Stonewalling in the Brick City: Perceptions of and Experiences with Seeking Police Assistance among LGBTQ Citizens
1.1. Victimization and Reporting Behaviors among LGBTQ Citizens
1.2. LGBTQ Communities and Perceptions of the Police
1.3. The LGBTQ Community and Experiences with the Police
1.4. Intersectionality and Interactions between Police and LGBTQ Citizens
2.1. Study Purpose and Research Questions
- What are the circumstances and contexts in which participants describe that they would or would not seek assistance from the police?
- What are participants’ articulated reasons and rationales for avoiding or interacting with the police?
2.2. Study Setting and Background
2.3. Participants and Procedures
2.4. Analytic Strategy
3.1. When to Call Police
Aight, if I got shot but I could still walk, like, I didn’t get shot in either of my legs, I’m going to walk myself to a hospital. I’m not going to ask a cop for help so I could get, like, a thousand dollars in like, medical bills from an ambulance ride … Like (pause), like I got to be dying if I ask [the police] for help.
Ingrid: So if I get in a altercation with a biological female, she feel like, she want to do something, I’m not gonna do that. I’m calling the cops … Because if I touch her, then I know when the cops come—
Shakia: They gonna break it up—
Charlene: When they [police] do come … if it was a fight between me and a biological female, I don’t care if I had double D’s, they gonna say, “You are a man” and they gonna lock me up.
3.2. Rationales for Avoiding the Police
3.2.1. The Police Are Not Helpful in Urban Communities
Vivan: My mom and her ex-boyfriend was fighting and it got to the point where somebody was bleeding really bad … So we called the cops … and it took them, like, at least forty minutes to get to the damn thing.
Alexis: That’s why I don’t waste my … time even calling them. I just do what I got to do.
Vivan: I always think … what if, what if the guy would’ve beat my mother to the point where it wasn’t no coming back? … I have no faith in law enforcement.
Ingrid: I mean, they come, but they come slow. By the time they get down there I been handle it. Honey, dust it off, and washed my hands and—
Brandy: Especially when you get robbed and they be like, “Alright, file a police report.” Girl, I’m not doing all that.
Lyndsey: Yeah, what the fuck is that?
Sierra: I don’t even remember how they look like.
Brandy: They are not going to find them … The only thing I may be able to tell them is he was tall, dreads, light skin, cute. And [the officer] be like, “Okay”.
3.2.2. The Police Are Not Helpful for LGBTQ Citizens in Urban Communities
If it’s a gay situation, they, when they get there, they’re going to crack jokes, they’re going to have their own personal biases towards you and they’re not even going to hide it. They’re not going to wait until they get in the cop car to make these remarks. No, they’re going to pull up to the scene, snicker when they see that, like, two men or two women who are romantically involved, they’ll start snickering like, “We’re here for this?” You can see, like, their whole … disposition just changes and their attitude towards helping you and asking you questions.
We’ve had several incidents … where some of the kids have been attacked by people … in the community … but they choose not to say anything because we feel like the cops are not going to do anything …. They’ll probably be like, “Oh, this is just a faggot. We don’t care.” And that’s exactly how they approach it.
It was two guys who were romantically involved. They were in a relationship and … they were getting ready to like, have a little altercation and somebody else jumped in so they ended up, like, beating the other guy. So then they called the cops, and the cops, you know, at first he just thought it was two, like, straight guys going at it but then when they saw that it was two gay guys who, like, beat this other guy up, it was like, “You let these two fags beat you up? We shouldn’t even take this report.” Like making a joke of it.
They don’t perceive us as people, human beings, mammals of the earth, normal, you know, every day people going through life. They don’t even see that …. All gay men, trans women: they’re promiscuous, they’re hookers. Uh, everything but human beings.
The police officers generally are not going to approach the situation in a neutral way. They’re approaching the situation with all these layers of stereotypes that they have around being brown people, being people of other than heterosexual experience. And so, I don’t think that … police officers are a safe bet for us.
3.2.3. The Distinct Experiences of Trans and Gender Nonconforming Participants
The Newark cops, it’s like, the Newark cops have something against us transgenders. They have something against us …. They be chasing us, child. (laughs). … They don’t like us, so that’s why people don’t really, like, call them for help. We really won’t, like, it has to be like, hell on ice for us to have to really like, get up and go to the police station because they won’t help us.
3.3. Consequences of Seeking Help from Police
If I get Dayday from down the hill locked up, Dayday from down the hill only get locked up for thirty days. He could’ve beat me, he could’ve lit me on fire, but in thirty days Dayday will be outside waiting for me and beating me up again …. Y’all just going to keep him in there and Lord knows, he probably … already been to jail fifty times so he don’t really care to go back because he know that if he hit me it doesn’t matter, like he’s going to go back and he’s going to get out …. Nobody is going to stop harassing you because you called the police. Because Dayday also know Tayday from around the corner (laughs).…And Tayday from around the corner is just as ignorant as him.
3.4. The Impact of LGBTQ Identities on Interactions with Police
The cop that pulled me over, it was like, well, “Why are you out here? You need to be in the house.” You know, um, “only people that’s out is your kind.” I’m like, “Well, what do you mean my kind? Like, specify that.” So, he’s like, “Well, you know what I mean. Y’all he-she’s,” quote unquote.
They’re like, “Get on the wall,” and I’m talking to them … “Last time I checked, y’all [male officers] can’t check me.” He’s like, “Oh, why can’t we check you?” “I have breasts and a vagina. Just because I have on baggy clothes that don’t mean that I’m a guy,” but they still checked me and they didn’t care …. I was trying to be funny. I was like, “I’m on my period, so be careful.” So, he was like, “Oh, you’re going to get blood on me or something?” And then he really thought I was playing that I was a female until … I took my zipper down and everything because they was like, “Take everything off, like, your, your coat or whatever.” And I’m like, “I’m a female. Like, I don’t have to lie to you.”
I called the police, for my safety, and at this point I had, like, a black eye or two and, like, a missing tooth and everything. And when the police came, they actually just went straight to me and I ended up going to jail without even having asked questions at all and, like … they automatically thought that I was a man so the, the officers that were there, they were male officers that searched me for everything and that, um, patted me down and that actually arrested me. But then even once they realized I was not a male, I was still the person that went to jail.
Like, they didn’t know what to do. So it’s kind of like they were rolling up on a situation of, like, two gay guys and they’re just like, “Alright, y’all both going to jail. Y’all can’t figure this out, we’ll send you both to jail.” Because by the time they got there … we were calmed down …. They don’t know who the aggressor is, like, they don’t want to ask, you know what I’m saying? Because they’re going up and they’re just making assumptions on your appearance, you know? … Like, so, it was something like, it was my word against hers and it was, like, how I was presenting versus how she was presenting, you know what I’m saying?
Shakia: You could’ve been the one calling them and they’ll make it about you—
Charlene: You, mmhmm.
Shakia: —and your transition. What does that have to do with me calling you? I called you to help me.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Complete Focus Group Interview Guide
- Can you tell me a bit about the LGBTQ community in Newark?
- How open do you feel you can be about your sexual orientation/gender identity in your neighborhood?
- Under what circumstances would you ask the Newark police for help?
- Under what circumstances would you not ask the Newark police for help?
- If you were the victim of a bias crime (e.g., verbal harassment or intimidation, destruction of property, or physical assault, etc., based on your sexual orientation/gender identity), who would you contact? How comfortable would you feel going to the police in this situation?
- Based on what you’ve seen and heard, if someone is a member of the LGBTQ community here in Newark, does it usually affect the way they are treated by the police?
- If yes, why?
- If no, why not?
- Have you had any experiences, good or bad, with the Newark police? What happened and what was your experience?
- For those of you who haven’t had any experiences with the Newark Police, are you ever concerned about how they might treat you? Can you tell me about why that’s the case?
- How do you think police officers could improve their relationship with the LGBTQ community in Newark? What kinds of things would they need to change?
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Participants from bordering municipalities were included due to their close geographic proximity and resemblance to Newark’s sociodemographic and crime characteristics. Additionally, LGBTQ people from surrounding areas often spend time in Newark due to its various LGBTQ-related services and centers that are unavailable in their communities; as a result, they may develop close-knit, chosen fictive kinship networks (Muraco 2006). The study sample included 13 participants who lived in surrounding areas but indicated regular involvement with Newark’s LGBTQ community and services; these areas included East Orange, Irvington, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Plainfield, Bloomfield, and Maplewood.
It is possible that people who frequent these organizations may embrace their identities to a degree that distinguishes them from people who do not. As a result, their identification as an SOGI minority may be more salient and central to their overall sense of self.
Participants who took part in the first two focus groups are excluded from demographic tallies. In addition, five participants were interviewed in more than one focus group and are only counted once in this total.
The demographic questionnaire asked two separate questions to gauge participants’ sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these questions did not adequately represent the complexities of identities that fall outside of conventionally defined categories of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, such as participants who identified as transgender women with respect to their gender identity and as gay men with respect to their sexual orientation; thus, these questions were of limited use in describing multi-faceted queer identities embraced by some transgender and other gender nonconforming participants based on their responses to these questions. To preserve these complexities, I have instead chosen to talk about these participants only in the context of their transgender or gender nonconforming identity, as it is the most salient aspect of these participants’ interactions with the police. The category “other” is comprised of sexual orientations and/or gender identities that could not be merged with the groups presented in Table 1 for the aforementioned conceptual reasons.
Research assistants were trained by an expert in qualitative methodology on the dynamics of focus groups, moderating and interviewing techniques, and maintaining fidelity to the parameters of the focus group questionnaire.
This participant took place in one of the two pilot focus groups; as a result, their demographic information is not available.
In five cases, study participants did not provide details about the circumstances in which they called the police.
Three of these incidents involved participants whose demographic information is not known due to their participation in the pilot focus groups.
Eli responded to the demographic questionnaire by writing in he is “not very into label very me (sic).”
Some women participants used this term as shorthand for “aggressive girl,” referring to lesbians with a particularly masculine gender presentation.
The term “voguing” refers to “a form of stylized dance that was developed by LGBTQ people of color in New York and introduced to mainstream culture by Madonna’s 1990 hit ‘Vogue’” (Matthes and Salzman 2019, para. 5).
As these responses were numerous and varied, they will be systematically examined through a separate analysis.
|Demographic Profiles of Participants and Participants by Group (N = 91 *)|
|Group||Number of Participants||Lesbian Women||Gay Men||Bisexual||Transgender||Other **|
|Women||Men||Trans Women||Trans Men|
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Shields, D.M. Stonewalling in the Brick City: Perceptions of and Experiences with Seeking Police Assistance among LGBTQ Citizens. Soc. Sci. 2021, 10, 16. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010016
Shields DM. Stonewalling in the Brick City: Perceptions of and Experiences with Seeking Police Assistance among LGBTQ Citizens. Social Sciences. 2021; 10(1):16. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010016Chicago/Turabian Style
Shields, Danielle M. 2021. "Stonewalling in the Brick City: Perceptions of and Experiences with Seeking Police Assistance among LGBTQ Citizens" Social Sciences 10, no. 1: 16. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010016