In Phoenix, Arizona, you can be arrested for repeatedly stopping and engaging a passerby in conversation. This may, under Phoenix law, be evidence that you are “manifesting” an intent to engage in prostitution. Of course, this could also be evidence that you are lost or canvassing for a political group or simply talking about the weather. The difference between “innocent” and “criminal” behavior often comes down to how a person looks. Transgender women of color are often profiled by police as engaging in sex work for simply being outside and going about their daily routines. Amnesty International documented this disproportionate targeting by police of transgender women as sex workers in a 2005 report. “[S]ubjective and prejudiced perceptions of transgender women as sex workers often play a signiﬁcant role in ofﬁcers’ decisions to stop and arrest transgender women,” the report concluded. One woman told Amnesty, “‘No tenemos el derecho a vivir.’ (We don’t have the right to live.).”
Black transgender activist Monica Jones knows this all too well.
Last May, Monica was arrested under the disturbingly vague and overbroad manifestation ordinance. “I believe I was profiled as a sex worker because I am a transgender woman of color, and an activist.” Monica explained.
"I am a student at ASU, and fear that these wrongful charges will affect my educational path. I am also afraid that if am sentenced, I will be placed in a men’s jail as a transgender woman, which would be very unsafe for me. Prison is an unsafe place for everyone, and especially trans people." On April 11, 2014, Monica will go to trial and the ACLU will be assisting in her constitutional challenge to the manifestation ordinance. Together we hope to send a message about the injustices that transgender women of color so often experience at the hands of the police.
This week Monica and I discussed Project ROSE, the profiling of trans women of color, and where she finds her inspiration.