Alex Blaze

Duanna Johnson update

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 19, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

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

I posted yesterday about Duanna Johnson, a black duanna johnson.jpegtranswoman who was severely beaten by police in a police station while everyone, even a nurse, ignored her.

I don't think I was clear there that the event happened on February 12th, but the video just got out two days ago.

But here are a few more details that are coming out from this story.

First, the officers were punished internally:

Officer James Swain, 25, who had been serving a probationary period as a new officer, has been fired, said police spokeswoman Det. Monique Martin.

The other officer, Bridges McRae, 28, is on nonenforcement status, which means he's assigned to desk duty with no gun or badge, she said. He faces an administrative hearing, but Martin wouldn't say when that would happen.

McRae, the officer who beat Johnson, also filed a complaint against her:

McRae filed an assault charge against Johnson. In his report, McRae said Johnson swung at him and threatened to shoot the officer in the head. He said he was punched repeatedly in the head and neck by Johnson, whose first name is listed as Dwayne in the report.

Talk about chutzpah. One officer holds a woman down and another beats her, and because she tries to defend herself, she's the one being charged with assault.

And what's with transphobes and being so transparent as to use incorrect first names and gender pronouns just to insult the T-folk?

On a different topic, Monica Roberts points out:

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.

Absolutely. She was taken in for prostitution but the charges were dropped. There's no evidence and no reason for us to believe that she is a sex worker.

But I do want to note that the coverage, at least what I've seen so far, has been pretty good. They interviewed Johnson and presented her side of the story, called it what it is (police brutality), and referred to Johnson as a woman. That's a lot better than most trans media coverage out there.

Here are a few statements that orgs have released. I'm still waiting on Amnesty International's - they were supposed to have one out today.

From the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition:

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) denounces the cowardly attack by Memphis Police Officers upon Duanna Johnson, an African American transgender woman on February 12.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition was first made aware of this attack several weeks ago, but we did not issue a public statement in deference to Ms. Johnson's attorney's wishes. Last night's release by Memphis station WMC-TV of the video, capturing the brutality of the attack, and the indifference to her suffering by other members of the Memphis Police Department as well as by the attending nurse allows us to comment today.

"This reprehensible attack upon a person who was not resisting simply because of her gender expression has no place in a civilized society," said Dr. Marisa Richmond, President of TTPC. "The brutality of this attack must be dealt with by the judicial system. If Shelby County District Attorney, William Gibbons, who is reportedly considering a run for Governor in 2010, will not prosecute the officers involved for this obvious hate crime, then he should be removed from office for dereliction of duty," continues Richmond.

This past Saturday, the Memphis Police Department had a recruiting booth at Mid South Pride in Memphis, just steps away from the TTPC booth. "While we welcome the MPD's outreach effort to the GLBT community of Memphis, the fact that they still have not fired the officer who actually performed the assault calls into question their commitment to opening their doors to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and especially, transgender employees. Their presence at Pride was an important step, but the video shows how far they have to go," maintains Richmond.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition extends our sympathies and support to Johnson and her legal team.

From the Memphis police:

The Memphis Police Department does not condone any misconduct of a police officer that will compromise official law enforcement duties or the rights or safety of our citizens. As it relates to the February incident that occurred at the jail facility, the police department has been conducting a thorough internal investigation. The details surrounding the complainant, witnesses and law enforcement officials' statements are part of an ongoing investigation and can not be released at this time. As a standard departmental policy, a full, impartial hearing will be held with the accused officer. Memphis Police can confirm the work status of the two primary officers involved in this complaint. Officer J. Swain was a probationary officer and has been separated from the Memphis Police Department. Officer B. McRae has been placed on non-enforcement status pending an administrative hearing. Memphis Police can also confirm the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been notified and requested to look into the complaint further.

From HRC:

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, today called for a criminal investigation into the case of police brutality against a transgender woman. A newly released video out of Memphis, Tennessee clearly shows a police officer brutally abusing Duanna Johnson while she was held in the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center. Johnson is a transgender woman, and had been arrested on a charge of prostitution.

"This type of profound violence is the exact thing that police officers are supposed to protect people from," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "HRC is calling for a full criminal investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."

Surveillance video of the incident shows an unidentified officer hitting Johnson several times with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles, as another officer holds Johnson's shoulders as she tries to protect herself. After being struck repeatedly, Johnson rose up to protect herself, and was maced in response. Johnson also reports that the officers reportedly called her a "faggot" and "he-she," before and during the incident.

Video of the attack can be viewed at (warning, the violence is graphic):

News reports indicate that a copy of the tape has been reviewed by the FBI and the District Attorney's office - which has since dropped all charges against Johnson. The FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations is ongoing.

The Memphis Police Department has also reportedly fired the officer who held Johnson while she was struck, and that the officer who actually threw the punches is currently on non-enforcement status pending an administrative hearing.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Transgender Americans are often targeted for hate violence. Hate crimes against transgender people tend to be particularly violent. Bias-motivated violence against transgender people appears to be epidemic, although statistics are not collected on the incidents of violence against transgender people. Crimes against transgender people are under-investigated and under-prosecuted.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | June 19, 2008 6:40 PM

Thanks for the update, Alex.

The repercussions cited here (one officer fired and another on desk duty pending a hearing), the sympathetic media coverage, and the involvement of various civil rights organizations represent significant progress. I wager that even a decade ago, the outcome would have been very different. We might not have even heard of the incident.

Not to take away from the horror of what happened. But I also think it's important to acknowledge that we are making progress!

That's just appalling that they're putting assault charges on her. Fucking cops!

I agree, Brynn. And a decade ago? Hell, 5 years ago...

Appalling, but not surprising. It's CYA time.

Ethan Pleshe | June 20, 2008 1:56 AM

Thanks for the update. It sucks we don't have numbers to back up the hate violence against the trans community. I believe if we had the numbers it would make for a more compeling case to have a federal hate crimes law.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 20, 2008 5:03 AM

I loved the response of the police department.

In the 1940's, in Chicago, a police report could read:
"He came up against me and I had to lay into him with my billy."

Today: "The subject threatened the safety of the officer and necessary force was used to subdue him."

Thank heaven there was a camera.

Has anyone asked the National Black Justice Coalition for a statement on this attack?

Leigh Smythe | June 22, 2008 5:12 PM

I find it terribly disingenuous that Joe Solmonese makes any statement about trans people, considering the total abandonment of trans people, last fall, when he reneged on his promise to "accept nothing less than a fully inclusive ENDA", then quickly reversed course under pressure form the bigoted Rep. Barney Frank. Although this statement is, in fact accurate, the right of HRC to weigh in on the rights of trans people is seriously suspect.

I regret to say this, but I'm from the neighborhood where Duanna frequented and she was shot and killed on Sunday night.

SEE YouTube videos - Cochran Firm Fraud 1 and 2 to learn more about SHELBY COUNTY JAIL. Poor Duanna Johnson. RIP.