More than a dozen people rallied outside the Wilson Building today to show support for a transgender woman of color who they say was targeted by police in Arizona and a bill being considered by the Council to repeal "prostitution free zones" in D.C.
Monica Jones, a student at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, was arrested in May 2013 by an undercover police officer for “manifesting prostitution" as part of Project ROSE, which, as Vice put it, arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. Jones' case goes to trial today.
Friday's event, organized in part by HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive), the D.C. Trans Coalition and Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, was held to raise awareness about Jones' case and the bill, said Elizabeth Saracco, direct of programs for HIPS. The bill, introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), would repeal a nine-year-old "provision of the D.C. Code [that] permits the Metropolitan Police Department to declare a particular location as a prostitution free zone for a 20-day period." Once declared, "it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate in a public space or property in that area for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses."
"Police officers can then ask any group of two or more people who an officer 'reasonably believes' is in the prostitution free zone for the purpose of sex work to vacate the area," Grosso wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Blade. "If the people do not leave the area then they can be arrested."
Saracco said "numerous" transgender woman of color have complained to HIPS about harassment by police in prostitution free zones — "that their lives have been made difficult." This has not been an issue for male or white sex workers, she said. A task force report prepared by the Anti-Defamation League for MPD echoed this: "The mistreatment of transgender individuals — and particularly transgender women of color — by police officers is among the most frequently cited and egregious examples of bias and misconduct."
The law has also done little to actually reduce prostitution, Saracco said.
"It's something that's been on my mind for quite awhile," Grosso said outside the Wilson Building today. "It just gave MPD an opportunity to discriminate in a way that I think is unjust."
Grosso said he's been told by MPD that they aren't actually enforcing or implementing the law: "So it's really an opportunity for us to stand up and speak for something that's right and just."
Kevin O'Connor, a Dupont Circle ANC commissioner, agrees and says he plans to write a resolution in support of Grosso's bill. His ANC previously passed a resolution opposing Councilmember Yvette Alexander's (D-Ward 7) legislation to allow police to create permanent prostitution free zones.
"The Dupont Circle community is concerned about it," O'Connor said, citing the area's LGBT history.
When asked if there's been pushback against the bill, Grosso said "not at this point."
"I think it was a bad idea to start with, so they recognize that now, that it really is an easy way to violate someone's human rights," Grosso said. "So it's time to get ride of them, get them off the books."