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Statement of Councilmember David Grosso on Police Incident Outside Nook’s Barbershop

For Immediate Release: 
June 26, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember David Grosso on Police Incident Outside Nook’s Barbershop

Washington, D.C. –The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the incident that occurred at Nook’s Barbershop in Deanwood on June 13, 2018:

“The police-initiated incident at Nook’s Barbershop is emblematic of an approach to policing that has led to a lack of trust between our police and the neighborhoods they serve. More police and aggressive, questionable tactics have all been tried before and yet violence persists. There is a better way.

“As I have said before, I remain committed to a different approach to public safety, one that would see a transformation of the Metropolitan Police Department into an agency whose highest priorities include promoting non-violence and collaborating meaningfully with our communities and neighborhoods. It would be about recognizing that people in the community should be leaders in creating a safer environment, with support of the police, not the other way around.

“The community deserves answers. I look forward to the completion of an investigation with the findings being made public as soon as possible.”
 

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Grosso calls on MPD and USAO to suspend sex work-related arrests and prosecutions in the wake of website closures

For Immediate Release:
April 9, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso calls on MPD and USAO to suspend sex work-related arrests and prosecutions in the wake of website closures

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the government shutdown of websites that allowed sex workers to operate with a greater degree of safety than on the streets:

“The latest government attacks on online platforms used by sex workers are directly undermining the safety, health, and human rights of these individuals. I am deeply concerned as I read the reactions of D.C. residents who will be pushed into less safe situations on the streets where they will be subjected to more violence, have decreased ability to negotiate condom use, and encounter greater risk of arrest, making them less likely to contact authorities if they are attacked. In working with communities in D.C. over the past few years to develop better policy approaches to the issue of commercial sex, I have heard far too many personal stories of violence and harm as a result of the criminalized nature of the sex trade.

“Rather than work on the streets, sex workers have utilized a number of websites that allow them to better screen clients and negotiate safer interactions. Several of those websites closed in the past week following Congressional approval of a pair of bills, SESTA and FOSTA. This legislation is alleged to combat human trafficking, but there is little evidence that it will accomplish that noble goal. In fact, the two bills were opposed by the largest network in the country of organizations serving human trafficking survivors. Rather than help people who are being coerced into commercial sex, the effect of these website closures will be to push trafficking further underground. This also has the effect of harming innumerable people involved in the sex trade who are not being coerced but, by a complex combination of choice and circumstance, are seeking to earn money. The sweeping nature of the legislation also undermines the work of harm reduction organizations that work with these communities, thereby preventing the provision of critical services.

“Due to the great risk of violence faced by street-based sex workers, our government needs to take bold and urgent action. I call on Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu to temporarily suspend arrests and prosecutions of those involved in commercial sex unless the individual has caused violence or coercion. Instead, the Chief and U.S. Attorney, along with front-line officers and commanders, should meet with individuals trading sex with the goal of understanding the risks they face and what steps are necessary to build trust in order to prevent and respond to violence and coercion. I am happy to work with both MPD and USAO to facilitate such a meeting.

 “We must remember that there are human beings’ welfare and lives on the line. We have a responsibility as government officials to look out for those who our society and laws marginalize. We should be pursuing evidence-based solutions to stop coercion and help minors who are exploited, including by addressing the demand for housing, food, employment, rationale immigration laws, and respect for human rights.”

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Grosso raises concerns over police militarization with MPD

Councilmember Grosso is deeply concerned that we are not doing enough to prevent the militarization of law enforcement in the District of Columbia. To that end, he sent two letters to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham last month asking him about two separate programs.

The first letter asked Chief Newsham to reject changes made by the Trump administration to Obama era guidelines that placed critical safeguards on the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies under the 1033 Program.  Councilmember Grosso believes that continuous improvement of police-community relations requires both good practices and projecting the right image.  A militarized police force is not the right one for our city.

The second letter expressed Councilmember Grosso's concerns over the planned participation an MPD leader in a training with military forces and intelligence services in Israel. While he believes strongly in cross-cultural exchanges and the importance of training for our law enforcement officers, learning from military advisors is not what local law enforcement needs.

Chief Newsham responded to both of Councilmember Grosso's letters.  His responses, and Councilmember Grosso's original letters, can be found below.

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Grosso reacts to U.S. Attorney's decision not to charge MPD officer in Terrence Sterling's death

For Immediate Release:
August 10, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso reacts to U.S. Attorney's decision not to charge MPD officer in Terrence Sterling's death

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the announcement that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not charge the Metropolitan Police Department officer in the September 2016 death of Terrence Sterling:
 
“Another African-American life was lost at the hands of a police officer last fall, and Terrence Sterling’s family and community waited nearly a year to learn that no charges would be filed against the man responsible.  
 
 “Faith and trust in our law enforcement officers has been tarnished—not just by this incident, but also by others across the country.
 
“To restore that trust, it is every government officials’ and police officers’ obligation to continue to scrutinize the actions of the Metropolitan Police Department and hold to account those who do not live up to the duty of protecting the communities they serve.  I support and applaud the mayor and MPD for requesting the officer’s resignation and committing to a full disciplinary review of the incident. 
 
“I hope these steps will give those who loved Mr. Sterling some sense of justice, though no action that can be taken will return Terrence home.
 
“We must also commit ourselves to a public health and community-based approach to policing, and more importantly, further utilize non-violent methods to rebuild that necessary trust and improve the safety of our communities for all residents.”

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Committed to a different approach to public safety, Grosso votes against Newsham nomination to be Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department

For Immediate Release: 
April 6, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Committed to a different approach to public safety, Grosso votes against Newsham nomination to be Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso on his opposition to the nomination of Peter Newsham to serve as the permanent chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD):

“Over the past month, the Committee on the Judiciary held three hearings on Newsham’s nomination. In addition to those who testified, I heard from numerous constituents via phone, email, and social media about this decision, and I am thankful to all of them for their engagement on an issue as important as this.

“As I thought about what it means to pick a new chief of police, I heard the praise and the criticism for the nominee. I take both of those very seriously.

“But, I also came to realize that I have a different vision in mind—that this vote is an opportunity to imagine what kind of police department we want to have, and what kind of leader will move us toward that goal.

“There are competing visions about the role of the police in our society, as well as different perspectives about what public safety means. I have seen it in my work as Chairperson of the Committee on Education, as we move away from “zero tolerance” approaches to school discipline, and instead implement restorative justice practices in our schools. We have seen a shift on the Council and among residents with the move away from criminalizing drugs, to removing criminal penalties and focusing on addiction and treatment services as the appropriate response.

“I feel strongly that it is time for a similar overhaul in our approach to policing—a transformation of the MPD into an agency whose highest priorities include promoting non-violence and collaborating deeply with the community and neighborhoods.

“Such a transformation would mean a department would have a spotless track record of internal accountability, and a culture of intervention by officers when they see a colleague doing something wrong. It would be about recognizing that people in the community should be leaders in creating a safer environment, with support of the police, not the other way around.

“A shift like this would require police leadership to see that there are very deep-seated problems with how law enforcement operates in this city, and rising to the challenge of changing the paradigm.

“To be sure, this kind of change would require hard work by the entire city, but the leadership of the MPD is vitally important.

“Leadership was the focus of a number of the witnesses during the hearings, and as an elected official, the meaning of leadership is constantly on my mind, especially in the new national political climate. At a time when the leaders in the highest ranks of the government openly espouse bigotry, flout the rule of law, and disrespect human rights, I believe we need to go the extra mile to counteract those messages and actions.

“Maybe my expectations are too high, but based on some of the feedback I have heard, our constituents are hungering for a chief of police who is visionary and transformative, and can think outside of the box.

“Unfortunately, I do not believe that this nominee fits that profile.

“I remain committed to a very different vision of what policing and public safety can be, and I am committed to working with the new chief to promote these values, and the values that we heard from so many witnesses during this process around police accountability, bolstering our sanctuary city policies, promoting non-violence, decreasing arrests, and ending the perception that more police will solve our problems.”

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No evidence that more police officers will reduce violent crime in D.C.

Today, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to his colleagues on the Council of the District of Columbia regarding a proposal introduced that would increase the number of officers serving in the Metropolitan Police Department.

"It is my belief that while we must act urgently to stop violent crime in the District of Columbia, there is no evidence that increasing the number of officers to 4,200 would achieve that result," Grosso wrote.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, D.C. had approximately twice the number of sworn officers per 10,000 residents in 2015 as similarly sized cities.  Despite more officers, D.C. did not have a corresponding low-level of violent crime when compared to these other cities.

Instead of increasing the number of officers, the city should continue to embrace the public health approach to ending violence in our neighborhoods.

"The public health paradigm, with programs focused on violence interruption and preventing its spread, has proven successful in many other cities, with evaluations showing reductions of shootigns and killings by as much as 50% in targeted neighborhoods," Grosso wrote.

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Advocates Rally In Support Of Repealing Prostitution Free Zones In D.C.

By Sarah Anne Hughes on DCist, April 11, 2014

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."

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Time to repeal ‘prostitution free zones’

By David Grosso

Published April 3, 2014, The Washington Blade

My commitment to human rights predates my time in office and a human rights framework is interwoven into all of the work I do here on the D.C. Council. I was disturbed when I read a report released last month on relations between the LGBT community and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). A task force of experts who investigated MPD’s handling of hate crimes drafted and released the report. The report documents a number of problems and makes recommendations for how to address the way MPD interacts with the LGBT community. What I found most troubling was the task force’s finding that “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.” Unfortunately, that is not news to many in the LGBT community.

The recommendations in the report from the hate crimes assessment task force are directed to MPD and should be implemented quickly. Outside of the task force, seven community-based organizations (Casa Ruby, The D.C. Center, D.C. Trans Coalition, GLAA, GLOV, HIPS and Rainbow Response) came together and issued additional recommendations for both MPD and the D.C. Council. Chief Lanier is already moving forward with the reforms, in close collaboration with the community groups and the task force. To continue this effort, the D.C. Council must also act quickly. I have decided to implement one of the coalition’s recommendations immediately by introducing a bill to repeal “prostitution free zones” in D.C.

This provision of the D.C. Code permits MPD to declare a particular location as a prostitution free zone for a 20-day period. 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. If the people do not leave the area then they can be arrested. According to the task force report, transgender women (African Americans and Latinas in particular) express that MPD officers regularly view and treat them as criminals. This stereotype—that all transgender women are always engaging in sex trade—is damaging and results in their human rights being violated. This happens when police stop or arrest someone based on who they are rather than what they are doing. The prostitution free zones reinforce this bias.

The task force, along with previous research, found that this bias also means that when transgender women approach police for help, they all too often face hostility and don’t receive assistance. It is important for police officers to not stereotype transgender women in this way. But it is also critical that police officers help someone who is assaulted or raped, even if they were involved in sex work. MPD is responsible for the safety of everyone, including sex workers.

Repeal of the prostitution free zones is long overdue for several reasons. First, the statute is likely unconstitutional—the Attorney General’s office testified in January 2012 that, “we have substantial concerns about [the law’s] constitutional soundness.” Second, MPD has not initiated any prostitution free zones since 2012—indeed, officials told me that they do not oppose repeal of the prostitution free zone section of law. Perhaps most importantly, the prostitution free zones, and the inevitable profiling that happens within them, violate affected residents’ human right to be free from discrimination.

Just as we are reconsidering other laws that have been found to be discriminatory, I think it is time that we open up the conversation regarding how we handle commercial sex. We need to consider changing from a framework of criminalization to a framework that emphasizes the health and human rights of those involved. Meanwhile, let’s make the easy decision to take a constitutionally suspect law off the books and repeal the prostitution free zones.

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