I just got off the phone with Murray Wells, the lawyer representing Duanna Johnson. You might remember Johnson from the video last week of her being held down by one cop and beaten by another.
After the incident she was charged with assault for defending herself against officer Bridges McRae (the one who was beating her with the handcuffs). That was dropped. The prostitution charge, what she was originally picked up for, was also dropped.
The officer who held her down was let go because he was still in his first year of work. McRae will have a hearing tomorrow about his future at the department. The FBI is investigating a possible civil rights violation, and Wells said, "I'm optimistic that he'll be indicted." If charged, he'll face prison time.
Regarding the original prostitution charge, Monica Roberts reminded us last week that we can't assume that just because she was picked up for prostitution that she is a prostitute. The evidence against her, according to her attorney, was that she was walking down a street frequented by transgender people. She never offered to exchange sex for money. This is the second time that she was picked up for prostitution by the same officer.
So, like Monica said, she was a transwoman of color and the police felt like picking on her. And then it just went from bad to worse.
After the video leaves off, she was taken to a trauma center in Memphis (incidentally, the officer who beat her up was supposed to be the one to accompany her down there, but she objected to that). They didn't want to treat her head wounds because they didn't want to touch her weave, and she says she felt like they just didn't want to touch her at all.
In all, she suffered from lacerations and contusions on her head, scarring and bruising on her side, and permanent nerve damage on the left wrist from the handcuffs.
After that, she was held in jail for several days until she could post bond.
All this, for what? Because she was presenting the wrong gender, had the wrong skin color, and walking down the wrong street?
Since the release of the video last week, Wells said that he received a "tremendous number" of phone calls from people who had gone through similar incidents, with McRae and other officers. Looking at the case history, he said that the department's constant defense in the few cases that make it to trial is that this is just one bad cop.
You know, after a while that defense starts to sound a little hollow.
But that's exactly what the Memphis Police Department is using in this case, as recently as last Friday:
"It made me sick," Godwin said Thursday. "I was infuriated. I notified the FBI because they needed to investigate to see if this person's civil rights were violated."[...]
Since Godwin became director in 2004, at least 40 officers have been fired or resigned following investigations, he said.
"There are going to be issues," Godwin said. "I'll deal with those issues. We don't have some code of silence here. If an officer does wrong, there are consequences because it taints the other 99.5 percent of the men and women in the department who work hard for the city."
The Tennessee Equality Project has the right idea on this. They're calling for mandatory sensitivity training and a GLBT community liaison in the police department. These problems can't be addressed by looking at this one officer anymore - they're obviously too big for that.
Wells said that he's been in contact with GLAAD, HRC, and Lamda Legal to see what they can do to help. When I asked if any African American organizations have offered to help, he mentioned a group of pastors in Memphis but didn't specify what they were planning to do.
In the end, this is looking a lot less like a horrific, freak incident and a whole lot more like the one that got caught on tape. The pressure on the police department needs to be kept up so that more brave people like Duanna Johnson can come forward.