A longtime LGBT activist became the first transgender member of a citizen review panel that investigates police misconduct thanks to a unanimous Atlanta City Council vote on Monday.
But the appointment of Tracee McDaniel to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board came with some controversy. The panel's executive director, Samuel Lee Reid, raised objections to McDaniel and took issue with two misdemeanor convictions that were more than 20 years old. Critics dismissed Reid's concerns as transphobic noise.
The City Council agreed on Monday, approving McDaniel's appointment in a unanimous vote.
McDaniel, appointed to the board by Mayor Kasim Reed in August, will be sworn in Tuesday and then officially start her three-year term on the 11-person panel.
"Most transgender people are frightened beyond measure to file reports about any law enforcement because they fear retribution and being targeted," McDaniel said. "Hopefully with someone like me at the table, they will feel comfortable that they won't be treated any kind of way and be revictimized."
"It is about fairness, justice and equality for all people. It's always a continuous fight for us human beings to treat each other as such," McDaniel added. "I am going to do what I have always done. I am going to be fair and treat everyone the same and do what I am tasked to do."
Congrats to my dear friend Tracee McDaniel for her unanimous 13-0 confirmation by ATL Council to the Atlanta Citizens Review Board!— Alex Wan (@AlexWanforATL) October 3, 2016
McDaniel, the founder and executive director of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, was one of the nine original members of an LGBT advisory board to police created in 2010 after police raided the Atlanta Eagle. She has also assisted training sessions for Atlanta police officers.
Each year, McDaniel helps organize the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November. In 2015, she was honored as one of 12 grand marshals for the Atlanta Pride parade (photo). McDaniel also serves on the programming board of the LGBT Institute, which is housed within the National Center for Civil & Human Rights.
McDaniel said she's excited about the opportunity to serve on the review board and the statement her appointment makes.
"It's a message that we are all human beings and have positive contributions to our community and society," she said.
But her work on the panel – which reviews complaints lodged against Atlanta city police officers and jailers – will be tough and likely frustrating. The board has complained recently that police Chief George Turner has upheld the panel's disciplinary recommendations just 25 percent of the time, according to CBS 46.
The appointment comes just months after activists released a survey in March that detailed reports from transgender people about harassment, unwanted sexual contact and insensitivity by Atlanta police officers. The document from Solutions Not Punishment – Trans Voices on Police Abuse and Profiling in Atlanta – caught the attention of U.S. Attorney John Horn when he met with LGBT organizers and activists in July.
In 2015, Atlanta police came under fire for homophobic and anti-trans training materials used to teach new recruits to the department. The agency quickly apologized and pledged to scrub the offensive material from its training program.
In October 2014, Turner announced new policies concerning the department's treatment of transgender people. Reed called the new Standard Operating Procedures part of the city's efforts to "celebrate diversity." Months later, Atlanta police pledged to revise the policies after a sometimes heated meeting with trans activists.
"I am going to do my best to do what I've been tasked to do and have a voice at the table for our community," McDaniel said.
Ahead of her confirmation this week Reid – the review board's executive director – complained publicly about McDaniel's misdemeanor convictions. Via the AJC:
“From an agency perspective, the legitimacy of the board’s decisions may come into question and officers may have concerns about having an individual with a criminal past making decisions that may affect their livelihood,” the Review Board’s Reid wrote in a letter to Mayor Reed’s office. “A board member with a criminal history becomes an easy target for civilian oversight detractors and an easier scapegoat for police officers and the police department to not cooperate with the agency.”
He then laid it out more plainly to his board members in an email:
“In light of the very low percentage of discipline that the APD assigns to ACRB complaints, the board may be facing the beginning of the end to any possibility of providing citizens a fair opportunity to receive redress for officer misconduct.”
McDaniel brushed Reid's concerns as cover for his transphobia, which she said city officials warned her about during her nomination and vetting for the review board.
"It is unfortunate that it is still happening. I have no felonious criminal history. When I was a juvenile, I did juvenile things. When you know better, you do better," McDaniel said.
She said the criminal charges arose from a fight when she and a group of friends – all juveniles at the time – faced off against adults in their 30s and 40s who were bullying them and delivered a dose of street justice.
"I wish I had done things differently. I was involved with beating down those older queens because they were bullying one of our friends. When it comes to people that I love, you mess with one, you have to deal with us all. However I know better as an adult. With mature awareness, I know that violence isn't the answer," McDaniel said.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, applauded McDaniel's appointment and said the misdemeanor charges won't affect her work on the review board.
"I commend Mayor Reed for nominating Tracee McDaniel to the CRB," Graham said. "She has years of experience in working with the Atlanta Police Department and advising the City of Atlanta on issues of importance to the LGBT community. Her voice as an African-American transgender woman would be a valuable addition to the CRB."
Graham said McDaniel's appointment will help ease tensions between Atlanta police and transgender residents of the city.
"Her misdemeanor convictions from 20 years ago should not affect her appointment to this board and her leadership and standing within the transgender community in specific and broader LGBT community in general certainly make her worthy [of the appointment]. Her appointment would go a long way towards easing the long standing tensions that have historically existed between police departments in general and the transgender community," Graham added.
McDaniel isn't the first LGBT member of the review board, but she is the panel's first trans member. Former teacher Joy Morrissey, a lesbian, served on the board when it was created in 2007 and was appointed its chair in 2010.
McDaniel thanked Reed for his "unapologetic boldness and audacity" in appointing her to the review panel. She also thanked a long list of supporters who helped shepherd the appointment, including City Council members Alex Wan and Keisha Lance Bottoms, and several staffers from Reed's administration.
"A special thank you to the community members, my family, that came out Monday and supported me. It let me know that we are a community and when it comes to support each other, we find a way to come together," McDaniel said.