Memphis: Police liaisons to LGBT community building trust
The Commercial Appeal | Katie Fretland
Shelby County’s two largest law-enforcement agencies have appointed liaisons to work with the local LGBT community.
Barbara Farmer-Tolbert, a Shelby County Sheriff’s detective, and Memphis police Officer Davin Clemons have met with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Martavius Hampton, HIV program coordinator at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, learned that a liaison was needed through forums that sprang from the Community-Police Relations project of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.
He reached out to the sheriff’s office. Farmer-Tolbert volunteered. She started working in the position earlier this year.
Then he asked Clemons if he would be interested. He was approved officially around the beginning of August.
Farmer-Tolbert has been a Shelby County Sheriff’s officer for eight years and works in the Special Victims Unit. Clemons is an officer on the Memphis Police Department TACT unit, as well as an elder at the Cathedral of Praise Church of Memphis. They grew up in Memphis. She went Whitehaven High School, and he went to Central.
“My goal is to make sure everybody is treated equally,” Farmer-Tolbert said.
“We want to let people know: You can talk to us,” said Clemons.
The community center had a meeting last week for people to meet and talk with Farmer-Tolbert and Clemons.
“It went great,” Clemons said. “We had about 40 to 50 individuals in attendance. One of the main concerns was the treatment of our transgender sisters and brothers.”
Hampton said the liaisons are critical for helping people contact police with reports and questions.
“That’s a big thing in the community, not trusting or feeling comfortable because of bad experiences that may have happened in the past,” Hampton said. “Particularly trans women of color. Many do not feel comfortable with police because they feel they have been harassed, mistreated or falsely accused.”
In February 2008, Memphis police officer Bridges McRae was videotaped on a surveillance camera beating a transgender woman, Duanna Johnson. McRae pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation and agreed to serve two years in prison. Johnson was found shot to death in November 2008.
McRae had an internal affairs record of complaints that included beating a mentally ill man, using excessive force, using racial slurs and stealing. But internal affairs substantiated none of the complaints.
Jonathan Cole, president and chair of the Tennessee Equality Project said MPD had a LGBT liaison for several years in the early 2000s, but the position remained vacant after the officer moved out of Memphis.
“LGBT liaisons of law enforcement agencies are essential for engaging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in communities,” Cole said. “LGBT people are often misunderstood by law enforcement. LGBT liaisons provide a line of communication that helps law enforcement serve and protect all citizens respectfully and safely.”
Kal Rocket, co-founder of GenQ, a group for LGBT young adults and allies at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center, said he thinks having the LGBT liaisons will improve trust and relationships, and help LGBT Memphians feel more comfortable calling the police when they need to.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said.