A Petition to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez to Drop all Charges Against Merci Chrisette
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The Honorable Eric Gonzalez
District Attorney of Kings County
Dear Mr. District Attorney,
The charges against Ms. Merci Chrisette reinforce a culture that you made a public commitment to challenge. In June 2017, your office released a statement stating that you would work to create “a safe space for the LGBTQ community to report when they are victims of crime, especially since crimes against this community have historically been underreported and violence against transwomen of color continues to rise.”
We write as individual and organizational leaders in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and HIV+ communities here in New York City and across the country. We are familiar with the details of Ms. Chrisette’s case and it remains clear to us that justice will not be served so long as the criminal justice system continues to pursue Ms. Chrisette as a result of the events that transpired in December of 2015.
We, the undersigned, ask you: how does charging Ms. Chrisette create safety for the LGBTQ community? What message do these charges send to transwomen of color who experience harassment?
We beg you to demonstrate that you take the specific injustice against Black transwomen and trans people of color seriously. We do. More than 300 members of the LGBTQ community in our city rasied Ms. Chrisette’s bail in less than 36 hours. For more than 2 years, your office has witnessed an outpouring of community support for Ms. Chrisette. 10 - 50 members of the LGBTQ community in NYC have attended each court date with Ms. Chrisette in an effort to show the courtroom and your office that this case is important to us. Community members from countless organizations and walks of life have packed the court, and we will continue to do so until you are accountable to the harm your office causes the trans community in Brooklyn.
Eric, are you listening?
The collaborative targeting of Ms. Chrisette on all levels of the city’s infrastructure, from media to policing to the legal system is not justice. Your office’s decision to move the case from the criminal system to the new Brooklyn Mental Health Court is not justice. Isolated responses to community pressure in high-profile cases is not justice and does not address the realities of violent harassment routinely faced by Black transwomen. We demand you drop the charges that threaten Ms. Chrisette’s chances at a happy and successful life. We demand Ms. Chrissette’s freedom and that this case be closed.
The fact is your office’s response to Ms. Chrisette’s case is typical of the way Black transwomen are targeted and disproportionately sentenced by the judicial system in New York City and across this country. The National Center for Transgender Equality reported that nearly half of all Black transgender people (47%) have been incarcerated at some point in their life. In a study by Black & Pink, a national organization made up of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies, 85% of LGBTQ respondents reported having spent time in solitary confinement and nearly half spent over 2 years in solitary. Non-white respondents were twice as likely to be in solitary confinement when they responded to the survey as white respondents.
The media representation of Ms. Chrisette’s case was grossly inaccurate and further represents the unjust targeting of Black transwomen who have survived consistent harassment in their daily lives. Ms. Chrisette was falsely reported to have “pulled out a blade” and commonly referred to as the “transgender subway slasher” and a “flamboyant, trans fashionista.” These viral headlines made light of the compounding forms of violence that transwomen of color face every day, as well as the landscape of violence that contextualizes Ms. Chrisette’s trauma-informed reaction during the encounter in question. The fact is Ms. Chrisette never pulled out a blade, but instead used a hair separator from her studies in cosmetology school to defend herself from the threat her lived experience has taught her to perceive. It is clear to us that this media representation has contributed a strong bias against Ms. Chrisette to all legal proceedings, including the move to Mental Health Court.
It has been more than 2 years since the incident in question, and Ms. Chrisette’s life continues to be terrorized. That incident changed Ms. Chrisette’s life. She is recognized in public and often harassed. She has received death threats from strangers, both in person and online. She has lost her fundamental rights to both privacy and public safety.
We beg you to demonstrate that you are listening to the LGBTQ community in New York City and that you are serious in your commitment to support the safety of queer and trans New Yorkers of color, especially Black transwomen.
Drop the charges.
Fight 4 Merci Collective
The following New York City based organizations have endorsed this letter: Audre Lorde Project, Black & Pink NYC, Black Youth Project 100 NYC, Center for Anti-Violence Education, F2L, Gay Mens Health Crisis, Girls for Gender Equity, Jewish Voice for Peace NYC, New York City Anti-Violence Project, PopGym, Queens Neighborhoods United, Resource Generation NYC, Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement NYC, Showing Up for Racial Justice NYC, Survived & Punished NY, The Base, Transgender Law Center, and White Noise.
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