Black trans activist tackled by police while wearing a ballgown and heels. She was arrested for carrying a megaphone

Emma Powys Maurice
·2-min read

A Black trans activist in ballgown and heels was tackled to the ground by police and arrested for carrying a megaphone at a protest in New York City.

Joel Rivera, who recently came out as trans, has been leading marches for Black trans liberation in New York City every Thursday for 21 consecutive weeks since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

On Thursday night’s protest she dressed in evening wear in honour of the trans activists who fought at Stonewall in similar clothing.

“When I see pictures of Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, especially on the night of the Stonewall riot, they were dressed amazingly,” she explained.

Though she says most protests are seen as a “celebration” and end peacefully, the latest one descended into chaos when protesters were swarmed by heavily armed NYPD officers on bicycles, leading to multiple violent arrests and confrontations.

“I was tackled by, I don’t know how many officers. I had a bike on top of me… I was just in pain,” Rivera told Gothamist. “You’d think I killed somebody.”

The terrifying scene was captured by another demonstrator and on Instagram and other social media.

Rivera can be seen shouting at officers through a bullhorn, asking why they had arrested someone. An officer shoves away someone’s hand holding a phone, and someone else off-camera appears to slap him on the helmet.

The officer then plunges into the crowd and the officers behind him surge forward, trampling those in their way.

Rivera was arrested for being in possession of a bullhorn. The charges were denounced on social media by other organisers and activists, who believe it was a targeted attack on a Black trans woman.

“Joel Rivera was charged last night for the possession of a bullhorn,” tweeted Jason Rosenberg. “This is just straight up ludicrous. This was NYPD’s planned attack against a Black trans organiser.”

Rivera was taken to the police station barefoot after losing her heels in the scuffle. She says the police offered her manila envelopes to put on her feet, which she declined.

Later in the holding cell, she realised her leg was bleeding and staining her ballgown. She asked the guards for a plaster but was refused.

“It’s so unfortunate that 50-plus years since the Stonewall Riots…It is very ironic how it’s the same situation, the same disease that’s still going on,” she said.

“It is scary to have to do this, but it is very necessary. We go home and we cry, we feel so [many] emotions.”