by Sabine Hannakampf
On February 2, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law in New York that repeals a controversial law commonly known as the “Walking While Trans” ban.
Section 240.37 of the Penal Law was enacted in 1976 and aimed to prohibit loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Police were given broad powers to stop and arrest people on the street based on assumptions alone, which ultimately led to decades of discrimination against marginalized groups, most notably trans* people of color, by New York City law enforcement.
Arbitrariness and harassment against marginalized groups
Black trans* were arbitrarily targeted and disproportionately stopped or arrested based solely on their appearance. One police officer testified that he was trained to look for women with Adam’s apples, large hands, and large feet.
Police reports indicate that the law was used to prevent individuals from “wearing a skirt,” “waving at a car,” or “standing in a place other than a bus stop or cab stand.”
According to CNN, 85 percent of people arrested under this law from 2012 to 2015 were Black or Latino. For 2018, data from the New York Division of Criminal Justice shows that 91 percent of those arrested were People of Color, 80 percent of whom were women.
A Senate press release states:
“This outdated, discriminatory law has led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests of transgender women of color and a broad culture of fear and intimidation of transgender and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers.”
Class action lawsuit gets ball rolling
In 2016, the Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit against New York City and New York Police Department (NYPD) officials on behalf of several trans* women who had been unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
This lawsuit led to a revision of the NYPD’s Patrol Guide on Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in Prostitution and ultimately the repeal of the law.
According to the Legal Aid Society’s press release, officers are now expressly prohibited from “relying on ‘sex, gender identity, dress, and location’ alone or in combination to establish probable cause.” It also requires more detailed factual statements from officers.
Senator thanks community for its outreach
Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Brad Hoylman, who championed the repeal, said:
“Today, the Senate is correcting an injustice in our criminal code that has allowed law enforcement to arrest transgender women – especially women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ youth – simply for walking down the street or for the clothes they wear.”
Hoylman thanked LGBTIQ* activists, including TS Candii, Bianey Garcia, Kiara St. James, Norma Ureiro. It was due to the
“hard work and determination of the LGBTQ community that New York repealed this law once and for all. […] I am deeply grateful to all of them for their passionate efforts.”
- Polizei USA Symbolfoto: Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash
- Symbolfoto Polizei USA: By Unsplash / CC0
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