EDITORIAL: “Walking While Trans’ bill targets discrimination

The state Capitol in Albany, where the Legislature holds its sessions March 13, 2017.
The state Capitol in Albany, where the Legislature holds its sessions March 13, 2017.

This isn’t a bill exclusively about transgender individuals, even though the transgender community is often targeted.

This isn’t a prostitution bill, even though it repeals a section of law related to prostitution.

It isn’t a loitering bill, even though it protects people who might be loitering.

When boiled down to its basic elements and purpose, the legislation widely referred to as the “Walking While Trans” bill is all about civil rights.

And it’s about time the Legislature finally took action on it.

The bill (A3355/S1351) addresses police abuse of a vaguely worded statute designed in the mid-1970s to curtail excessive loitering, crime and flagrant prostitution in New York City.

The original intent of the law has, for the past four-plus decades, been co-opted by police as a ready excuse to arbitrarily discriminate against and harass a whole host of individuals — disproportionately women, transgender women of color and other members of the LGBTQ community, women who have previously been convicted of prostitution, immigrants and minorities. (Between 2012 and 2015, about 85% of the individuals arrested under the 1976 law were Black or Latina, according to the new bill memo.)

You don’t have to be a prostitute to get wrapped up in this law.

All you have to do is have a certain appearance to be victimized by it, as transgender women do and those who happen to be in an area where police are doing a “sweep” and can justify arrests for loitering or prostitution. If you’re a woman wearing a short skirt, you could even be targeted.

Arrests using this loitering law follow the same justification used in controversial “stop-and-frisk” policies, which use minor drug and weapons possession charges to justify race-based harassment of Blacks and other minorities.

Besides targeting people who aren’t doing anything illegal, the practice of arresting individuals based on their appearance or locale victimizes individuals who are often victims themselves of sex crimes, trafficking and violence.

In addition to being discriminatory and arbitrary, the existing law is redundant with other laws that address the real concerns of crime and harassment. It isn’t applied for the purpose it was intended, such as stopping the solicitation of prostitution. It takes police away from other legitimate law enforcement activities. And it further promotes public mistrust of law enforcement at a time when that trust is already seriously undermined.

So it’s a positive development that the bill has finally made it out of Senate committee for a possible floor vote next week.

No one should be targeted for arrest or harassment because of how they look or the groups with which they associate.

That’s why this is a civil rights bill.

It’s why it’s a human rights bill.

It’s why is an anti-discrimination bill.

And it’s why it’s a bill that all New Yorkers should be able to get behind.



Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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