In a recent post, I mentioned a rape case in which a San Antonio police officer allegedly raped a trans woman while on duty. I also generally discussed the fear that a lot of trans* folks have of the police, based on a long history of profiling and abuse. A recent blog post over at San Antonio Current reveals specifically some of the depth of the problem:
After nearly three years of quarterly trainings by the all-volunteer Police Officers Training Committee, only one session for more senior officers has been held. That meeting exposed innate prejudices among officers, according to training committee member Antonia Padilla, which she attributes to negative interactions with transgender individuals on the job that are likely exacerbated by a lack of exposure to those with less traditional gender expression.
They’re prejudices not typically found among the younger cadets, she added.
In the above, the blog post’s author Greg Harman calls the transphobic prejudices held by the officers “innate.” I believe that he meant to say “ingrained” and have absolutely no desire to pick on him or make petty arguments, firstly because it’s easy to get two words confused and I’ve done it myself on many, many occasions, and secondly because I’m grateful that he wrote this post.
But I also think it’s worth emphasizing in any context and at any opportunity provided, even when not directed at anyone particular, that prejudice is not ever “innate.” Because too many people actually seem to think that it is. Prejudice is not the result of DNA or some kind of “natural order,” it’s the result of individuals absorbing and learning prejudice from a prejudiced culture, having their prejudice reinforced and supported, and failing to personally challenge their own privilege and assumptions. It’s not inevitable, it’s actively manufactured. And the manufacturing process is also actively ignored and denied.
The post continues with Padilla describing a training session:
The trainings include a definition of terms, brainstorming about stereotypes, and breakout discussion groups. “It’s in these small discussion groups that the tensions in the veteran officers became apparent,” Padilla said. “Most everyone expressed some sort of, ‘Hey we’ve been cops for years and we know what it’s about. We have to deal with it on a daily basis. It’s not pretty and we don’t like it. We just wish it would go away’ is basically what they were saying.”
One officer in particular kept referring to transgendered individuals as a “subset,” Padilla said. “He was saying subset like every 30 seconds. ‘Oh, you’re in a subset this and you’re subset.’ I felt, and this is just my opinion, I felt he was actually instead of saying subset he really wanted to say sub-human. I really had to sit on my hands with that guy.
“Just the very fact they feel that way when dealing with someone is going to cause them to have less empathy, or even no empathy, and to feel like, ‘They don’t really matter. They’re not important. And we don’t have to offer them the same level of civil protections … We’ll just treat them as less than human and it’s OK and nobody’s gonna care,” Padilla said.
Officer Craig Nash, arrested on charges of sexual assault and official oppression in the alleged rape, is a seven-year veteran officer.
These views aren’t exactly news or in any way surprising, but it is fairly rare to see someone affiliated with a police force directly describe them.
Like bigots of all stripes, these officers seem to blame their prejudices on the group being oppressed. If only that group wouldn’t behave so “poorly,” then there would supposedly be no prejudice.
But it’s clearly prejudice in the first place that allows bigots to view individual actions as evidence that their prejudice is well-founded. As many have pointed out before me (but for which I have sadly been unable to relocate specific links), the actions of individual members of oppressed groups are viewed as representative of the whole group in ways that actions of privileged folks are not. When a black person steals something, it’s seen as evidence that black people are thieves. When a white person steals something, it’s evidence that that person is a thief. (The fact that the rape victim here is apparently Latina is also worthy of noting.) When a woman chews you out, it’s seen as evidence that women are bitches. When a man chews you out, it’s evidence that that man is an asshole. When a disabled person is in a bad mood, it’s seen as evidence that people with disabilities have miserable lives. When an able-bodied person is in a bad mood, it’s evidence that the person just isn’t feeling so great.
I can assure you, and bet whatever ridiculous amount of money you like, that trans* folks do not make up the majority of folks the SAPD arrests or negatively interact with. I feel absolutely positive that a majority of those folks are actually cis. And yet, these officers do not seem to have an ingrained prejudice against cis folks or argue that their specific experiences with cis folks prove something negative about cis folks in general. The only reason their interactions with trans* folks have lead to this kind of thinking is because they were already starting from a position that cissexual and cissgender identities are the only proper identities, and that transgender identities are “wrong” and “deviant.” And the fact that they were already starting from that position almost certainly also alters their interactions with trans* people, making them more confrontational, dangerous to the trans* person, and overall more likely to see a situation result in an outcome that can be used by the officers to reinforce their biased views.
The fact that new recruits are the main focus of sensitivity trainings when prejudiced views seem to only harden over time is a huge failing. And it also strikes me personally that “sensitivity” training isn’t exactly what’s needed. Sensitivity training is about how to interact respectfully with a person, which is well and good and certainly needed. Clearly, since the force that claims to be taking the rape allegations so seriously misgendered the victim in the arrest warrant.
But officers don’t just need to be sensitive, they also need to stop profiling and to treat and view other people as human. The fact that officers apparently just want trans* people to “go away” isn’t the result of a lack of sensitivity — it’s the result of cissupremacy and hate. The fact that such folks are in charge of public safety necessarily means that certain members of the public are going to be left very, very unsafe.