Imagine you’re walking down the street, enjoying your time outside (or perhaps not) and smiling at the people who walk by (if you live below the Mason-Dixon line…). As you round a corner you see something perhaps a little unexpected. A black woman rising up on her toes to kiss a white man. Perhaps sensually. Maybe their hips are close together, arms wrapped around each other. Maybe it looks like they’re undressing each other with their eyes.
For many people, perhaps, the scene would make them uncomfortable—public displays of affection do, after all, give many people the squicks. But to a police officer, this apparently looks like prostitution.
Last week, Danièle Watts, actress from Quinten Tarantino’s Django Unchained, was apparently handcuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser after, the police allege, they were called about a “lewd” incident in public. Neighbors reportedly thought that Watts and her husband were having sex in the passenger seat of their car.
Watts, knowing her rights in California, refused to show the officer her ID. Understandably upset, Watts says that the officer had no idea how often the cops were called on her and her husband because she was black and he was white. Her husband later reported on his Facebook page that he could tell that the officer thought Watts was a prostitute from the questions he was asking.
The officer called a female officer to the scene, and Watts was handcuffed and put into the back of a police cruiser.
“We’re going to get your ID one way or another,” he said. “Thank you for bringing up the race card I never hear that.”
The race card, indeed.
It’s not really playing the race card when it’s true. Incite National and Amnesty International report that women of color, particularly transgender women of color, are profiled as prostitutes and face discriminatory attention from police, including harassment, detention, and arrest. Part of the reason for this problem is that police tend to focus on street-based prostitution efforts (rather than brothels or escort services), where there are a greater proportion of sex workers who are women of color.
According to Incite (PDF), another part of the problem is that “women of color, and particularly transgender women of color, are often perceived by police through racialized and gendered stereotypes framing us as highly sexualized and sexually available.” Meaning that, because they are seen as so much more sexual, women of color are presumed to behaving more sexually (soliciting sex for money) than they actually are (kissing their husband).
This leads to such lovely things as black people being arrested for prostitution at twice the rate that white people are, black women paying higher fines and getting longer jail time than white women for prostitution-related crimes (DOC), and incidents like we saw with Danièle Watts—which never even get recorded by the police. Watts was famous, and that’s how we knew about it. How many countless other women of color go through the same thing, but we never hear about it?
When people don’t feel comfortable being outside and simply showing affection to one’s spouse, it’s hardly a wonder that people of color all over the country are mistrustful and outright scared of the police.
If all of this sounds familiar—discrimination against people of color, stopping and hurting people for peaceful activity, all because something that does not harm anyone is illegal—perhaps that is because it is eerily similar to the stories we hear out of the War on Drugs. Prostitution—not sex trafficking—hurts no one. Consensual behavior between two adults should not be subject to the whims of the state, even when—especially when—that behavior involves sex.
For this, and a hundred thousand other reasons, it’s time to legalize prostitution, and give these people some peace.