On October 9th, 2020, two transgender women were harassed and assaulted in Huntington Beach. Instead of arresting the perpetrators, the Huntington Beach Police Department (HBPD) and the Orange County District Attorney (DA) are pressing felony charges against the victims, charges that could incarcerate them for years, just for defending themselves. The only positive here is that this case can’t be covered up. We have undeniable video evidence and court testimony that must compel the DA to drop the charges and get HBPD and the DA to institute civil rights reforms.

The two transgender women were socializing on the patio at Hurricanes Bar and Grille, a second story business on Main Street. When they looked down at the sidewalk, a couple began shouting insults and challenged them to a fight. Then, when they left the bar, they found their harassers waiting for them. The first woman to step out of the doorway was immediately and repeatedly knocked to the ground, a fact that was clearly captured on a bystander’s phone. Punches were thrown and, by the time the first officer arrived, the victims were brandishing a taser and a can of pepper spray. They were visibly bruised, told the officers that they had been attacked and had held up–but never fired–the taser and pepper spray in self-defense.

Transgender women experience hate crimes at far higher rates than any other group in America–and it’s clear that’s what happened here. But the police ignored that. Even when one of the officers told the lead officer about the bystander’s video, he ignored it. Instead, body camera videos show that officer conferring with his peers and referring to the victims as “trannies,” a slur that he repeated several times without any of the officers correcting or reporting it. The officers then filed reports which pointedly omitted: the harassment, the video showing who initiated the assault, the self-defense claims and the obvious injuries suffered by the transwomen. None of this is contested. It’s on video and in the testimony the officers gave under oath at a July 14 preliminary hearing.

Transphobic policing isn’t surprising to OC’s LGBT community. But it’s still shocking–despite the evidence that the investigation was entirely biased against the transwomen–that DA Spitzer is continuing to prosecute the victims instead of the perpetrators. On August 16th they will be arraigned for misdemeanor battery and felonies that carry sentences of up to three years. 

The victims have pleaded not guilty and we hope and expect them to be exonerated. But what if the jury is as biased as the police and prosecutors? Even if they are exonerated, think of the burden of humiliation, trauma, time lost from work or school they now bear. And what alternative did they have? In 2020 at least 37 gender non-conforming Americans were murdered. We should be glad they carried the legal, non-lethal means to defend themselves. The police certainly weren’t there to protect them so a taser and a can of pepper spray may be the only things that kept them from becoming a statistic that night. 

If you still don’t see it with the acuity that we do, imagine that it was you, that you were harassed, assaulted and in fear of your life. Imagine that you were black, that the perpetrators were white and that when the police arrived they were white; that they took the side of your white attackers; repeatedly used racial slurs to describe you and then promptly ignored or suppressed every bit of evidence that you had acted in self-defense; and that white DA’s threaten you with imprisonment for defending yourself. 

When we see an injustice this profane we must act in the interest of immediate victims and the broader interest of all citizens. If HBPD and the DA are allowed to operate this way it will make us all more vulnerable to bias based upon race, gender, creed, age or political belief. So, on behalf of the LGBT community and all of Orange County, we call on DA Todd Spitzer to immediately drop all charges against the victims and HBPD to issue a public statement making it clear that transphobic behavior will not be tolerated. 

Prevention will also require longer-term reforms. The HBPD officers involved need to be investigated for their biased and unprofessional conduct. The entire department should learn about the case and discipline that results from it. The entire department and DA Spitzer’s prosecutors should be required to participate in rigorous LGBT training as prescribed by California’s Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (California Penal Code 969, Sec. 13519.41) which recommends departmental education that fulfills “the requirements for continuing professional training” including “facilitated discussions, learning activities and scenario training exercises.”

We make these demands not to seek special treatment but simply to gain equality under the law and address the systemic bias of those who are supposed to protect us but, all too often, side with the people who harass and attack us. 

Stephanie Wade is a former Marine infantry officer and was one of the first transgender women to serve openly on a Congressional staff, having served former Congressman Cisneros as Veterans Liaison and Field Representative from January 2019 to January 2021. She resides in Anaheim and continues to be active in local politics, serving as President of the Orange County Veterans Democratic Club and as Co-Chair of the Lavender Democrats of Orange County.

Isabella Rubio is a professional political organizer who lives in Placentia and works as the Program Coordinator for the Orange County Bench Project, a progressive political action committee that supports candidates for local elected office. She also serves on the Central Committee of Orange County’s Democratic Party and as the Political Action Chair of OC’s Lavender Democratic Club.

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