Remember Why Duanna Johnson Was So Important: Hold Memphis Police Accountable

November 17, 2008

I was too late in the game to spread the request for donations, but at least I can pass this on from Out in Memphis, (h/t Goodbyelazarus):

First of all, a big thank you to all of those out there who contributed to the funeral fund for Ms. Johnson’s family. Hopefully we will not have to do anything like that again, but should that happen it is good to know that people DO care. TTPC reported donations from as far away as Japan and that the bulk of the sum came from small-dollar contributions. It just goes to show that all of us can make a difference if we work together. Sounds hokey, but it’s true.

However, now we must remember why Duanna Johnson was so important. She stood up and said she wasn’t going to take abuse and brutality by the MPD anymore. She shone a light into the darkness that is the MPD’s practice of profiling trans women of color as prostitutes as well as their treatment of trans women in their custody. In the wake of that, the local progressive organizations have been trying to have a responsive dialogue with the Memphis City Council, the MPD, and the Shelby County Sheriffs Department, largely to no avail.

This is what we demand:

* An LGB and T liaison within the MPD and Sheriff’s department.

* An end to police profiling and harassment of trans women of color.

* A TBI (TN Bureau of Investigation) investigation of the MPD and Duanna’s murder. The FBI was already investigating the MPD when Duanna was killed; she had signed the paperwork to go ahead with the lawsuit against MPD shortly before being killed. While I am not suggesting that the MPD or anyone associated with the department killed her, it is a gross conflict of interest for the MPD to be investigating her death. The DA, Bill Gibbons, has not yet requested an investigation and until he does, the TBI does not have jurisdiction.

* An actual investigation of Ebony Whitaker’s murder.

What you can do:

* Call DA Gibbons at (901) 545-5900 to ask why his office is not pursuing a TBI investigation of the MPD given the fact that Duanna was suing them and the glaring conflict of interest that an investigation by them into her death would be. Also remind him of the murders of Tiffany Berry and Ebony Whitaker and let him know that though he may want to forget, we have not forgotten.

* Call Police Director Larry Godwin at (901) 545-5700 to ask why, given the problems Memphis has had recently with transphobic hate crimes, there is no LGBT liaison within the MPD. Mention that many, if not most, major cities have one. And ask whether or not Bridges McRae and James Swain will face any criminal charges, or will Director Godwin will continue his witch hunt for who leaked the video. Ask why it took over 4 months and some bad publicity (after trying to recruit at Mid-South Pride, of all places) for them to be fired. Ask what kind of training in dealing with TS/TG people in custody are officers given? And while you’re at it, remind him of Tiffany Berry and Ebony Whitaker, too.

* Call Sheriff Mark Luttrell at (901) 545-5500 and ask why there is no LGBT liaison. Ask what kind of training in dealing with TG/TS people in custody is done.

* Finally, email and write mainstream publications that purport to serve the LGBT community and strongly encourage them to give this story more exposure. While The Advocate did post a short news piece on its website, a publication with this much clout that claims to represent LGB and T people can do better. Same for Southern Voice and others.

Email and IM this to all your friends! Link back here if you want, I don’t care how the information is disseminated as long as it is done respectfully. Remember, Duanna was a sister, daughter, cousin, and friend to many. She was loved and she will be missed, even by those who did not know her personally but who knew what she did. She stood up and said ‘no more’ and was cut down while literally trying to get away from all of this madness.

Also: Another sister is dead, and disrespected in the press. See Monster’s Creed.

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