SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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December 4, 2014

SAGE and GRIOT Circle Statement: Garner and the Need for Police Reform across Communities

By SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and GRIOT Circle
Yesterday afternoon, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner – a death deemed a homicide by the city medical examiner. Garner is survived by his wife and six children. SAGE and GRIOT Circle express our deepest condolences to Garner's family and his loved ones during this extremely difficult time.

For decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have experienced the effects of a cruel and unfair criminal justice system—an inequality that continues today, as detailed in a May 2014 report from the Columbia Law School Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and the Center for American Progress.

As organizations that work closely with LGBT older people nationwide, many of whom are people of color, we have seen the lifelong effects that violence and discrimination have on LGBT people, in particular people of color, transgender people and poor and low-income people. Unfortunately, history reminds us that many of these acts were—and continue to be—perpetrated by police officers and the broader criminal justice system. Our organizations know well that these LGBT experiences share much in common with broader communities of color.

A lifetime of these experiences will leave its imprint on the body and the mind in later life, as evidenced by research that continues to demonstrate profound disparities among LGBT elders across areas related to physical and mental health. If one is “fortunate” to survive such attacks—which many are not—the ensuing life has often already been curtailed.

It’s worth noting that the Stonewall Rebellion—often cited as the spark for the contemporary LGBT rights movement—was at core a collective fight against persistent police repression and brutality. We draw our spirit from the histories of many of our organizations’constituents and LGBT forbearers: people who risked their safety and livelihoods to challenge a policing and judicial system that was meant to protect them—yet in practice placed them in even greater peril.

As we provide programs throughout New York City (including Staten Island), as well as other parts of the country, we are committed to ensuring that all people can live safe and healthy lives. Our resources and publications have long focused on unpacking the bias and barriers that further marginalize many of us. We see this as crucial to the public response to Eric Garner’s death and to so many similar incidents. As evidenced by the Garner case, the incidents in Ferguson, and a documented national pattern of black men brutalized by police officers, it’s imperative that organizations across the board unite to explore solutions that improve a system that has victimized so many different communities—and is in clear need of reform, if not transformation.

On a final, more hopeful note, we are heartened by the growing number of supportive and forward-thinking responses, including an editorial issued yesterday by The New York Times, which effectively lays out the injustice of Eric Garner’s case and the need for a large-scale solution.

Today, and moving forward, we stand in solidarity with communities of color, including LGBT communities of color and diverse elders across the country, to heighten this urgent conversation and begin repairing the injustices.


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