SNaPCo: The Most Dangerous Thing Out Here is the Police

With all of the talk on anti-trans bathroom legislation, the criminalization of trans people is being brought to the cis, white, mainstream audience’s attention. These bathroom laws shine just a small light on the larger issues of trans people at the intersections of criminalization, survival sex work, and the greater prison industrial complex. Reports of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) sexually assaulting, harassing, profiling, publically humiliating, and disrespecting the identity of trans people, specifically trans women of color, are just a few of the effects of police violence and criminalization. Activist groups of queer and trans PoC in Atlanta, however, have been working hard toward trans liberation and decriminalization of trans people to find more sustainable SOLUTIONS to these issues. One of these groups is SNaPCo, or the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition.

According the group’s website, “Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaPCo) and Campaign is a powerful and diverse group of LGBTQ people of color. Sponsored by the Racial Justice Action Center anchored by the leadership of LaGender Inc., Trans(forming), and Women on the Rise, three grassroots, Atlanta- based organizations , the trans-led  coalition has united three effective and influential organizations to build a powerful campaign.”

SNaPCo came about in January of 2013 to protect the rights of trans and gender nonconforming sex workers, specifically in response to a city ordinance proposed to banish sex workers from the city of Atlanta. This ordinance would split up Atlanta into districts where APD knew the primary demographic of each “Area of [sex work].” By using this technique to divide Atlanta, they would have been able to apply their own transphobic, racist, and classist motives to target the areas primarily occupied by trans women of color.

The ordinance would remove trans women of color (particularly black trans women) who were sex workers from their resources of friends, chosen family, safer facilities they’d come to find, and clientele they had already worked to establish. The plan was to isolate and criminalize black trans women in sex work, but also to give rights to police authority to profile, arrest, over-sexualize, and banish any person they assumed to be a trans feminine.  Actions and policies like these continue to add to the criminalization of being trans, being trans feminine, being a trans feminine person of color, and being a black trans feminine person of color. As an alternative, SNaPCo suggested the following:

“Instead of BANISHMENT, longer jail sentences, and higher fines we are fighting for policies and laws that:
Utilize treatment programs, services, and opportunities as a response to survival sex work, not jail time;

Emphasize holistic wraparound services for people including job training, educational programs, health care, housing, etc;

Draw from evidence-based best practices around the country (including previous programs in Atlanta).”
 

More details on the effects of such legislation can be found here.

The original ordinance was stated as follows:

“ORDINANCE BY PUBLIC SAFETY & LEGAL ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE PUBLIC SAFETY AND LEGAL ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE 13-O-0025 (26) AN AMENDED ORDINANCE BY PUBLIC SAFETY AND LEGAL ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE TO AMEND CHAPTER 106, ARTICLE IV, DIVISION 1, SECTION 106-127, ENTITLED “SOLICITATION FOR AN ILLICIT SEXUAL ACT,” TO MANDATE A SENTENCE OF A TERM OF PROBATION FOR A FIRST CONVICTION OF A VIOLATION OF SECTION 162-127, AND TO MANDATE BANISHMENT FROM GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS WITHIN THE CITY OF ATLANTA DEFINED AS “AREAS OF PROSTITUTION” DURING THE TIME OF SAID PROBATION; TO REQUIRE BANISHMENT FROM “AREAS OF PROSTITUTION” DURING THE PROBATIONARY PERIOD MANDATED FOR A SECOND VIOLATION OF SECTION 162-127, SHOULD THE SENTENCING COURT DECLINE TO BANISH THE OFFENDER FROM THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF THE CITY AS CURRENTLY ALLOWED; TO REMOVE SUPERFLUOUS SENTENCING LANGUAGE; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.”
 

SNaPCo and the Atlanta trans community worked tirelessly to gain attention to this ordinance through community forums and meetings with officials. Once SNaPCo and community members were able to end the progression of this ordinance, they continued to hold Atlanta and surrounding area policy makers accountable. Between 2013 and 2014, a group of trans leaders in Atlanta, including Ms. Cheryl Courtney-Evans, held multiple meetings with APD and city council representatives to come up with the current Standard Operating Procedures for APD on handling trans and GNC people. That SOP can be found here. Since then, trans activists in SNaPCo and other trans organizations have continued to use the hard work established by the brave forerunners and build off of their trans leadership to create more policy. One of the recently proposed documents is a revision of the current SOP, which can be found here.

The coalition has pressed to get new regulations on APD surrounding area police departments, like East Point Police Department, on how to respect trans people. They have put policy in place in East Point to require police to use the correct pronouns, correct names for trans people, and require safer and gender-respecting quarters for incarcerated trans people. APD, however, has yet to accept and apply many of the policies provided by SNaPCo.

Though SNaPCo has worked specifically with policy for trans women of color, their mission is ultimately to dismantle the prison industrial complex by rehumanizing incarcerated people as a whole, creating sustainable alternatives to jails, and providing programs to rehabilitate people who have been traumatized by the prison system. This means no more jails, no more cages; this means solutions to bring justice and healing to all parties. By recognizing and working towards destroying racism, transphobia, sexism, ableism, homophobia, capitalism, militarization of the police, and other systemic oppressive systems that are to blame for the outrageously high number of incarcerated people, SNaPCo’s goals are becoming a reality.
 


SNaPCo is developing pre-booking diversion programs and proposals for city officials and APD based on models from all across the nation. The coalition defines the diversion programs as follows:

“A pre-booking diversion program identifies people for whom probable cause exists for an arrest (such as for street-level prostitution or low-level drug offenses) and redirects them to quality community-based treatment and support services rather than booking them into jail. Pre-Booking Diversion offers people the help they need to get into recovery and get off the streets for good instead of being caught in the constant revolving door of jail, streets, and jail again.”

For the full brochure on the pre-booking diversion program, follow the link here.

The community that is SNaPCo is working day in and day out to revise and create police policy on trans and gender nonconforming individuals, listening to trans and gender nonconforming experience with APD, and gathering data on the exploitation of trans and gender nonconforming people by the prison industrial complex. One of their most recent successes was showcased at trans day of visibility, where they presented their detailed research and street outreach to trans and gender nonconforming people and their interactions and treatment from APD. This research shows the strongly disproportionate violent treatment and over-criminalization of trans and GNC people, particularly black transwomen of color. Click here to read through the full report. Below are graphics created by SNaPCo based on their outreach and research:


As a call to action, SNaPCo is asking the following as next steps:

1. ELIMINATE ORDINANCES BEING USED AS AN EXCUSE BY POLICE TO TARGET, HARASS, AND SEXUALLY ASSAULT TRANS PEOPLE.

2. DECRIMINALIZE SEX WORK, PROVIDE EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES TO TRANS AND GENDER NONCONFORMING RESIDENTS.

3. ADOPT COMMUNITY DRAFTED AND SUPPORTED STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES AND IMPLEMENT IMPROVED POLICIES AND PROTOCOLS THAT ENSURE TRANS EQUITY.

4. CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION OF MISCONDUCT BY THE ATLANTA POLICE AGAINST TRANS INDIVIDUALS AND DEVELOP A CLEAR PLAN TO ADDRESS HARM DONE.
 

To get involved, learn more about, and donate to SNaPCo, check them out at http://www.rjactioncenter.org/snap
 


Written By Nikki Jackson and edited by Raquel Willis

Nikki is a trans activist in Atlanta using art to spread awareness and uplift voices of other trans leaders. They work with groups like SFQP(Southern Fried Queer Pride), SNaPCo (Solutions Not Punishment Coalition) and TILTT (Trans Individuals Living Their Truth).