Questions Linger for LGBT Community After Police Kill Jessie Hernandez

"Why can't we sit there?" asks Angel Campos, holding a cheese pizza box, pointing to the stairs of a nearby building.

"Because we might get arrested by that cop," responds his brother Freddy.

"But that's only if we have a blanket and they think we're trying to sleep there," says Cecilia Kluding-Rodriguez, her eyes scanning in the other direction.

Finally, Amaya points to an area with two benches about a hundred feet away. "Let's grab those benches."

It's a curious lunchtime shuffle that's become all too common, they say, since the Denver City Council passed its so-called "urban camping" ban in 2012. One of at least half a dozen such laws passed nationwide since 2000, the ordinance bans any unauthorized "camping" in public spaces. But critics say that it unjustly criminalizes the homeless, more than half of whom are black or Latino, according to a survey conducted by The Gathering Place. The survey also acknowledges that "diverse languages, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities are represented" in its count, though it doesn't give specifics. Separate studies have estimated that, nationally, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

The challenges facing LGBT youth of color in Denver have been magnified since police fatally shot 17-year-old Jessica "Jessie" Hernandez in late January. Hernandez's death was another stark reminder of the dangers faced by queer youth of color in the city. In 2008, Angie Zapata, an 18-year-old transgender woman, smiled at a man, allegedly provoking him to beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. In 2009, Michael DeHerrera, a gay man, was brutally beaten by police after using the women's restroom at a nightclub. Hernandez's death was a reminder of the dangers faced by people who are young, brown and queer.

"Jessie could have been any of us," says Kluding-Rodriguez, an organizer with the Colorado Anti-Violence Project's youth organizing group Branching Seedz of Resistance. "We're a target when people just like us are gunned down without reason."

Hernández's killing came at a particularly tense time between the Denver police department and its more than 600,000 residents. Twenty-year-old Ryan Ronquillo was shot and killed by officers last July while standing outside of a funeral home. Just two weeks before Hernández's death, officers shot and killed Sharod Kendell, 23. Two weeks after her killing, the department announced a $860,000 settlement with James Moore, a disabled veteran who was beaten so badly by officers that his heart briefly stopped.

Hernández's shooting marked the fourth time in seven months that Denver police officers fired at moving vehicles, leading to the deaths of two suspects. Three others were killed in such incidents, according to the Denver Post.

Hernandez's death has only heightened calls for police transparency in such matters, and within days of her killing, 200 people gathered to mourn her death. Hernández's family has called for a federal investigation because they believe it's "the only way to uncover the truth because we have little confidence in the Denver Police Department's ability to conduct a fair and timely investigation," they said in a statement posted by Latino Rebels.

Hernández's identity as a gender non-conforming lesbian has inevitably become part of the narrative surrounding her death, and that's not just because Creating Change, one of the biggest national gatherings of queer activists, took place in Denver soon after she was killed. Statistics show that queer youth of color are at heightened risk for harassment and by police. Just weeks before her death, on New Year's Day, Hernández was cited for speeding, eluding a police officer and resisting arrest.

The brutality that Denver police have shown in recent years toward black and Latino men also put Hernandez at risk, according to activists. "People perceived Jessie's gender as masculine, and that put her at risk," says Amaya, another activist with the anti-violence group that's been in contact with Hernandez's family since her death. "She was targeted because of the chosen family she surrounded herself with, who were all queer, brown and masculine."

Gender non-conformity carries with it its own risks, especially when it intersects with racism. As Dani McClain reported for Colorlines while looking at the dangers faced by black trans men and African-American masculine-identified women, "Somewhere at the intersection of blackness, gender expression and sexual orientation is a heightened risk for harassment and bias-driven violence." McClain continued: "People who are perceived as feminine--including femme lesbians and trans women--are certainly at risk, as the case of CeCe McDonald brought to national attention last year. But trans men and masculine-of-center women experience discrimination and harassment in ways that often map more clearly to mainstream narratives about black men."

For this group of young activists sitting outside of Denver's Civic Center, among the many questions left unanswered is this one, posed by Teddy Campos: "Would police have handled Hernandez's cases differently if her gender expression matched her biological sex?"

Amaya drives the point home. "We shouldn't have to justify our humanity so police [can't] justify having killed us," she says. "We shouldn't have to justify our humanity in order to live. Our existence is not a threat."

Read the original article here.

December 10, 2018

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December 4, 2018

From Sector Newcomer to Board Member

Marjona Jones joined the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock four years ago after working in the field as an organizer for 14 years. She came to Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) through an existing relationship between Veatch and NFG: Molly Schultz Hafid, former assistant director at Veatch, also served as an NFG board member and co-chair for the Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) working group. “She was outgoing co-chair when I was hired at Veatch — the relationships she had built through that working group were important to me as well because I also worked around economic equity,” says Marjona. Initially, NFG was a space of learning for Marjona as a newcomer to the sector:

I joined [FJE’s] program committee, and then was invited to join the coordinating committee. It was an education! It was really about supporting the working group in order to create opportunities for funders to come together, hear about grantees, and think about how to create more space within philanthropy for this. That takes building relationships within philanthropy. That takes creating more breadth for funders to leverage what we have, and more, for our grantees. We’ve got to do that by educating one another within philanthropy.

NFG was also a space of affirmation and sustenance for Marjona, whose organizing background and perspective from the field anchors her work as a grantmaker and informs her relationships with grantees. At NFG, she found a commitment to racial and economic justice that matched her own. She has gone on to become centrally involved in NFG, joining Funders for Justice (FFJ), participating in Project Phoenix, and now serving on NFG’s board. 

An Intersectional Framework

NFG centers people in its work, helping funders understand the meaning of an intersectional analysis and apply it to their grantmaking. Marjona lifts up FJE’s Working at the Intersections program as an example:

Something I really want to share is a report that Working at the Intersections put out [titled Journey Towards Intersectional Grant-making] about best practices for how we want and need to support work at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional” is often just a buzzword, and so we thought it would be good to offer understanding around how that perspective plays out, and how it plays out within philanthropy too.

To me, it was a beautiful convening that we did [with Working at the Intersections]. It really opened up folks to talk about what it is we deal with as women of color within philanthropy. We need to be mindful about how that impacts the field of philanthropy, and how we move our work. There are layers that we have to be very intentional about if we really care about justice liberation and how all those things intersect. If we aren’t mindful of this, we can be really shortsighted then in funding program work because we are so siloed in philanthropy — ‘This week she will show up as a worker, next week she will show up as a woman, the following week as a person of color…’

Because of [Veatch’s’ general support grants], our funding isn’t requiring people to carve up their identities, which I think is a disservice. Requiring people to show up in this way sometimes impacts and distracts from the work.

In speaking about how NFG promotes an intersectional approach in the philanthropic sector, Marjona also highlights her participation in NFG’s Project Phoenix: Connecting Democracy, Economy, and Sustainability, a year-long cohort collective learning program for funders. For Project Phoenix, the term “new economy” means intersectional activities with an intention to support a democracy that works for all, an economy that provides good jobs and promotes local economic prosperity, the growth of ecologically sustainable and non-extractive sectors, and a re-prioritization of the role of capital in society to better serve these goals. Marjona shares how participating in Project Phoenix expanded her understanding about environmental grantmaking:

Project Phoenix really helped me understand my work a great deal, because it was focused on democracy and the environment. It was hard for me as a general support funder to see our role in moving that work because we have an environmental portfolio, but we didn’t have a way of supporting those intersections [of racial and economic justice].

Project Phoenix was helpful for me to understand all the different ways the work that we fund had a place [in the environmental landscape]. It was important for me to understand where we fit in the larger field of philanthropy. And it was also really helpful to understand our current socio-economic moment — capitalism, it extracts not just resources from the ground but it extracts resources from working-class, poor communities; it extracts people, it extracts lives, it extracts health. Prisoners are used as free labor to make goods and then those goods are sold back to us. It extracts our wealth — from the way the banking system works to the way it suppresses wages.  

So it helped me understand when you are talking about climate change and environmental protections, you need to be talking about worker protections, and housing, and health, and education. All of these things are connected. You can’t talk about these things in a vacuum. Those organizations that are focused on the environment without thinking about people need to be focused on people as well.

Amplifying Resources and Awareness in Critical Times 

Marjona shares an example of how NFG plays a powerful and responsive role in amplifying resources for racial justice through the network of funders with whom the organization has built a shared values framework and provided concrete, immediate avenues for funders to take action. With the organizers in 2014 who were taking a stand on the ground to protest the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Marjona understood the importance of supporting them with navigating the same criminal justice system that was being used to target and intimidate them. She worked closely with NFG’s Funders for Justice program staff to convene a conference call to mobilize resources and support the organizers’ legal costs: 

There were protests happening in St. Louis, and they needed emergency funds for bail support and organizers to work on legal aspects such as defending people, going with them to court, and helping them through the process. I felt that was critical because it is something that gets left out of grant proposals. People are going to put their freedom on the line — what happens to them once they are arrested, charged, and have to go to court? This is a concern especially in St. Louis, where folks are often new or first time offenders.

I remember emailing Lorraine [Ramirez, Senior Program Manager] at Funders for Justice, asking, ‘Can you send this out to the listserv?’ And she said, ‘Why don’t we do a call?’ I helped get folks on the phone, and they ended up getting support. It wasn’t a large call; it was just a handful of funders. But, I feel like if there had not been FFJ, I would have had to do that legwork myself, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to call funders individually to get that support while I had the work of my docket. I could not have brought people to the table so quickly on the strength of my own relationships.  

Because NFG has been organizing within philanthropy over the years with convenings and webinars, they have built up integrity in the field. People know to go to NFG if they have questions about black organizing and police brutality. So when NFG puts a call out asking if we can move resources for something, people will join and pony up.

Supporting Members to Engage Actively 

The ways that NFG supports its members to go deeper and develop a broader understanding of their role and potential for impact is important to Marjona in her work:

I think folks [at NFG] understand that we need to organize. They understand that philanthropy has to be as organized as we expect our grantees to be. NFG’s convenings and information sharing help create conditions so that can happen. A lot of [the staff at NFG] are former organizers... I said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t know if I would still be in philanthropy if it had not been for NFG.

Veatch has always had a commitment to racial justice, but we have increased our giving to over a million dollars to racial justice organizing — and part of that was from our work with NFG. We said to ourselves, ‘Yes, we are doing this, but we can do more. So let’s figure out how to be creative, and how to support our colleagues in being creative as well.’

After what happened with the Ferguson uprising, there was so much handwringing on the left. Helping to break through that to take action was important — because this isn’t just about Missouri, and this goes beyond Michael Brown. This is about the nation. It helped people do something, get in the game, and be public about how they were going to support that work. Was it perfect? Hell no! Especially when you have got money and power in the mix. But it did move funders in the right direction, and that’s what we need. Because it’s really easy to sit in our offices and say, ‘I [only] have this much money, and I have to get this docket out the door.’ But we have a greater responsibility. NFG helps you understand that greater responsibility, as well as how you can take that responsibility, hone it, and bring it into the program work