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.

June 2, 2020

Black Lives Matter: We Say Their Names

We at NFG say their names. George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA. Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. Dion Johnson in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day. NFG stands in solidarity with Black communities as we again find ourselves anguished, angered, and compelled to action in response to the murders of George Floyd and Black people across the U.S. by police.

We urge our network to continue challenging white supremacy. We call on philanthropy to divest from criminalization and invest in communities. We encourage you to fund communities directly, support protestors and essential workers — like Breonna Taylor — who continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and donate to bail funds around the country. Read more about how grantmakers can take action to fund transformative justice in this blog post from NFG’s Funders for Justice.
 


 

NFG cares about you, and your communities. We are here to work beside you and support each other as we share, inspire, grieve, and act together. And we are committed to organizing philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities thrive.
 

RESOURCES & CALLS TO ACTION

OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT

  • We will be holding Member Connection Calls on June 9 and June 11. These calls are open spaces for you to drop in and be in community with new or familiar NFG friends and colleagues. We invite you to join us at any point throughout the hour to say hi, share anything that’s on your mind, take a breath, and strategize with the NFG community.
  • Drop us a line! NFG staff are ready to help connect you with others in our network, or provide some 1:1 listening and strategizing with you about whom to connect with or specific ways you can take action in your institution. We invite you to get in touch with anyone on our staff.
  • Join the NFG network for our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series, starting later this month with discussions with philanthropic and movement leaders on what is needed in this political moment and beyond, as well as how philanthropy must be accountable to communities of color and low-income communities. Registration is now open.
May 29, 2020

Say Their Names: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson

This piece was written by NFG's Funders for Justice program leadership.

We say their names: Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL, Dion Johnso in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day.

Fund Black lives, Black futures, Black organizing. 

We Stand in Solidarity: Funders for Justice stands in solidarity with protestors in Minneapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities across the country, fighting for the lives and freedom for all Black people. We know that communities are powerful, and will dream and fight for the transformative justice in which together we create the new world we all need. As funders, our mandate is to fund communities rising up against state violence, and to continue to fund as communities build the power and momentum for long-term change.

We Must Continue to Challenge White Supremacy: While police killed unarmed Black people over and over again, we witnessed no police response to armed white nationalist posted in front of state capital buildings and yelling in the faces of security guards, demanding an end to shelter in place because they wanted to get a haircut and go out in public without a mask.

Stand with Black Women Essential Workers: Breonna Taylor was a young Black woman who was an EMT — an essential worker already risking her life during a pandemic. Yet we repeatedly witness evidence that the state does not protect or respect the people, especially Black women, risking their lives to save others. Essential workers are already facing dangerous conditions, with extremely limited protection equipment, low pay, often dangerous commutes to work, and then in turn endangering their families. That Breonna was one of the latest casualties of state violence is profoundly painful.

How to Support Protestors: We encourage you to fund communities directly, including at times when groups are not able to fill out even a short proposal or form because they are leading protests in the streets. We encourage you to give now however your foundation is able — including getting creative in mobilizing resources — perhaps to use your foundation’s expense account to send money for needed supplies like water and food. And, we encourage everyone reading this blog to make a personal donation, because we all come to the work we do as the full people that we are: part of communities fighting in resistance, part of communities fighting for survival, part of communities taking action in solidarity. You can donate now to bail funds in many cities. 

Invest/Divest Now: While millions of local dollars are cut from city budgets — in youth programs, health services, and education, among others — due to shortfalls, the police unions/associations continue to push for more money and more police. Yet police are not saving people in this pandemic — they are policing, fining, and sending people to jail - mostly Black people. The federal administration has refused to send more supplies and funding to medical workers and other frontline workers, while increasing funding to police-related spending and private security guards.

We All Have A Mandate: Philanthropy’s mandate to support communities in living healthy and free lives means funding both the public infrastructure that keeps communities safe — like health care, housing, and education — and funding the people, organizations, and the movements rising up against police violence and building power to defund the police, prisons, ICE, and detention centers. Philanthropy must support divest/invest campaigns and other abolitionist strategies, because nothing the police do is meant to ever keep communities of color safe. Now is the time to divest from the police, when cities are cutting budgets and need the funding for community wellness more than any other time. (Check out FFJ’s divest/invest resource for funders and consider how you want to support community safety and justice.) 

Bail funds and legal support in cities around the country are linked in this google doc hosted by the Movement 4 Black Lives

Where to donate to support protestors and Black folks organizing for Black Lives in Minneapolis: