Your Take: When Cops Look the Other Way
The latest in a string of violent attacks on LGBT women of color in Washington, D.C., was met with shocking indifference by police.
If their version of the story is accurate, the ease with which the panic of the victims was ignored points to a larger problem with the way the anger of black women can be callously dismissed. It's an attitude ultimately traceable to the "angry black woman" stereotype: a caricature of black women that portrays black women as irrationally angry and belligerent with little or no provocation.
It's a curious rhetorical trick: The stereotype tells us that black women are always angry, so their anger can be discounted and it is viewed as more hostile and threatening than other people's anger. It allows police officers to be so put off by the anger of five black women who were just attacked that they refuse to take a report, but not so moved by that anger that they acknowledge the gravity of the attack. It allows people to simultaneously take the anger of black women too seriously and not seriously enough.
Of course the victims would have been agitated. Senseless attacks that target individuals because of their identity and subject them to chilling violence shock the conscience of most people. Of all the emotions of those who actually experience the violence firsthand, agitation should be the least surprising.
But these five victims were black and young and women and lesbians. And that combination of marginalized identities may well have led to their anger being ignored, their pain excused, their fear dismissed and their humanity denied.
If these officers actually refused to file a report on this heinous crime, that fact demonstrates a stunning, inexcusable dereliction of duty. And while the presence of the GLLU in the D.C. police department is a laudable addition, it cannot serve as an excuse for other officers to deny protection to LGBT victims of crime.
Fortunately, D.C. police Chief Cathy Lanier shares this assessment. Lanier stated that she was "appalled" when she heard about this incident. She has promised that there will be an investigation, and if the story is confirmed, the officers who shirked their responsibility to protect these young women will be disciplined.
There are many biases that played into these women being targeted for violence and why that violence was allegedly not taken seriously enough by law enforcement. All those reasons have their roots in the most shameful injustices in our society. Law-enforcement officials cannot cure those injustices alone, but we can at the very least expect that they will not perpetuate them.
Maya Rupert is the federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, an LGBT-rights organization dedicated to fighting for rights on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.