Arizona Humanities host discussion about policing diverse communities

Christine Marin, Laketta Gunn-Rowman, Grace Gámez and Sylvia Moir discuss the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities on Oct. 5, 2017 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Sabine Galvis/DD)

An event put on by Arizona Humanities focused on repairing the damaged relationship between law enforcement and minority communities Thursday.

A mix of Arizona activists and law enforcement officials discussed their experiences as both changemakers and minorities as well as how police can better serve diverse communities.

Michael Soto, a transgender man and the discussion moderator, opened the conversation by addressing the history of the queer community with the law.

He discussed the various ways queer people were historically policed, from the gay marriage ban to anti-sodomy laws that were only overturned in 2003.

Laws that determined the amount of “gender-appropriate clothing” a person had to wear were rescinded in the 1970s. They caused conflict between the LGBTQ community and police. Soto said raids into queer spaces were frequently conducted to arrest those not in compliance with dress code laws.

Soto revealed his personal experience with transgender discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. He said he was denied proper medical attention after colliding with a car on his bike in downtown Phoenix.

“I couldn’t walk for a year because I couldn’t get the medical help that I needed,” Soto said. “It was the paramedics and police officers who made that difficult and actually put my life in danger.”

The panelists agreed minority communities were historically ignored in discussion and were not valued by police and government agencies which led to unfair treatment in the justice system.

“Oftentimes, our LGBTQ and our communities of color are not even invited to the table to have these conversations,” programs manager Ellie Hutchison said. “We hope that this series will center their voices and their experiences to live in a world where love is the first emotion.”

Tempe Chief of Police Sylvia Moir, an openly gay woman, made efforts to repair the mistakes of the past and include input from all types of people.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Moir said, referring to her efforts since joining the department in March 2016.

Laketta Gunn-Roman, a black, lesbian woman and sergeant for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said she intended to keep her sexuality a secret until she achieved a higher rank.

“They had their speculations about me, but they knew never to ask me,” Gunn-Roman said. “It was kind of like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

However, she ended up revealing her identity after attending the department’s first LGBTQ Advisory Board meeting. Gunn-Roman said she was relieved to be her authentic self and to feel safe doing so in her workplace.

Moir said she aimed to serve the local community with dignity and respect. She repeated that her primary goal as part of the police force is to reduce harm.

She acknowledged that police presence in certain communities caused problems and could increase negative interactions between officers and civilians.

Grace Gámez, program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, elaborated on some of the problems communities of color face with government institutions.

“Like an intricate trenza, or braid, systemic oppression is woven throughout the bedrock of our society,” Gámez said. “It’s a system that’s designed to last.”

Arizona State Professor Emeritus Christine Marin said in her work she emphasized engaging with young people to make change happen.

“Not that old school thinking is wrong, but old school thinking is wrong,” Marin said.

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