No, Police Really Don’t Belong at Pride Marches

It probably sounds topsy-turvy to most Americans to say that there are places that police officers should not go. In the U.S., we’ve vested police officers with the authority to delineate who can and cannot be in public spaces. And we’ve seen that power play out in the news over the last few months. White people have used police officers to kick black people out of public spaces again and again: public parks, Yale University common rooms, and Philadelphia Starbucks.

These string of incidents happened to take hold of the national consciousness just before the beginning of Pride season, and as they are fresh in the minds of black and brown Americans, the queer community has begun its annual discussion of whether police belong at Pride celebrations.

More so than in any other previous year, police officers’ presence at Pride celebrations is a contentious issue. And the issue has so entered the queer discourse that it’s been memeified in queer Twitter.

But boiling down a complex issue like police presence at Pride down to a meme is extremely difficult. There are many people who feel comforted having an officer within arms’ reach. And, now more than ever, LGBTQ cops argue that they should serve a role in any Pride march.

And while the issue is complex, the answer is not. The memes are right: In order to honor the origins of Pride, police should be excluded from Pride celebrations.

No, I’m not here to nostalgize you to death: we all know that Pride began as a riot against the police, that these officers raided gay bars and crammed queers into squad cars. Having nothing to do with the physical act of sodomy or drinking or disturbing the peace, being queer was seen as an offense, one that the long arm of the law needed to punish. Until black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson threw a brick and fought back, queer people took their petty overnight holdings in stride, but her response — and the response of other LGBTQ people, especially street youth who lived in the West Village — was the first push back.

Pride celebrations do honor those riots, but the past is not the sole reason that queer people should hesitate to see police march in pride. It’s the present.

While in the past all queer people feared the authorities, that’s not true now. In the almost-50 years since Stonewall, racial privilege carved a schism into the queer community. White lesbians and gays are now by-and-large offered protection, while black and Latinx queer people are not. The result: spaces that trans and non-binary people and femmes of color worked to create have become spaces that now exclude them. To allow police into these intentional spaces is to center — as usual — cisgender white gay voices in the planning of pride celebrations, as these people are more often than not the ones who benefit from police presence. This is called homonormativity, or the reality that the queer community capitalizes the “G” in LGBTQ, while often lower-casing all the other letters and dropping the “T” entirely.

Just last year, four black trans and queer disrupted Columbus, Ohio’s Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival to pride festivities to remind pride-goers that just one day prior, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on charges after killing Philando Castile. It ended with four demonstrators — Wriply Bennet, Kendall Denton, Ashley Braxton, and DeAndre Antonio Miles-Hercules — facing charges including aggravated robbery, resisting arrest, causing harm to a police officer, failure to comply with a police officer’s order and disorderly conduct, according to Teen Vogue. The four protesters — who came to be known as the Black Pride 4 — were found guilty of six of the eight charges.

In a video for AJ+, Bennet said that, as they were arrested, two white women began to cackle and one of them spit on her.

During their disruption, the group of protesters asked for seven minutes of silence to acknowledge those black and brown people killed by police violence, the many trans and gender non-conforming people who were killed in the last year and for the lack of diversity at the pride event.

“Having a pride parade that is dominantly white and then policed — overpoliced — by a system of police that has been murdering black folk in your city,” Bennet said, “it absolutely excludes people of color, trans folk, LGBTQIA folk from the event.”

And the same thing happens elsewhere, as well. Police arrested black and brown activists decrying police violence in New York City during the 2017 pride march, as well.

Many Pride celebrations — Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, to name a few — take place in formerly queer, heavily gentrified neighborhoods which are usually over-policed and criminalize queer youth of color.

Some queer people — mainly privileged queer people — have called for more police in queer spaces ever since the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. That same weekend, police apprehended someone allegedly heading to the Los Angeles pride festival with explosives, guns, and ammo, though his intent was never clarified, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After these back-to-back events, police flooded queer events, often without community input.

“You have police walking the streets with automatic weapons, lining the streets, standing next to signs that say ‘We are Orlando’ or the names of the victims,” a staff member of the New York City Anti-Violence told Mic about the 2016 Pride parade shortly after the shooting. “Aside from it being slightly ironic, it speaks to this country’s way of protecting people: sending police in and not thinking of the effects that can have on communities of color, queer communities, and trans communities.”

Some of the people who survived the Pulse massacre would not benefit from increased police presence at pride celebrations, either. Though woefully underreported by the media, several of the survivors of the mass shooting were undocumented, and several cities that will celebrate pride this year, including Orlando itself are not sanctuary cities: police officers are open to speaking to immigration when apprehending an undocumented citizen.

There’s no easy solution when it comes to making sure that everyone in a space feels safe. But while queer communities work to make sure that all people in a queer space feel safe, the community must also recognize that it might be doing active harm to its most marginalized if it continues to allow police into spaces that are supposed to be for black and brown queer youth.

Police may no longer feel like your oppressors, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t oppressors to others in your community.

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