Alex Blaze

Black transwoman got beaten by cops and no one cared

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 18, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Duanna Johnson, Memphis, Police, police brutality, Tennessee, transgender

Check out this video of a brutal police beating in a police station. A Memphis police officer didn't like the fact that Duanna Johnson, a black transwoman, didn't respond to the names "faggot" or "he/she," so he beat her with handcuffs and sprayed her with mace, and no one, not even the nurse who was sent out, helped her.

Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was, and I responded by telling him that wasn't my name - that my mother didn't name me a 'faggot' or a 'he-she,' so he got upset and approached me. And that's when it started," Johnson said.

Johnson said the officer was attempting to call her over to be fingerprinted. She said she chose not respond to the derogatory name the officer called her.

"He said, 'I'm telling you, I'm giving you one more chance to get up.' So I'm looking at him, and he started putting his gloves on, and seen him take out a pair of handcuffs," Johnson said.

The officer hit Johnson several times with the handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles. In the video, you can see the flash of the metal. The tape shows another officer holding Johnson's shoulders as she tries to protect herself.

After taking several blows, Johnson stands up and swings back.

"I was afraid. I had had enough. Like I said, I thought the other officers that were witnessing this would at least try to stop him," Johnson said. "I mean, he hit me so hard. Like the third time he hit me, it split my skull and I had blood coming out. So I jumped up," Johnson said.

But then she sat back down, and the officer her in the face again. Then he maced her. On the tape, other people in the room are seen turning away and fanning their hands because of the smell.

There's an "FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations." Possible?

Yes, I know there's a process, but if they can't see what we all just saw, that two cops beat up someone and no one cared, then there's no credibility in the process.

This is why transgender people need civil rights protections and need the support of the broader LGBT community, as well as the broader American community. There are lots of people out there who don't think that they're even human and see this sort of thing as just fine.

(As Autumn points out, this has a way of happening more to Black transwomen than others in the trans community. These issues intersect.)

As Marti Abernathey said to me in IM after I sent her the link:

this kind of thing is why we are leery of cops...

And, no, the fact that she allegedly was a prostitute doesn't change anything.

(link via Pam)

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 18, 2008 11:02 AM

Alex, you are right no one cared, it is Tennessee. I know gay people in Tennessee who came from Chicago and an electrician they had hired to do modifications to their house proceeded to preach at them for being two men living together. They are subhuman bigots and it is not lost on anyone that it was all right to speak down to a Black person too. I have police officers in my family and they just love to be in control of others. It is one step from a concentration camp guard.

The first person who showed human decency in the room, and compassion for the less fortunate, would be read out by their equally bigoted minister. It is a disturbing look at ourselves.

I need to get out for a bit; I'm rather nauseated.

this kind of thing is why we are leery of cops...

Agreed. But I would say it's even more than the obvious physical abuse we see here. Duanna Johnson was the victim of police violence from the moment she was detained by police for trying to survive -- if not sooner. The fact that cops arrested her for prostitution in the first place is, in my opinion, an act of violence that we should be examining and critiquing on the same level as the actual physical beating recorded here.

Not really. That's not the worst part of it. Excuse the hyperbole, but those who stood by and watched as this happened need to be shot, just like the young bypassers who stood by as a robber repeatedly punched an octogenarian for the car keys.

It's the apathy that's truly killing American culture, especially the urban brand.

Gerri Ladene | June 18, 2008 2:24 PM

The act of senseless violence portrayed by the felonious attack by this officer and the complicity of all the other persons in attendance of this violent act who did nothing to help stop it against Duanna clearly because of her own gender expression is appalling! Does the Memphis police dept. treat all prostitutes in this brutal and sadistic manner? I seriously doubt it! When people start fearing the police because of the knowledge that they may come to serious physical harm by those who are supposed to “Protect and Serve” then the respect for the institution of law disintegrates. There an overwhelming justified need for accountability in the Mephis P.D. as there is for every victim of violent bigoted terrorism in the LGBT community and needs to stop. This is something that should never happen to any person in incarceration anywhere at any time. The credibility of the Institution of “Protect and Serve” is in the toilet when officers hide behind their badges to commit crime itself! We will see how this violent incident is dealt with, most likely a slap on the wrist and swept under the rug to protect the Protectors! Will more law protect us when the enforcers of the law so blatantly violate their own sworn duty to protect?

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | June 18, 2008 2:44 PM

Lucrece, I appreciate your passion, but advocating further violence--even as hyperbole--is not, IMO, the answer.

What took place on the video is horrific. That people stood by and did nothing is shocking. It is not, however, surprising. Not only because people are trained from infancy to have no sympathy for people who transgress gender norms, but also because it is extremely difficult to stand up to the police. Especially on their turf. That Ms Johnson did is incredibly courageous.

Don't get me wrong, I am in NO WAY defending the apathy of the bystanders. I'm only pointing out that cops are scary, we are indoctrinated from day one to simply "follow orders" when it comes to state authority, and physical violence often shocks people into inaction--especially when it's not done by authority figures.

Those people in that room saw that the cops were prepared to use violence. Can you honestly tell me beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would have jumped in?

I'm trans, I've had years of experience as an activist, and I'd love to tell you, "Absolutely." But even I can't. If you plan to stand up in a situation like that, I suggest you start mentally preparing yourself now to 1) Jump, immediately into the fray, because if you hesitate, your survival instinct will kick in and you'll probably freeze, things happen fast, and it will be too late; 2) Visualize it and memorize it, step-by-step. See yourself intervene, plan what you'll say to that uniformed cop and his back-up, and indoctrinate yourself not to hesitate.

Otherwise, I'll wager 10-1, you'll freeze like the people in that video.

You're right, Brynn. Much of my reaction above was from the initial shock of seeing that video.

Although the nurse, I still can't believe the nurse. Or the cops. And if they don't get prosecuted out of this....

This is horrible. And they wonder why we say fuck the po-lice! And I totally agree with you Alex. This just proves how much we need anti-discrimination laws that include gender identy.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 18, 2008 5:05 PM

Jail house beatings and rapes are common. Along with anti-GLBT harassment and the rising number of murders they highlight the burning need for a hate crimes bill like the one the Democrats ditched.

By publically junking the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes bill to lure bigoted voters Democrats went on record saying they didn’t care one way or another if we’re beaten and killed. Pelosi, Reid, Frank, Clinton and Obama and all the Congressional Democrats bear some of the direct responsibility for these incidents.

Additionally the direct connections between hate speech and hate violence is absolutely clear in this video and illustrates why we need a powerful anti-hate speech law to supplement a hate crimes law. One doesn’t work without the other.

Our community has to respond aggressively to these attacks. I'm glad so see lawyers involved but the leaders of the Memphis GLBT community should consider taking a time out from partisan campaigning to mount a far more important campaign; a campaign to demand that all the police present and their supervisors be fired and lose their pensions. The perp should be prosecuted for aggravated assault they should be prosecuted as accessories.

This beating could have ended tragically for Duanna if this bigoted EuroAmerican pig had made the initial arrest - she could have been taken into an alley and killed. That happens too.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 18, 2008 5:24 PM

"The perp should be prosecuted for aggravated assault they should be prosecuted as accessories.

"Call, write or demonstrate at the offices of the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office at 201 Poplar Avenue, Third Floor, Memphis, Tennessee 38103, (phone)901-545-5900. Demand justice.

That fucking nurse should lose not only her job, but her license. Her job is to tend to the injured, not the person in power. She's just as bad as the cops - if not worse.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 18, 2008 7:22 PM

Shelby County District Attorney General W.L .Gibbons says “Our office's mission statement is to seek and achieve justice by pursuing the guilty and protecting the innocent.” Bull. He also says no one is going to be prosecuted for this crime.

If you live in Memphis organize a demonstration. The rest of us can get in touch with him at Thanks to fanboi for the link.

Do not assume that Ms. Johnson is a sex worker. Far too many times transwomen of color are profiled as sex workers by police even if they aren't.

This kind of crap also happens far too much to transwomen of color as well. A then 21 year old Latina transwoman in San Antonio TX was pulled over on a traffic stop in 2005, then assaulted and raped by former officer Dave Gutierrez.

Truth. Thanks for the much needed check, Monica.

What is unusual here:

1. It was caught on camera.
2. Action is being taken against the perps.
3. They dropped the charges against the victim merely because there was no evidence, despite her being Black and TG.

Apart from that, this is genuinely not unusual in many parts of the USA. Not all, some are quite civilised. But this is the norm in many places.

I don't think the GLB without the T lobby has the faintest clue what actually goes on.

this is very not so the 80's in elizabeth, NJ, i was first handcuffed with my hands behind my back and then beaten with black jacks by two detectives until the left side of my face was caved in - my cheekbone and the orbit over my left eye eventually had to be re-aligned and wired together. i spit in their faces while they beat was the only defense that i was capable of mustering. i was in solitary for two weeks, and in spite of my horrific injuries i was molested by prisoners let into my cell. i was held without a phone call and received an aspirin a day until someone in my family deducted where i was at and bailed me out. that was when i received medical care. my face remained paralyzed on the left side for another six months. i had not committed any crime other than being a faggot - i was wearing feminine attire...although i was charged with sexual assault and resisting arrest. the judge found me innocent of any crime, not merely "not guilty". i was lucky...i had the support of the entire local glbt community...they showed up in the court the day of my trial. we are family. and we need to stay that way to effect change. the struggle is not over.

Ethan Pleshe | June 19, 2008 3:12 AM

This was hard to watch but unfortunately it doesn't surprise me. There is still so much work to be done.

Thanks for sharing this video. I definitely think it can be used a teaching tool.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 19, 2008 3:49 AM

I hope that Duanna is not only compensated, but this publicity gives her advantages she might not have had before. A better job and educational opportunities. A chance to get away and establish herself elsewhere. I fear for her staying in Memphis as cops have long memories and a surprising reach. I used to have to sit and eat with these people and the degrees they will go to to avenge "their buddies" is horrible. We already have one cop who has lost his job and he will have friends, the second cop will have friends. I think of the Rodney King case. Alex, has the NAACP and the ACLU weighed in on this case?

This happens on a regular basis, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just yesterday I learned of a horrific situation in the area where I live, and I know the DA in my community is a supporter of LGBT rights. He will get a phone call this morning to investigate police harassment and humiliation of the trans community. This has to end. It will end.

As a woman of colour, who happens to have a transexual history, I'm not at all surprised by this. I've lived through this sort of treatment, not as horrific as she went through though.

I am so glad this film didn't happen to disappear or a mysterious problem happened to the camera so that she has the proof of this incident.

The only good news that comes out of this is I doubt she will have to work again once this is settled.

Sorry this happened to you Duanna and others that have also gone through this same treatment by people and police.

I'm not sure if the ACLU or NAACP have gotten involved, but HRC wrote a press release:

Bill P, If there's anyone to blame for what has happened, the responsibility is Barney Frank's and HRC's alone.

Barney's the one that split HR 2015 into two separeate bills, remember? And last time I checked, Barack Obama was a US senator, so stop hatin' on him.

Despite ttanspeople telling him for ten years that we needed protection from this type of crap, like Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, he and like minded people in HRC have hardened their hearts to our cries for relief from our travails. They have callously continued to cut us out of the legislation that we need to redress this issue.

When they cut us out of ENDA, they sent a message that it was open season on transgender people, and since October 2007 the bigots and people that wish to do evil to us heard that message loud and clear.

Those people who wish transgender people harm sadly include some who wear police badges as well.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 20, 2008 12:41 AM

Monica, the Democratic leadership speaks with one voice on the question of GLBT equality. It’s an ugly voice. It includes pigheaded opponents of same sex marriage like Obama and Clinton. And don’t blame that on Barney Frank. He's a Quisling who jumped all over Newsome in SF about marraiges but he didn't make the whole party bigots. They did that themselves to pander to scum like the Rev. Pat Robertson, an admirer of Hillary Clintons, and the Rev. Donnie McClurkin, who toured with the Obama rallies to reveal that "God Delivered Me from Homosexuality".

Barney Frank didn't make Pelosi and Reid junk the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill which will lead to even more beatings and murders. He didn't make Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats lead the charge to place a rich, anti-GLBT bigot and racist on the US Circuit of Appeals. That fit in right in with their politics. Nor was Frank behind their refusal to repeal Democratic bigot laws like DOMA and DADT. Is a picture beginning to emerge here?

Obama and McCain don't deserve an ounce of respect or support from GLBT activists so get used to people being critical. Really Monica, what kind of people do you thing make it to the US Senate? Honest working people, decent people? Give us a break. They’re in (big) business, they’re managers and they're lawyers and that means they're crooks. That's why they write laws deregualting corporate predators but not laws regulating discrimination and hate crimes.

Bill P,
I've been to Capitol Hill more than a few times, helped plan a lobby day, created and ran NTAC's lobbying operation for five years, so I'm not as naive as you think I am about politics.

I'm talking about ENDA period, not the bullshyt McClurkin flap that you GLB folks who can't stand Obama or were Hillary fans seem to be fixated on.

When it comes to transgender issues and ENDA, Barney has disproportionate influesnce in the Democratic party on it not only as Banking Committee chair but as the so-called 'GLBT expert'

An 'expert' mind you that is a transphobe, and used his position on the Banking Committee to threaten needed projects in the districts of people who didn't want to vote for his non-inclusive ENDA bill by denying them funding.

Actally Bill, the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Bill passed the House, so explain how did Nancy pelosi 'junk the Shepherd Hate Crimes bill?'

It was Teddy Kennedy who came up with the questionable strategy of attaching the bill to a defense appropriations bill instead of pushing it as a standalone measure, not Harry Reid.

My info about Obama and his stances on GLBT rights comes from people who have actually talked to the man about it, not TV commercials or third and fourthhand slanted spin from people pissed their candidate lost.

One of the problems in our political system is this assertion that 'all politicians are crooks' and in our environment in which rumor or outright lies get front page news and the truth or retractions of the previously printed lies on Page 20, that's a problem.

The truth is not all people who enter political life are crooks or don't care about working class people despite having made big bucks themselves. just as not all conservatives are racist crooks wo only care about theirs and their 'have-mores' contributors bank accounts.

But back to Barney. I find it interesting that since we got excised from ENDA in October 2007, the number of killings of transgender people has risen, the increase in jurisdictions either cutting or attempting to cut transpeople out of legislation or policies has risen, and we now face a fight in Montgomery County Md over a transgender rights bill that passed 8-0.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 20, 2008 6:29 PM

Monica, the Democratic leadership speaks with one voice about GLBT affairs and it's the voice of bigotry and appeasement. That’s the clear message, not of their rhetoric, but of their votes. They vote against us. Barney Franks influence is based on his proven ability to be an errand boy for the leadership’s successful attempt to ditch our agenda in the run up to the election.

If more people are dead, and the NCAVP says it's jumped from 10 to 24, it's more than partly their fault. All of them, including Clinton and Obama, could have demanded that the hate crimes bill, which passed in both houses, be submitted for signature. They didn’t. Nor did they utter a peep about the decision to junk it and ENDA and the refusal to repeal of DOMA and DADT. Those collegial decisions of the party’s leadership included Pelosi. She's central to the rogue’s gallery of Democrats who actively and knowingly betrayed us. What would you expect from a candidate whose first election featured antigay rhetoric? She was so far to the right that her election was decided by a very heavy Republican crossover vote in her favor.

It's the Party that's bigoted and willing to appease bigotry, and the opinions of Obama are only one factor in how decisions are made. Obama’s made a lot of promises to a lot of people just like Bill Clinton did. When Obama betrays us, and he will, the negative reaction is going to be swifter and more hostile than it would be for a doddering old reactionary like McCain.

Get used to it.

The Democratic Party is the voice of biogtry and appeasement


Maybe in the alternate, Fox News fueled universe you live in Bill P, but for those of us who live in the logic and reason based world, we look at the fact that attacks on GLBT liberties and GLBT were, are and continue to be orchestrated by Repubicans/conservatives.

We look at a long list of Republicans/conservatives who on an almost daily bais, make documented negative comments, slurs and write devoid of logic screeds that make a mockery of the word 'Christian' and odiously work to oppose GLBT civil rights.

Last time I checked, Sally Kern of Oklahoma was a proud Republican. It is predominately proud Republican judges who overturn civil rights law. It is Republicans who continue to push for a Federal Marriage Amendment banning same gender marriage and who wrote and sponsored all those anti same sex marriage amendments passed in 38 states.

In my home state of Texas, it was an African-American Democrat, State Rep. Senfronia Thompson in 2005 who stood up and eloquently blasted the constitutional amendment

So I fail to understand how you can equate forty yars of a body of work from Republicans/conservatives in attacking civilr rights for all as 'the Democratic Party is the party of biogrty and appeasement.'

To paraphrase one of my fellow Houstonia, rep Thompson, the people who are laboring hardest to fuel the 'hell-fire flames of bigotry' worship the Elephant.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 21, 2008 1:08 AM

Monica, it’s pretty simple, really.

Either you have a priority of building mass movements to compel lawmakers and judges to make concessions, which is the only way it works in reality, of you have tea and crumpets with them on Lobby Day and while they lie to your face you smile and nibble on your crumpet.

Either you like the way the twin parties that jointly shredded ENDA and junked the hate crimes bill treated us or you don’t. Either you support the twin parties that voted overwhelmingly for DOMA and DADT or you don’t. And the same goes for Clinton’s war on Iraq, which Bush escalated. And for the fight to preserve civil liberties, to ease the burdens of GLBT, immigrant, African American and women workers, and all working people by building militant trade unions like the National Nurses Organizing Committee AFL-CIO and Railroad Workers United.

People like me are on one side and people like you are on the other on these questions. I think it's wrong to support our oppressors, individually and as a party. After the election some radicals and some Democrats will be working together in the protest movements we’ll need if either McCain or Obama gets elected.

The two party system is what I have to work with to effect chamnge in this country, so i'm going to work with the persons whom i have a reasonable chance to persuade them to change their minds and vote for our issues.

Over the last ten years, those people have overwhelmingly had (D) behind their names when they ran for office.

Now lets return this comment thread back to the subject at hand-Duanna Johnson's beatdsown by the po-po's

What is it about transpeople that soooooo threatens the 'macho men' of our police forces?