July 14, 2020
DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele attended a rally in New York City supporting five state-level criminal justice reform bills that will be voted on — and hopefully passed — this legislative session. The rally featured impacted community members who shared personal experiences and state-wide data to explain the critical issues addressed by each bill. Over the past year, DSW has collaborated with local sex workers and LGB and TGNC rights groups to repeal the criminalization of Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution in New York state (S2253 (Hoylman)/A654 (Paulin)). Also known as the Walking While Trans ban, this repeal was one of the five bills highlighted at the rally.
Walking While Trans disproportionately impacts transgender and cisgender women of color, criminalizing them for otherwise legal behavior based on the way they look. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has stopped prosecuting the charge because of such discrimination. Last year, NYPD updated its patrol guide to stop targeting individuals on the basis of “gender, gender identity, clothing, and location.” Despite the fact that charges for Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution were only brought in six New York counties in 2019, arrests increased by 120%. Of those arrested, 91% were people of color and 80% were women; 47% of the arrests occurred in Queens County alone.
Leaders of the New York City Council’s Women’s Caucus and LGBT Caucus submitted a letter, seeking a hearing for a resolution on the repeal of Walking While Trans. “Our laws need to reflect New Yorkers’ right to walk in public without fear of being profiled for their gender expression… As a Council, we cannot idly sit back and allow state law to further penalize and criminalize anyone on the basis of their clothing, gender expression, or gender identity,” the resolution reads.
Melania Brown, the sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died of an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement on Rikers Island last year, was one of the featured speakers. Layleen was arrested in April 2019 on assault charges and then held on a $500 bail for drug and prostitution charges from 2017. Unable to afford the bail, Polanco passed away two months later.
Together, the bills represent a road map to justice and decarceration in New York state. Each addresses a different facet of racial violence that routinely occurs within the U.S. prison system. The Fair and Timely Parole Act ensures that parole decisions are not racially biased and are based on who individuals are today, rather than who they were when they committed their offense. The Elder Parole Act seeks to end death-by-incarceration sentences in New York state by giving those who have served decades in prison the chance to be released. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would end solitary in New York and replace it with more effective and humane alternatives. Lastly, the Protect Our Courts Act makes it illegal for ICE agents or law enforcement officers to arrest an individual for a civil violation who is going to, leaving, or attending court.
To help pass the repeal of Walking While Trans, text WALK to 50409. If you are a New York State resident you can also reach out to your State Senator or Assemblymember and urge them to vote on and pass this critical package of bills.