It’s no secret that cops regularly profile people for no other reason than their race or gender, and the history of police brutality against queer peoplespecifically is sprawling. But a recent study has shed new light on just how wide the gaps in treatment are for transgender people in the U.S.
California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (RIPA), created in 2016 to monitor law enforcement actions across the state, released its annual report on Friday, analyzing data collected from 18 law enforcement agencies during 2020. While previous reports have analyzed data about racial and disability profiling, this is the first year that RIPA has provided focused analysis on transgender profiling — and the results are galling.
Though the overall number of trans people stopped by police was low compared to the larger cisgender population, the RIPA report found that people who officers perceived to be trans women were 2.5 times more likely to be searched, detained, and/or handcuffed than cisgender women. Overall, police officers who stopped trans people took actions against them over 60% of the time, and arrested nearly 29% of trans women stopped. People generally perceived as LGBTQ+ were also more likely to have their stop justified by “reasonable suspicion” than those assumed to be straight, backing up previous studies on LGBTQ+ profiling.
“The data showed that regardless of race or ethnicity, there were large disparities in the search and discovery rates for transgender individuals,” the Board concluded, recommending that law enforcement agencies work with trans advocacy groups to increase police accountability for the harm done by these stops. The RIPA board’s recommendations also included additional LGBTQ-specific training for police, specific education on transgender competency, and the specific prohibition of using a person’s gender identity as the basis for suspicion of a crime.
Black people, unsurprisingly, were the most racially profiled group of people represented in the report; RIPA found that Black people stopped by police were 2.5 times as likely to also be searched as white people.
As the RIPA board notes in its summary, police officers can’t always accurately judge someone’s gender or racial identity, so these numbers aren’t hard-and-fast representations of how often discrimination happens. But the overall trends shown in the report illustrate the vast disparities in how police tend to treat people who they believe to be visibly trans, particularly when those people are also Black.
While RIPA’s recommendation that police work with the trans community is noble in its long-term goal to increase accountability, it’s vital in the short term for everyone to take direct defensive action protecting trans people from police. As 2022 shapes up to be another bloody year for Black trans women in particular, allies and accomplices to trans liberation are more vital than ever as we fight for dignity, safety, and justice — including fighting police violence wherever it rears its head.