Why Lambda Legal Fights for Black Lives

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November 25, 2015

This blog post was co-authored by Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Racial Justice and Low Income Advocacy Program Strategist, and Aisha Davis, Tyron Garner Memorial Fellow for African-American LGBT Civil Rights.

A wave of developments in the fight for Black lives in the United States over the past two weeks brings into sharp focus the need for deep transformation in the way Black lives are valued and treated. The mourning, remembrance, and revelations that have happened within and to the Black community in these few weeks are a microcosm of the injustice, violence and discrimination experienced by communities of color that must end.

These events touch us on personal and moral levels, and the work to end injustice and discrimination is important to our organizational mission. Police violence is not new to the LGBTQ community – with one of our most moving and well-known political actions occurring at Stonewall in 1969. Largely seen as a tipping point in the LGBTQ movement, the Stonewall demonstrations included Black and Latino LGBTQ people. Black people have long stood with and helped lead the LGBTQ movement, and Lambda Legal stands with the Black community during this pivotal moment.

These past two weeks began with the trial of former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw in Oklahoma City. Holtzclaw is accused of abusing his law enforcement authority to engage in criminal sexual misconduct directed at Black women. He has been charged with 36 offenses while on patrol, including rape, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery and stalking of 13 Black women.

On November 15, Minneapolis police officers shot 24-year-old Jamar Clark in the head. Witnesses report that Jamar was handcuffed, on the ground, and not resisting when Minneapolis police killed him. Protests over the shooting followed. Five Black people were wounded when white supremacists fired into a group of protestors this past Monday, November, 23. More shots were fired at protestors in the early hours this morning.

In Chicago, on November 19, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the Chicago Police Department to release the dashcam video of the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Laquan was shot 16 times while he was walking away from the police in October 2014. It took a lawsuit by journalists for the public to see the video of the shooting, and only then – more than a year after the shooting – was Officer Van Dyke arrested and charged with murder.

Sunday, November 22, marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.  Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann is still under investigation for shooting Tamir less than two seconds after he arrived at the park where the young boy was playing with a toy gun.

The next day, November 23, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy finally fired Detective Dante Servin – after years of sustained local activism and advocacy. Servin, who killed an unarmed 22-year-old Black woman, Rekia Boyd, in 2012, was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. He was acquitted after Judge Dennis Porter stated that Servin’s actions were intentional and that he had been charged with the wrong crime.

Calling these events tragedies rings hollow, as state violence against Black people seems to produce little – if any – justice. The pattern of violence and the continued oppression of Black people in this country demands that we stand with other civil rights organizations, activists, and advocates. We must all fight to ensure justice and to add our voices to the movement for Black lives, including the lives of Black LGBT people and Black people living with HIV.

Combating police violence and misconduct directed at the LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities is not new to Lambda Legal. We have not been afraid to sue police departments and correctional facilities for harassing members of our community. With this history, we proudly stand with and fight for Black lives in the face of injustice.

We are deeply concerned about the violence directed at Black trans women, both in the criminal justice system and in public. Our clients Passion Star and Donisha McShan are just two of the innumerable Black trans folks who have experienced violence and mistreatment in the criminal justice system. Nearly two dozen trans women have been killed this year. The fact that the majority of those trans sisters we lost are Black trans women illustrates why all civil rights groups must fight for Black lives together. The violence and mistreatment that LGBTQ Black people face, especially Black trans and gender-nonconforming folks, is but one of the reasons we must take a stand for Black lives.

It’s well past time for profound transformation in the way Black lives are valued. The existing legal system must be altered to create a structure where ones race does not predispose them to incarceration, or to inhumane and violent treatment. Lambda Legal stands behind and beside the efforts of the organizations and activists working toward a future where all Black lives are valued and supported.