Justice Dept. Offers Cops Advice on Not Being Jerks Toward Transgender Citizens

Useful training or basic manners?


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Justice Dept.

The Department of Justice's Community Relations Service bills itself as "America's Peacemaker," authorized and funded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act. Their job is to send mediators and advisors out into communities to help with "community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability." They are not an investigatory or prosecutorial agency. They are there to try to advise local police and governmental agencies on dealing with these tensions.

That you've probably never heard of them might be considered an indicator of their level of success. Their most recent report available online is for 2014, the year Michael Brown as shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, prompting outrage, protests, and some very militarized responses from police that arguably made the situation worse. They spend a couple of pages of the report talking about how they sent people to Ferguson to advise and facilitate meetings within the communities and essentially trying to keep things from spinning out of control. That their summary of participation stops short of actually pointing to any concrete positive outcomes that resulted from their mediation efforts says a lot.

When it comes to helping resolve community tensions over justice issues, the report notes that the top reason they deploy mediators is over hate crime-related concerns. But after that, the second reason is to deal with police-community relations (or the lack thereof). The number three reason they get deployed to mediate is due to tension over police misconduct or use of force. And the number four reason they get deployed is due to complaints about biased policing or racial profiling. So of the top four reason the Community Relations Service gets deployed, three are about how the police treat people. Keep this in mind whenever police abuse issues are referred to as a "training matter." The Department of Justice actually has people they send out to communities on a regular basis to help provide training whenever necessary already.

They also have a handful of training videos out, and they've just released a training video to help police officers interact with transgender citizens without being jerks. There's really no better way to describe the video. It's a training video that exists for the purpose of "training" police officers to treat the people with whom they interact with respect. As Sgt. Brett Parson notes while narrating the video, "If someone feels disrespected, they're less likely to trust us or cooperate," a lesson that obviously applies to everybody, not just transgender folks.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the video. But it just seems like one of those things that assumes that police officers who treat transgender people poorly are doing so because they don't know the right way to behave and not because they don't care and know they won't be held accountable for behaving badly. And it provides the simplest of examples as case studies where officers don't really have to deal with any complicated matters (like when a transgender person is actually arrested) to make it really easy to know what's the actual right thing to do.

Watch the video below. Incidentally, the Community Relations Service's YouTube channel has 18 whole subscribers. They began posting videos 10 months ago.