Prejudice Police? 

Inmate beating brings up issue of transgender discrimination.

About 40 people, many of whom are transgendered, gathered at First Congregational Church Monday night to discuss the recent beating of transgendered African-American Duanna Johnson by a Memphis police officer.

"If [Duanna] had been a white woman shopping in Collierville, the city would be outraged," said Robert Van Ess, a citizen at the meeting.

A video leaked from the Shelby County Correction Center shows Officer Bridges McRae repeatedly punching Johnson inside a waiting room at the jail.

Johnson was arrested on February 12th for prostitution, a charge that was later dropped for lack of evidence.

The 18-minute video has no audio, but Johnson claims McRae assaulted her after she refused to respond to homophobic slurs of "he/she" and "faggot."

"I told him I didn't like that, and he got upset," says the 42-year-old Johnson. "He was telling me that I didn't do what I was told."

In the video, McRae approaches a seated Johnson, and she jerks back as he punches her in the head repeatedly. McRae then sprays her with enough tear gas that other people in the room are seen covering their faces to avoid the smell.

"The effects of the mace lasted for a day and a half, but the first hour was unbearable," Johnson says. "I had a sweater on and a fur vest, and it was warm inside. I was sweating, and it was burning my eyes and skin. And with the handcuffs on, I couldn't wipe my face."

Johnson stands over six feet tall and has straight, medium-length hair and augmented breasts. She was walking near Claybrook and Madison when she was arrested, and she believes the officer arrested her simply for being transgendered in an area known to cater to transsexual prostitutes.

"If you read the arresting documents, there was no john. Prostitution [charges] require an offer to exchange sex for money," says Murray Wells, Johnson's attorney.

Joe Scott, assistant commander of investigative services for the Memphis Police Department, says an administrative hearing on the incident will take place later this week. The FBI is also investigating the complaint.

McRae, who's been on the force for four years, was placed on desk duty pending the investigation, and James Swain, a rookie officer who held Johnson down during the beating, was fired immediately after the incident.

Scott confirmed that Memphis officers do take a diversity course each year but could not confirm whether or not the session deals with issues of gender identity or sexual orientation.

At Monday night's meeting, Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide group pushing for equality legislation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, suggested establishing a liaison in the Memphis Police Department.

Johnson's attorney is threatening to file a federal lawsuit alleging that Johnson's civil rights were violated.

"We'll certainly make hate allegations," Wells says. "The city may say, hey, there's a bad cop out here, and we'll fire him. But in the video, other officers are seen standing around, watching it happen. We all know there's bad cops around, but for everybody to let this go, that says something else."

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