Violence against LGBT Community on the Rise in NYC

Nayra Berríos and her friend Gabriela Andrade (both on the left) were attacked at a Queens McDonald’s for being transsexual. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

On March 17, Nayra Berríos and Gabriela Andrade were walking along 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, when a man began to verbally attack them for being transgender.

The man, who told the police he is Irish, not only uttered slurs and insults at them but ended up beating them, leaving one with injuries on the face, hand and body, and the other with damage on one leg that forced her to undergo major surgery.

“As we were crossing toward the McDonald’s, the man started screaming many obscene words at us about the way we look, and then came alongside us. He hurled a block of ice at us and then grabbed us both by the neck and threw us on the ground. He landed on my leg and started to punch and kick us,” said Berríos, 31, from Puerto Rico, who thought that she was going to be killed.

“I tried to defend her, but the man came back with a steel pipe and some other object and threw that at my friend, and then he tried to hit me on the face to damage it but I was able to cover myself and it hit my hand,” said Andrade, adding that she was not only upset about the indifference of bystanders – who, except for one young woman, did not do anything – but also by the police’s attitude.

“They took more than 20 minutes to arrive, and a detective came to ask me the same question 20 times in different ways, as if to try to get me to say what he wanted to hear,” added Berríos, who asked the NYPD to give better treatment to transgender people.

The attack suffered by these transgender women is only one of the most recent cases of violence against the LGBT community recorded in New York City. Like other minorities, transgender people have increasingly become the target of hate crimes, a trend that has been attributed to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

New York City Police Department (NYPD) data shows that 128 cases of hate crimes were registered in the city in the first three months of the year, 62 more than during the first period last year. Of these incidents, 17 were attacks against people belonging to the LGBT community, 15 more than in 2016.

Jennifer Louise López, executive director of Everything Transgender in NYC, pointed out that the authorities are not guaranteeing transgender people the protection they deserve, adding that the climate of hatred promoted by Donald Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the growing number of attacks. “We have seen this happening more often, and the figures are alarming,” said the activist.

Police shortcomings on display

María Muñoz, the Columbia University student who witnessed the attack and defended the two transgender women, agreed that the members of the LGBT community are more vulnerable now.

“Nelson Mandela once said that ‘to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.’ Now, more than ever, transgender people in our community face injustice, and they are being denied their basic human rights,” said Muñoz, from Ecuador, who pointed at flaws in the NYPD and the city’s justice system.

“The police force is failing to protect them and to respect their identity and their gender,” said Muñoz. “And we have a judicial system that allows a man who committed such a crime to walk out free after paying a $2,000 bond.”

Bianey García, representing Make the Road New York, filed the complaint for Berríos and Andrade’s case and asked the community to come together to defend transgender people. “This cannot continue to happen,” she said, joining the clamor to make the police show more respect for LGBT people.

Meanwhile, Council member Daniel Dromm expressed concern for the hateful attacks transgender people have been suffering, as well as for the way in which the police is handling the cases. For this reason, he requested a more intense training on LGBT topics.

“When hate crimes are committed against transgender people, the NYPD carries out its investigative role well, but the problem is the perception and the reception that transgender women get when they first speak to the officers,” said the politician, adding that they often are asked uncomfortable questions and are referred to as prostitutes. “We have to change that perception in the police department, as there are too many stories of officers asking inappropriate questions.”

The NYPD defended itself against these claims, saying that the department has a Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate any illegal act or offense motivated by racial, religious, gender and sexual orientation reasons, including against transgender people. “We developed and strengthened new and existing programs and provide training,” said the NYPD.

Still, Nayra Berríos is not convinced that the police are protecting her. “There are many ‘trans’ women who have been murdered, and it ends there. If it was a straight woman or man, they would keep looking because, to New York and to the police, transgender people are worthless. They ignore us, as if saying: ‘You asked for it. You’re that way, and it’s your fault,’” she said, disappointed.

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