May 5, 2015
BALTIMORE — The Baltimore police department has much to answer for: the events of the last few weeks have drawn our attention to this, from the callous murder of Freddie Gray to the hundreds of people arrested protesting his murder who were then held for an unconstitutional length of time (47 hours) in inhumane conditions and then released with no explanation and, for most, no way to know if or for what they would face charges.
Deairra Michelle Venable was one of the dozens of people arrested on the night of April 27, while filming video of police activity during a protest calling for justice for Freddie Gray. At central booking, when police discovered she had been assigned male at birth, they transferred her to a men’s facility. First, they strip-searched her and left her naked in a glass cell in central booking for 45 minutes, while people outside leered and cracked jokes. Police forced Deairra to remove her bra before taking her to the men’s facility, leaving her breasts exposed in the sheer thermal shirt she was wearing when she was arrested. Deairra was held for four days in these unconscionable and inhumane conditions, denied her medication, exposed to and harassed by male guards and detainees, and ridiculed by the bail commissioner.
Deairra has identified as a woman since she was 14. She was one of the first openly trans students in the Baltimore public school system, from which she graduated as an excellent student. At 30, she now has a job at a hair salon. Her bail, for fourth degree burglary (a minor and broadly-defined charge), was set at $100,000. While Deairra’s friends managed to raise $10,000, her lawyers, Astrid Munn and Mirriam Seddiq of Seddiq Law in Baltimore, are representing Deairra pro bono. They have set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover Deairra’s court costs, including any potential forthcoming civil suit at life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/baltimore-city-transgender-legal-defense-fund.
The NLG Queer Caucus strongly condemns mass incarceration and the intentional and excessive targeting of trans women, particularly trans women of color. Deairra’s experience illustrates how the prison industrial complex is especially harmful for trans women, who already face disproportionate rates of violence and murder. The Queer Caucus calls on the Baltimore Police Department and police departments around the country to develop best practices for housing trans and gender-nonconforming detainees according to their self-identified gender, to ensure those inmates’ physical and emotional safety while they are incarcerated, and to provide all necessary health care to them. The Queer Caucus also calls on the Baltimore Police Department to put an immediate halt to police violence against trans women, and to respond meaningfully when violence against trans women is reported to them.
The Queer Caucus provides a space for queer members to come together to discuss and strategize about work and their role within the National Lawyers Guild. The NLG Queer Caucus may be contacted at <email@example.com>.