Culture

Dominican Cops Are Arresting LGBTQ So They Can Ask For Bribes

Last Sunday, squads of heavily armed Dominican National Police officers conducted a sweep of at least 4 public plazas in Santo Domingo. During their sweep of Plaza Duarte, a popular LGBQT cruising spot in the city’s historic colonial quarter, officers detained over 20 individuals. Alina Estrella witnessed the roundup and recorded the above video, which shows  scores of men in the back of a truck being led away by a convoy of police vehicles. The video has gone viral on Dominican social media.

One of the individuals detained, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, said that he was sitting in the park holding his partner’s hand when police officers rounded them up.

“Some men immediately bribed the police officers, so they were let go,” the witness said. “My partner and I didn’t have much money on us, so we were paraded around the city on the back of the truck and then taken to the police station.”

Both those detained and the human rights lawyers who organized to release them insist that, once in lockup, the men were denied the right to make phone calls, were charged with no crime, and were only let go that evening if they paid a bribe, or called in a favor.

“The police officers did this without the permission of the prosecutors, you can tell because the moment the city prosecutors office woke up on Monday morning, everyone got released,” said Guillermo Peña, director of Dominican human rights observatory, COIN. Peña was present at the police station.

Yimbret Telemín, and LGBTQ activist who was also at the jail, points to a larger pattern of police repression and arbitrary extra-legal detention.

“The National Police are a predatory organization,” Telemîn claims. “They get paid nothing in wages, so they do these arbitrary sweeps as a way of making a quick buck. You get out of jail quickly if you pay, or if you know somebody. This is not the first dragnet that has targeted members of our community.”

Spokesmen for the Dominican National Police Force have so far declined to comment.

Dominican cops are indeed paid miserable wages. Privates make the equivalent of 125 dollars a month, and this correspondent has personally been solicited for bribes by several officials on multiple occasions. The practice, known as a picoteo, or hen-pecking, is meant to supplement the officer’s meager wages, but often ends up targeting members of marginalized communities.

Our anonymous witness said he suffered no physical abuse and was released later that evening after a 500 peso bribe (approximately 11 dollars). But the injustice of the situation isn’t lost on him.

“How is it possible that I get detained just for sitting on a bench with my partner?” he fumed.

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

Credit: fedoacurd/ Instagram

My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

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A New Florida Law And Lack Of Testing Facilities In The State Means Miami-Dade County Won’t Be Prosecuting Misdemeanor Pot Cases

Things That Matter

A New Florida Law And Lack Of Testing Facilities In The State Means Miami-Dade County Won’t Be Prosecuting Misdemeanor Pot Cases

Marc Fuyà / Flickr

There is good news out there for marijuana users in Florida as prosecutors in Miami-Dade county announced they will no longer prosecute minor marijuana cases. The news comes as a result of new state law, the so-called “hemp bill,” which went into effect July 1, that has legalized hemp but has also caused much more costly problems. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office released a memo last week saying there is no police crime lab in South Florida that currently tests for a cannabis chemical that gets users high. This has now created a new challenge for law enforcement in trying to tell the difference between hemp and cannabis.

“Barring exceptional circumstances,” Miami prosecutors will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. When it comes to large amounts, enough for felony charges, police will now have to get lab tests to verify if it is real marijuana, not hemp. 

Credit: @fguzmanon7 / Twitter

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a memo that authorities can’t “visually or microscopically” tell the difference between marijuana from hemp, which only has very small amounts of THC chemicals that it’s counterpart does. Now, due to the new law in effect, laboratory testing must be done. 

“Because hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, they look, smell, and feel the same. There is no way to visually or microscopically distinguish one from the other,” the memo states. “Similarly, since hemp can be – and is – also smoked, there is no olfactory way to distinguish hemp from marijuana.”

Rundle says due to the “Hemp Bill,” state prosecutors now need an expert on hand to testify that a substance is marijuana to prove their cases in court. This also means lab tests will have to be conducted by authorities to verify a substance. However, those lab tests come at quite the price according to Rundle. 

“Up until now, there was no laboratory expense involved in marijuana prosecution cases, as any necessary testimony was from the Miami-Dade Police Department Forensic Services Bureau Crime Laboratory personnel,” the memo reads. “Since every marijuana case will now require an expert, and necessitate a significant expenditure by the State of Florida, barring exceptional circumstances on a particular case, we will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.”

The Miami-Dade Police Crime Lab currently doesn’t have the practice to perform a marijuana analysis. But according to Rundle, the department is in the process of developing the methodology to do so.

Credit: @repwilson / Twitter

While the Miami-Dade crime lab currently does not have the capability to test for THC, this is all set to change in the next three to six months. According to Rundle, the eased enforcement of marijuana is a temporary thing until the county lab can perform such tests on their own.

“In the meantime, if there are any DEA certified private labs that can perform such testing in significant cases, and the police departments are willing to pay for such testing, then the prosecution of these cases could move forward,” Rundle said in the memo. “Once the MDPD lab can again conduct such testing themselves, then this all becomes moot. This is just a stumbling block and not a death knell to the prosecution of marijuana cases.”

The decision for the state to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases highlights the growing obstacles for law enforcement in Florida and across the country in states where recreational marijuana is still considered illegal, but hemp is now allowed.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, prosecutors have been coming across this problem since the bill went into effect in July. They say the added expense of sending marijuana to labs outside of the state and getting expert witnesses to testify in court makes those options “prohibitive in all except the most serious of cases.”

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says the state’s new regulations could be a dangerous move when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws as a whole. “This agency and most agencies around Florida will not be making marijuana arrests,” Snyder told West Palm Beach TV station WPTV. “Until we have a lab that can test, law enforcement efforts around marijuana are dead in the water.”

Nonetheless, as the attitude of marijuana as a whole has loosened in recent years, the enforcement of misdemeanor marijuana cases in Miami were not being prosecuted as aggressively as in the past. This might be a continuing trend in counties an states where hemp is legal but marijuana is not. 

READ: A Married Florida Cop Is Suing A Dating Website For Allegedly Using His Picture In Advertisements Without His Permission

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