By Josh Inocéncio
LGBTQ activists pressed Houston police chief Art Acevedo and his command staff on issues related to race, anti-transgender hate crimes, and other concerns during the first town hall of its kind in nearly two years, at the Montrose Center on Wednesday.
“Because of our history, we must build a strong relationship between the LGBT community and HPD,” said Christopher Kerr, Montrose Center clinical director and organizer of the town hall. Kerr emphasized that Houston’s LGBTQ community has suffered gains and losses in recent years that have left some queer residents feeling isolated from city government.
The town hall environment, Kerr added, is particularly crucial given that trans people across the country are experiencing unrelenting hate crimes, and often lack confidence in law enforcement to investigate attacks.
Bringing years of experience from his tenure as Austin police chief, Acevedo opened by acknowledging past conflicts.
“We haven’t had the best history,” Acevedo said. “But I have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
Acevedo, an LGBTQ ally, recently drew criticism from conservative activists for outfitting a patrol SUV with rainbow-colored decals for the Houston Pride Parade. He said such town halls will become more frequent with the LGBTQ community. In addition to anti-trans violence, he said the town halls are necessary to address same-sex domestic violence.
“We want you to report crimes,” said Acevedo, assuring attendees that police will handle complaints from same-sex couples without mockery.
During the question-and-answer session, activists and other community members challenged Acevedo and his command staff.
Local photographer Eric Edward Schell asked if the department’s LGBTQ liaison officer, E.J. Joseph, is a member of the LGBTQ community. When Joseph replied that she’s an ally, Schell questioned whether people in the community will trust someone who hasn’t necessarily shared in their struggles.
Nick Muckleroy, an activist and choreographer, reminded officers that the black children he works with have negative perceptions of police, given the large number of officer-involved shootings over the last two years. When Acevedo responded that while officers can engage with communities but parents must teach their children not to fear cops, Muckleroy emphasized that the issue stretches beyond the home. With children now using iPhones, they are inundated with videos of police violence that parents cannot regulate.
Trans activist Lou Weaver asked the command staff for more information about the department’s hate crimes officer. A member of the command staff responded that an officer reads every hate crime report and determines within 30 days whether a hate crime was committed. If the officer dismisses the hate crime, HPD encourages complainants to seek another officer or a supervisor for a second opinion.
Others participants wondered how HPD would enforce a bathroom bill, to which Acevedo replied he had no patience for all the “SB silliness” in the Texas Legislature. Others wondered about the increased homeless population in Montrose or how to protect LGBT seniors who are more susceptible to violent crimes. And Black Lives Matter Houston co-founder Ashton P. Woods, challenged organizers of the town hall to consider when they schedule events, alleging that many queer Black folks work nights and could not attend.
Acevedo’s command staff encouraged participants to attend more town halls and invite HPD to other events. Before departing, Acevedo claimed this is the best generation of law enforcement officers society has seen, but acknowledged that it isn’t perfect.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.