Policing Public Space

As we consider the ways in which urban planning can combat street harassment, a guiding principle of our work is to make safer spaces in ways that go beyond calling for increased police presence.  A non-criminalizing approach guides the work of both our partner organizations, because creating spaces in which women and LGBTQ individuals do not experience harassment is not the work of traditional law enforcement bodies, it is the work of the community.  

This is precisely what makes ending harassment so challenging: it is about changing the culture that has allowed for these public displays of violence.  First, this means broadening recognition that street harassment is violence, and that it shapes the daily experience of so many New Yorkers. Changing the culture means building a platform for those affected by harassment to share their stories, and empowering others to act as allies who are able to identify aggressive behavior and step up to stop it.  Changing the culture also means educating young men and instilling mutual respect early on, instead of enacting punitive measures later on men who are often acting as mirrors of society.  

Simply increasing police presence on certain streets at certain times is not an answer. in communities of color, and particularly among LGBTQ residents of those communities, the presence of the police presents its own problems.  

A 2011 study of Jackson Heights residents conducted by Make the Road NY and the Anti-Violence Project surveyed 305 people on their interactions with police in the area. The study showed trans individuals reported verbal harassment in 51% of times stopped by the police. Trans women in Jackson Heights spoke of their experiences of being profiled by police as sex workers because of their gender expression. In 2012, the NYPD adopted a patrol guide that codified the respectful treatment  of transgender and GNC individuals by police officers.  But the legislation follows years of abuse that has certainly left a scar on how trans, GNC, and gay individuals perceive the police.  

The work of ending street harassment is ultimately about building community, not only between the people who are its targets, but across to those who might not yet realize the reality of this threat.