Sit Down with the Chief

LGBT leaders met with Lanier – and though several came away frustrated, they're still hoping for action

Leaders from local LGBT organizations sat with Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier for nearly two hours on Aug. 16, in closed-door meeting at which members of the media were not invited, to address concerns about safety and policy decisions in recent months.

Although some attendees left feeling that not much was accomplished at the meeting, one attendee tells Metro Weekly that Lanier did commit to following up by holding a similar meeting in two months.

Cathy LanierLanier, and a group of representatives from MPD, including Deputy Chief Diane Groomes, scheduled the meeting as a result of the July 6 hate crimes hearing, which was organized by Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s (D-At Large) Committee on the Judiciary.

Jason Terry and Ruby Corado of the DC Trans Coalition both agreed that while the meeting was an opportunity to speak about their concerns, there was no sense of urgency or that something new will come out of the meeting.

”It wasn’t any different [than previous meetings],” Corado says.

Chris Farris, spokesperson and co-founder of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, also attended the meeting. He found Lanier to be ”receptive” to the concerns of the community, although he too voiced frustration with the pace of progress made in recent years.

Corado was more blunt, saying, ”[S]he is good in terms of how she plays people, but overall we didn’t achieve what we want. There was nothing new. We want actual steps. We want to see a plan. We want her to acknowledge that the system in place right now is really not working and she keeps pretending like it is.”

Corado adds that most of the attendees were in agreement that the meeting was not productive, saying, ”You could just see it on everyone’s faces.”

Terry says while the meeting provided an opportunity for community members to speak openly and frankly about various concerns, they weren’t new concerns. He says it is the same conversation the community has been having with the chief for the past few years.

Specifically, he says he remains concerned about Lanier’s enforcement of ”prostitution-free zones.”

”The chief can declare an area of about two to three blocks, at her discretion, as prostitution free, and what that does it lowers the bar for probable cause leading to an arrest,” he says. ”It allows officers to disperse people in groups of two or more who may be suspected of engaging in sex work, whether they are or not.

”What that means in affect is trans people bear the brunt of that. It pushes people engaging in sex work into less safe areas. And it makes it easier for you to arrest someone from a community that’s already subject to a lot of arrests. And it just circles, and the police will ask, ‘Well how do we get people off the streets?’ Well if you arrest them, it’s that much harder to get a job.”

According to Farris, Lanier has already agreed to sit with members of the local LGBT community again in the next two months. She’s also ”committed to follow up on specific complaints to specific cases,” he says, talking to Metro Weekly, after the event.

”I would say overall the chief was receptive to things that were said,” Farris said. ”And the folks who were in attendance were pretty open and transparent in their feelings and criticisms and concerns.”

Those concerns have included the chief’s handling of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. Since coming on board, she changed the functionality of the GLLU by disbanding the centralized Dupont Circle location and expanding services to all seven police districts.

Problems with the relationship between Lanier and the local LGBT took another negative turn when Lashai Mclean, a 23-year-old transgender woman, was gunned down on July 20. In reporting the incident, MPD used Mclean’s birth-given male name, as well as a mug shot of Mclean in s flier asking for information about suspects.

Farris met with Lanier when she first took the position as the chief, and he says the tone has shifted since that meeting, echoing concerns described by Terry.

”The first time we met with her, there was a great sense of optimism and excitement about forging a new relationship,” Farris says. ”Now, we’ve been working with the chief and MPD for three years, community members who were there have been working with her for the whole five years that she’s been serving. And I think that now there’s a little bit more of frustration that the same issues are being dealt with, and I think that there’s also a bit of frustration at times expressed by the chief because she has a difficult job and she can’t please everybody all the time.”

Looking at the situation she faces, he says, ”I never felt that she doesn’t care about our community, but it is true that when you look at the bottom line, things happen that shouldn’t be happening and ultimately we have to figure out why.

”I’m hopeful that we’ve turned a corner in terms of the relationship between the community and the perception that the community has in respect to the level of support it gets from the MPD.”

Others attending the Aug. 16 meeting with Lanier included community members Alison Gardner, Nick McCoy, Isaiah Toney, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance vice president Rick Rosendall, GLOV’s current chair A.J. Singletary, Transgender Health Empowerment’s Earline Budd and Brian Watson and Rainbow Response Coalition’s June Crenshaw and Shauna Fecher.

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