Police Violence, Invisible Disabilities, and Being Trans: My Story

In the Spring of 2012, there was a huge student strike protest movement in Quebec. In the following Fall, as a few associations decided to keep the strike going at my university, police intervened and crashed in, with riot control crew and everything. This is where our little story begins.

Now, imagine 2012-Me, before I had done much anything to be better in social situations, or even anything like an activist of anything. I had no friends because they were scary, no community to speak of at this very early point in my student involvement. I was even afraid of any kind of physical contact, or even spatial proximity. I would start being anxious if I had to sit next to someone in class.

It would have been hard to be less involved in the strike than I was. I went to one protest, and spent the whole time panicking because the person I was meant to be with was not there where is she she should be there how can it be that she not there what happened, etc., and because the crowd was so big I was overwhelmed and incapable of taking the much saner decision to run away.

At this point I was very early in my process of getting diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I had had the early “Now that I know, my life makes so much sense!” self-diagnosis phase almost a year before, and I had seen a psychologist during the strike. I hadn’t seen the neuropsychologist yet, however, so I wasn’t even close to getting any sort of official diagnosis.

I was also not that far away for my past of psychiatric shenanigans. Overall, I was doing quite well — I had been off meds for some time, and I was starting my third year full-time after my “bad period”. However, my anxiety issues were much stronger than they are now, which will be important.

Oh, and I was pre-transition and everything.

Does this make sense? Great. Let’s start with the story.

Getting Arrested

As I heard sirens coming from my university, I decided to go on campus early and see what was going on. When I arrived, I noticed policemen waiting to go in, which they soon did. I went away, then came back in the main building and noticed them on the second floor, where there was also a moderate crowd of students. I was intrigued, and want to see, but I just couldn’t move into the crowd. I had my book, so I sat outside the crowd, my back next to the wall, and read to keep my mind off the growing crowd. I slowly moved in, sitting nearer, then nearer, then even within the crowd, and so on. It took me several minutes, perhaps even half an hour, until I found a place in the corner where I felt more or less at ease, not too anxious, but with a view on the event. I kept on reading, raising my head from time to time.

At some point, policemen started moving, forcing everyone back. Since I was not giving my full attention (reading, not in perfect calm), it took me a moment to understand what was going on. But the crowd had moved quickly, and I became stuck between a crowd of policemen and a crowd of students. I had no way to go, and I was immediately surrounded by two policemen, still sitting in the corner with my book.

Basically, the first thing they said was something about my committing a criminal offense if I did not go away — something about being on someone’s property without permission. As a fairly pacific and lawful type, hearing the “Criminal Code” being used against me was not comforting, especially since I had done nothing wrong (indeed, I had done nothing at all). I asked what was going on, but they just kept on going about the Criminal Code. I did not understand what they meant — and in any case, the combined stress from the crowd and having policemen invade my personal space to intimidate me with threats of criminal accusations made me quite unresponsive and incapable to take in whatever information they gave me.

They never asked why I was there, why I did not go away, or what was going on. They just bullied me… and ultimately, grabbed me — which is a still big no-no these days, even when I’m in a good mood. They pulled me a few feet away and let me go, assuming I’d go into the crowd. Obviously, I didn’t — how could I, especially after all of this stress? I went away from the crowd and the police into the entrance to a classroom, and sat down again, seeking to escape all this in my book.

The police continued to err on the side of oppression. Although I was quite outside the perimeter they formed, I was apparently not where they wanted me. The same two policemen came again, with the same threats of “criminal offense”, and I had the same reaction of not understanding and panicking. This time, rather rapidly, they just put handcuffs on me and arrested me.

In effect, I was arrested because I was on the autism spectrum and had anxiety issues. Not because the policemen discriminated against these, but because they assumed that I could follow the crowd and be in a crowd, that I was not disabled. That was despite coherent responses on my part indicating that I could not, and that I was stuck with no way to react, with crowds on both sides and overwhelming emotions crushing me. I was not asked about this, about how I felt, why I didn’t go away or join the crowd. Instead, I was arrested.

Custody and Aftermath

Being in a corridor with handcuffs was fairly unsettling, to say the least. Despite the presence of nice student activist, arrested with me, I spiraled down into a panick attack. I tried to tell this to the officers, asking if they would let me take my anti-anxiety meds — thus stating openly that I had anxiety issues and that I was having a panick attack. But I wasn’t allowed. “What if you committed suicide with your pills? We have to make sure.” What an answer, really. It was a bad moment. It lasted some time, perhaps an hour, perhaps more, you don’t remember these things clearly when you’re in a panick attack.

There was one small funny incident during my custody, however. One of the protesters was talking to the police about their serving the interests of the ruling class or something, and the police answerd that no, and a discussion about class ensued. Noticing a lack of conceptual rigour in the discussion and the opportunity for intellectual insight, I came out from the depths of my panick attack to say that they misused the concept of “class”, which had a specific definiton, and so on. This created an awkward silence, and I went back to my panick attack.

When I was freed at last (with no charge), the place where I was first grabbed was not within the police perimeter. Which raises the question of why I was arrested at all, but anyway. I finished my day as usual, trying my best to forget what happened.

The next day, I learned that a video of my arrest was now on Youtube (it has since been taken down). This created a lot of stress for me, as many people came to see me about this. In a few weeks, it had more views than this blog, by far. Yet my own coping strategy was to hide this and try to move forward. It took me months before I was able to really say anything about my arrest. Generally, I distracted the focus by talking about my “class has a specific definition” anecdote. I do feel better about this now, but I’m still unable to feel safe when I see policemen.

Being stupidly arrested made me realize that no one is safe. That even being a pacific bystander could lead to government injustice being brought to bear on you. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I decided to be more active and more public thenceforth.

Transition and charges

I’m writing this because recently, I heard of someone who was also arrested unlawfully during the 2012 strike, pressed charges and won in court. It reminded me of my own bad treatments, and of what happened to me. With all the internal changes I went through about this event and with myself, now, I would love to do the same.

However, how can I even press charges at all, after my transition?

My psychiatric record and my ASD diagnosis are under my old name. The people who arrested me and any witnesses will not recognize me. Whatever I do, my identity as a trans woman will be scrutinized publicly before I can even talk of the police’s lack of understanding and ableist biases. I do not want to go through this humiliation, especially while my ID isn’t normalized.

Although I was arrested because of ASD and mental health issues, it is because of my trans status that I cannot seek justice. So although I was never discriminated against as a trans person, in effect, my experience as someone with ASD and as a victim of police violence is erased because I am trans, because I know that as such, I do not have the same access to justice as others.

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2 thoughts on “Police Violence, Invisible Disabilities, and Being Trans: My Story

  1. Wayne August 28, 2015 at 12:44 Reply

    You are legally the same person with the same rights. Gender correction does not take away your ability to seek justice, but your fears may do this. Seek legal help to get your documentation in order and clinical help to shore up your courage. Establishing your connection to the person who was arrested unlawfully will not be diificult, but making the case that the arrest was a violation of your rights will be. Best wishes.

    • Lucrezia Contarini August 28, 2015 at 13:47 Reply

      The fact that it is be possible would not make it any less dehumanizing or humiliating.

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