Monica Jones is an Arizona based human rights defender who was wrongfully arrested by a rights violating police operation known as Project ROSE. Monica has always fought for the rights of her community, pressuring for gender neutral bathrooms at Phoenix College and vocally opposing SB 1062–a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against any group including LGBT people for any religious reason–at the Phoenix Capitol building. Yesterday, Monica went to court for her trial supported by organizations in Phoenix, across the United States, in many other countries and by activists at the United Nations. Here is her first interview since her trial was unexpectedly postponed. In this exclusive interview by Penelope Saunders for A Kiss for Gabriela, Monica shares about her ongoing campaign and what was learned in room 706 at Phoenix Municipal Court yesterday.
A Kiss for Gabriela: Yesterday on March 14, 2014 your court case was postponed. Can you tell us what happened?
Monica Jones: What happened was that a whole lot of people came out in support of the campaign but the trial itself was postponed because my attorney submitted a defense counsel motion to give me grounds for an appeal. Yesterday, the prosecutors said that they needed fourteen days to look over the document. The document is a constitutional challenge on free speech and due process grounds to the section in the Phoenix City Code that refers to “manifestation of an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution.” I am really, really happy that this has been filed because if I should be found guilty and we need to take this case to appeal, the constitutional challenge is a validation of my rights as a transgender woman and human rights defender who was arrested under a law that allows the police to profile people of color, transgender women and sex workers. The ACLU of Phoenix is assisting with my defense on these issues. As a transgender woman, the way I dress and the fact that I am in public space should not be grounds for harassment and profiling.
A Kiss: What next for your campaign?
Monica: When I first heard yesterday that the trial was to be postponed until April 11, I was kind of bummed out, thinking about the money we spent on prep work and the money we spent on getting ready for this case! Then I realized that so many people had come out in support and that they would want to support again. So I believe that twice as many people will come out to support on April 11. We will have to do some more fundraising so that I can have my team with me including my friend the documentary filmmaker PJ Starr, we need to get some more t-shirts made and so much more.
I think the prosecutors are kind of nervous because of the number of people who were in the court room yesterday to check out what was going on with the case and to observe. Workers from the court were approaching the crowd of supporters and saying that they had never seen anything like this. Everyone wanted to buy a t-shirt, the whole court building was a-buzz with what was happening at the “Monica Jones trial.” So perhaps the prosecutors are trying to throw a wrench in this because they are worried about everything coming together in this rights struggle. The prosecutor is feeling a lot of pressure with the ACLU and other legal advocates getting involved.
This is something different for the legal system in Phoenix. In a case like this relating to a charge of “manifestation” or any other prostitution related charge, from the prosecution’s point of view its supposed to be a simple in and out of the court. What normally happens is that there is the defendant, a public defender, the prosecutor and the judge and the defendant is rushed through, signs some papers and pleads guilty because they have no real option for justice. So people are forced through the system with no one to help them. It’s a dirty little secret of what is happening to so many people under these laws and my ongoing case is bringing to light this injustice.
So here is the most important thing I have to say to everyone out there who wants to know how I feel after my trial being postponed and how we will keep on. I thank you so much for all we have done so far. And just keep on with the same amount of energy, they want our activism to die down so they can do whatever they want. If we come out in force on April 11 we will show them that we are not a movement that after a time will die down. This is my message to all of you reading this. We want to keep this movement around the case going, share this with your friends and don’t give up!
A Kiss: How does having this campaign around your case make you feel personally? It must be a lot of pressure to be in the public eye so much.
Monica: I have been doing what I need to do to keep myself strong and to be prepared. But it’s challenging to speak to the media as much as I have been, I feel like I need a publicist to help me prepare for all this. Before the next April 11 court date, I’ll be getting some additional support in this regard, but I still need more support.
Having said that, something that has been very important in supporting me already has been the number of people coming out and standing with me. Yesterday, the court room was filled with supporters and people from the ACLU. At first we were all quiet and a little tense while we waited with no prosecutors, no judge and no court staff present. After a while we started to relax. We were doing selfies in court. It was a great atmosphere, we all started communicating, the coming together was about a lot more than just my case.
A Kiss: What does the trajectory of your case mean for the future of Project ROSE?
Monica: What is most important here is that the policing practices that Project ROSE relies on are now in the spotlight. An international spotlight is on this situation. But whatever the future of Project ROSE, my activism does not end should Project ROSE end. I just heard that police arrested more than 40 people in Phoenix for prostitution last night. I don’t have all the details yet but these ongoing arrests show that we have so much more to do to end the criminalization and incarceration of people due to the policing of victimless crimes. I won’t give up until all of this is ended.