Guilty Verdict for Monica Jones Reveals Broken Legal System: Urgent Need For Action

BREAKING

Contact: Margie Diddams, 480-553-3777,
swop.phx@gmail.com

Guilty Verdict for Monica Jones Reveals Broken Legal System: Urgent Need For Action

PHOENIX— Over 50 supporters rallied in front of the Phoenix Court house this morning in support of ASU student and anti-1062 activist Monica Jones. Ms. Jones was facing unjust charges of “manifestation of intent to prostitute,” a vague and discriminatory law that criminalizes activities like waving at cars, talking to passersbys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer. The ACLU of Arizona joined Jones’ lawyer in contesting the constitutionality of the manifestation statute. Dan Pochoda of the ACLU explained in his arguments, “The statute eviscerates first amendment rights.” In a packed courtroom filled with supporters wearing “I Stand With Monica Jones: Stop Profiling Trans Women of Color” t-shirts, the judge found Ms. Jones guilty based solely on the statements of the police officer who targeted for her race and gender. Supporters across AZ and the nation are in an uproar about the injustice of this ruling.

In Arizona and across the country, trans women of color like Ms. Jones are routinely profiled and swept up in the criminal justice system on prostitution-related charges, due to a phenomenon many call “Walking While Trans”—a widely held belief by law enforcement and others that all transgender women are criminals. Because of the injustice that leads people to take pleas against their best interest due to lack of community support, Ms. Jones decided she was going to fight the charges, so that no more trans women, sex workers, or people profiled as sex workers would have to face these injustices. Ms. Jones has remained adamant about her innocence, and that sex workers need rights, not arrests. Ms. Jones stated after the verdict, “As an African American and as a woman, the justice system has failed me.”

In light of this devastating ruling, SWOP Phoenix (Sex Worker Outreach Project) and Monica Jones will fight the case in an appeals process, while building national and international momentum against unjust policies that target trans women, people of color, and sex workers. SWOP Phoenix is calling on people from around the country to keep demanding justice for Ms. Jones. Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is monitoring the trial as an example of discriminatory policing and retaliation on activists organizing for human rights.

Ms. Jones states, “I am saddened by the injustice that took place at my trial this morning, but we are not giving up the fight. It’s time that we end the stigma and the criminalization of sex work, the profiling of trans women of color, and the racist policing system that harms so many of us.”

###

Monica Jones Fights Back

JOIN MONICA JONES ON APRIL 11: TAKE ACTION FOR THE RIGHTS OF TRANS PEOPLE AND SEX WORKERS

The Best Practices Policy Project, the Desiree Alliance, Global Action for Trans* Equality and INCITE! are calling for US-wide and international action on April 11, 2014 to support Monica Jones’ campaign for the rights of transgender people and sex workers.

Monica Jones, a human rights defender in Arizona and an advocate for the rights of transgender people and sex workers, was profiled and wrongfully arrested for “manifestation of prostitution” by a police sting operation and anti-prostitution diversion program known as “Project ROSE”. Ms Jones had been a speaker at a rally protesting Project ROSE—which is run by Phoenix police and Arizona State University’s School of Social Work—the day before. At the time of her arrest, she was not engaging in sex work, but was in fact walking down her street to the local bar.

On April 11 at 8.30 am (US Mountain Standard Time) Monica’s case will go to trial at Phoenix Municipal Court. She will plead not guilty and an action is planned outside the court to show the City of Phoenix Prosecutor that we won’t tolerate the systematic profiling and criminalization of transgender people of color and sex workers. The court date was postponed after Monica’s defense filed a motion challenging the constitutional basis of the manifestation law, and Monica promised to return with “twice as many people.” Last month, two sex worker rights advocates went to the United Nations in Geneva to bring international attention to Monica’s trial and the ongoing human rights violations occurring in Phoenix and across the United States.

We call on people and organizations across the United States, in the region and internationally to show your support for Monica Jones and the issues she cares about. We encourage individuals, organizations, and communities to acknowledge the day in whatever way they feel safe in doing to raise awareness, to learn and share about the issues (it could be through social media action, by sharing a meal, organizing a public action, writing a letter to the press, through art and so on).

Please email us at bestpracticespolicyproject @ gmail.com and director @ desireealliance.org to tell us about the action you plan and if you would like us to highlight your action on our websites. If you wish to add your organization’s name to this call, email us and we would be happy to do so.

More information about the case, Monica’s trial can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/events/477216822384806/

http://www.swopphoenix.org/monica/

http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/2014/01/10/phoenix-calling-the-united-nations-new-iccpr-report/

Since refusing to plead guilty to the charges she is innocent of, Ms. Jones has been targeted four additional times by police officers while walking around her neighborhood carrying out everyday activities such as bringing groceries home or heading to her local bar. Each time, the police use insulting and transphobic language and threaten her with arrest, despite the fact that she is doing nothing more than simply walking outdoors. Across the U.S. and in Phoenix, transgender people of color are routinely targeted for harassment and hate-motivated violence, by both police and the public, and are frequently profiled as sex workers by police. Transgender people are also targeted for cruel treatment in prisons, including by guards.

Ms. Jones states, “I believe I was profiled as a sex worker because I am a transgender woman of color, and an activist. I am a student at ASU, and fear that these wrongful charges will affect my educational path. I am also afraid that if am sentenced, I will be placed in a men’s jail as a transgender woman, which would be very unsafe for me. Prison is an unsafe place for everyone, and especially trans people.

Monica Jones should not have to go to court to fight wrongful charges resulting from a discriminatory and arbitrary arrest stemming from a department in which she studies. Sign the petition to have the charges against Monica dropped.

UN Human Rights Committee Questions U.S.’s Criminalization of Sex Workers as Method to Fight Trafficking

Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its report on U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Advocates for sex worker rights from BPPP and SWOP-Phoenix were present during the Committee’s review of the U.S. government, and filed a shadow report with the Committee on rights abuses against people involved in commercial sex. The Committee is comprised of eighteen independent human rights experts who monitor states’ compliance with the ICCPR.  The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992.

The “Concluding Observations” from the Committee included important points on racial profiling, police abuse, and immigrants’ rights. The Committee also called on the U.S. to re-align its anti-human trafficking efforts with human rights norms, which reject criminalizing people who are trafficked. Importantly, the Committee’s report placed the problem of forced labor within a larger framework of economics and immigration policies, and noted its concern “about the insufficient identification and investigation of cases of trafficking for labor purposes.”

Earlier in March, in Geneva, Human Rights Committee members questioned the U.S. Justice Department’s position that criminalizing sex workers (by calling for jail time for sex workers) is a sound way to combat human trafficking, noting the harm criminalization causes. During the hearing, Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division made clear that criminalization of sex workers is part of the administration’s approach to trafficking. Addressing advocates’ questions on the issue, Mr. Austin stated, “This issue is incredibly challenging, because to get those who exploit women, the only tool is to get those women to testify [by arresting them]. [We] sees those women as victims.

Human Rights Committee Chair Sir Nigel Rodley specifically asked how the government could expect people victimized and targeted by police and prosecutors to help provide evidence on traffickers. “[Mr. Austin] talked about the policy being victim-centered and in relation to sex trade workers, clearly the victims are the sex trade workers. If as I understood the policy is to prosecute them for doing something illegal, and I hope I’ve understood wrongly, then isn’t that going to make it particularly difficult to get the necessary evidence in order to reach effective prosecutions of traffickers, not to mention the double victimization?” he asked.

Advocates from SWOP-Phoenix and BPPP educated Committee members prior to the hearing about ways that U.S. policing practices and anti-trafficking initiatives violate the civil and human rights of arrestees. Specifically, advocates described how Project ROSE, a Phoenix-based ostensible anti-trafficking initiative actually results in mass arrest and imprisonment of people police suspect to be doing sex work, and violates the due process rights of arrestees in the process.

Advocates noted how criminalization harms sex workers, people profiled as sex workers, and people who are trafficked. They also spoke about how there is forced labor in an array of industries, including farm work, domestic work and factory work, but there is no other arena aside from sex work where the approach is to criminalize people who may be trafficked in order to prosecute human traffickers.

During a civil society briefing with the U.S. government delegation attending the review in Geneva, advocates pointed out to the Justice Department official that places like Phoenix, AZ impose mandatory minimum sentences for criminal convictions for sex work, meaning arrestees are imprisoned in Arizona’s notorious detention facilities. In 2009, Arizona’s Department of Corrections killed Marcia Powell, who was sentenced to a 27-month prison term for sex work, by confining her in a metal cage in the desert with no water. As in some other states, escalating penalties in Arizona for additional sex work convictions eventually lead to an automatic felony, depriving arrestees of voting rights and other civil and human rights.

In a statement before the Human Rights Committee, SWOP-Phoenix member Jaclyn  Moskal Dairman asked that the Committee, “call on the US to ensure that sex workers and people profiled as such are afforded their constitutional rights when arrested under ostensible ‘anti-trafficking’ initiatives, and call on the government to monitor anti-trafficking funds to ensure they are not being used to violate civil rights.