Police look ‘to bridge the gap’ with LGBT community

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — With two attacks on transgender women this week serving as a backdrop, law enforcement officials Wednesday stressed the importance of building trust between police and the LGBT community.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and other officials spoke Wednesday night at a “LGBT community chat” to offer support and information to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who believe they’ve been targeted or victimized.

Craig said there have been 15 reported crimes against LGBT citizens so far this year — a sharp increase from 2014, when there were seven.

“I know there are more than that,” Craig said. “But people in the LGBT community often don’t report crimes because there traditionally has not been a strong relationship with police. We want to change that.

“We need information, and we know that the streets talk,” Craig told the crowd of about 100. “The only way we’re going to get information is if we have a strong relationship.”

The event at Palmer Park, which drew a standing room-only crowd, was scheduled before the recent attacks.

But the fatal shooting Saturday of a 20-year-old transgender woman the advocacy group Equality Michigan identified as Amber Monroe, and Tuesday’s nonfatal shooting of a 30-year-old transgender woman police say was a prostitute, gave the meeting a sense of urgency, according to those in attendance.

“Trans lives matter,” said Lilianna Reyes. “(The recent victims) could have been you. It could have been me.”

Reyes spoke of “the fear that trans people have of going to the police. We have to do better, and we have to make the police do better. Like a lot of you, I’m nervous around a lot of police.”

Rebecca O’Hara, whose 25-year-old transgender son Ashton O’Hara was killed July 14, said the relationship with Detroit police and the LGBT community is improving.

“I’ve never felt more respected by the police,” O’Hara said. “They asked me if I wanted to refer to my son as male or female. And they caught my son’s killer,” she added, drawing applause.

McQuade promised to use the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek justice for anyone committing crimes against gays or transgender people.

“We are committed to using the tools of our office to make a better life for everyone,” she said. “That means everybody.

“What motivates me to be passionate about equality for everyone ... as a girl, I was called a tomboy. I saw how cruel small-minded people can be when you don’t fit their stereotypes.”

Craig said he plans to establish an LGBT advisory board that would meet monthly to discuss issues. Shortly after arriving in Detroit in July 2013, Craig appointed Officer Danielle Woods as LGBT liaison officer.

“We’ve begun to bridge the gap between police and the LGBT community,” Woods said. “We need to build a mutual trust, understanding and respect in order to keep our community safe.”

Yvonne Siferd, director of victim services for Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy group, added: “We have a long history of mistrust and misunderstanding with law enforcement. So it’s not going to be easy.”

Siferd said less than half of the crimes against LGBT residents are reported. And, she said, those who do report crimes are often subjected to ridicule and abuse by police officers.

“We need to come together with the police and let them know the things we’re going through at the hands of police,” she said. “It’s my hope that today we can start that conversation.”


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