NEW ORLEANS — A crowd of about 75 people rallied outside of New Orleans police headquarters on Thursday to demand a public meeting with department officials and to call attention to the harm caused by alleged “stop and frisk” practices that focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning-queer community.
Wesley Ware, director of BreakOUT!, the advocacy group that organized the demonstration, said that for more than a year his organization has tried to get the New Orleans Police Department to adopt a comprehensive LGBTQ policy aimed at ending profiling and discriminatory practices.
Ware said the group wrote its own policy and presented it to the NOPD in October after working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, studying policies in other cities and soliciting community input.
In March, Ware said, the NOPD presented him with its draft and gave the group one week for feedback and comment.
Ware said the process lacked DOJ and IPM input, as well as community engagement. He said there were also concerns that the policy was lacking in several areas, including specificity on the duration and interval of trainings.
There was also not a way to ensure that complaints were being tracked, and unclear language about probable cause and reasonable suspicion, Ware said.
Ware said Thursday’s gathering was an effort to let Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and city officials know that the LGBTQ community deserves “better than the NOPD’s draft policy.”
Some at the rally shared their own experiences about being profiled, including stories of people — black, transgender women, in particular — being stopped and harassed by police without being given a reason.
Wendi O’Neal said she attended the rally because she was concerned about “witnessing the way young people are constantly criminalized.”
She said she had seen birthday parties interrupted, boys kicked out of movie theaters for no apparent reason, and a young man stopped and searched outside his mother’s house because police said the address on his driver’s license did not match his mother’s.
S. Mandisa Moore said she attended to stand in support against racial and gender profiling and because she wants to see better proactive measures taken to keep communities safe that are not centered on law enforcement and jails.
The rally ended with about 10 participants being denied entry to the NOPD building area when they tried to deliver a public statement to Serpas.
NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden on Thursday afternoon said that the sliding doors at the front of NOPD headquarter mechanically closed, but that two minutes later they were opened by the NOPD’s security coordinator, who explained the situation, accepted the letter, and encouraged rally participants to make an appointment to meet with Serpas, who was not in the building at the time.
Ware said that after about 10 minutes, an NOPD representative took the written statement from the group
Braden also included a letter addressed to Ware dated Monday, May 6. Ware said he had not yet received the letter.
“Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the LGBT policy currently under development,” Serpas wrote. “We have completed our assessment of the written comments and recommendations this agency received from your organization and have incorporated a number of these suggestions into a revised draft.”
The letter goes on to say that once the City’s Attorney’s Office has completed its review, a meeting will be arranged with BreakOUT! to discuss additions.
After reading the letter, Ware said he would still push for larger involvement from the community and the DOJ in drafting the policy.