use of her legs. This person reached out to her while they were locked up at MDC, reached out of her at the center, her safe space. We called APD to make a report. Mind you, we at the center, sit on all these different coalitions, so  we know that we can call this person, or that person to try and circumvent these things. And they all told us you have to call APD, you have to make a report. It took 29 hours and 45 minutes for an officer to arrive. Why would they trust? Why would you trust? These are the same people that harass you, and beat you, and sexually assault you, and just make you feel like crap. And then you finally have the courage to call them when you’re supposed to, when they're supposed to do their job, and then they don’t come for you. That doesn’t build trust, that doesn’t repair the broken relationships.” 

Moving forward with trying to build a relationship between the LGBTQ community and APD, Martinez said it ultimately comes down to APD being prepared to have uncomfortable conversations. 

“They’re going to have to prepare themselves to sit in a room and hear how horrible some people’s experiences have been with law enforcement in this city. And they’ve got to do that, not with a defensive posture, not with an eye at explaining themselves. But truly opening themselves up, hearing and processing what that trauma felt like and then thinking of ways to fix it in the future, so that it doesn't happen again.”