Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Memphis Police Involved in Brutal Anti-Trans Hate Crime

A local TV-Station released shocking footage today of two police officers attacking a transgender woman at a booking station in Memphis, TN yesterday. The incident occurred on February 17th, 2008 and the footage shows Officer B. McRae walking over to the survivor and repeatedly hitting her in the face. McRae attempted to get the survivor’s attention by calling her several derogatory names. She refused to respond, which motivated McRae to violently attack her, while Officer J. Swain held her down.

The survivor’s attorney, Murray Wells, thought that he and his client would receive some kind of acknowledgement from both the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the Shelby County District Attorney’s (DA) office shortly after the incident. Sadly, he did not receive any indication that these organizations were interested in the case. It was not until June 18th - four months after the attack occurred - that the MPD released a statement saying that it does “not condone any misconduct of a police officer that will compromise official law enforcement duties or the rights or safety of our citizens.”

The statement also alleges that Swain, the officer who held the survivor down, was fired by the MPD while McRae, the officer who repeatedly beat and maced the survivor, has been placed on non-enforcement status pending an administrative hearing. Both the DA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have reviewed the tape. The DA dropped all charges against the survivor and the FBI continues to investigate possible civil rights violations committed by the MPD.

Public servants need to be held to the highest ethical standards when serving their communities. Since the District Attorney, William Gibbons, wishes to assume the office of Governor in 2010, he must ensure that the MPD is held accountable to their commitment of protecting the rights and safety of its residents rather than infringing upon these rights. As of now, it’s clear that both Gibbons and the MPD have failed to appropriately address this incident in a prompt fashion. Even more distressing is the fact that Officer McRae, the officer responsible for the assault, still remains on the MPD payroll.

Incidents like these demonstrate the importance of enacting the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also known as the Matthew Sheppard Act), which would provide federal resources and assistance for state and local law enforcement agencies prosecuting violent, bias-motivated crimes similar to this particular incident. If you live in Tennessee, make it an effort to hold both William Gibbons and the MPD accountable for their failure to fire Officer B. McRae. Also, everyone should encourage their congressional representatives to support the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will help support all local law enforcement agencies prosecute similar hate crimes across the country.

- J. Rhodes Perry


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