On Police and Pride

Here are some disjointed “I woke up at 5 am for some reason” things about Pride’s decision to remove the police from having a uniformed presence during the parade:

TW: Discussions of racism, homophobia, transphobia, serophobia, ableism, whorephobia, capitalism, violence, guns, THE POLICE.

1. The Police as a large institution of power cannot be oppressed. Yes, lots of them are good people. No, it’s not great as a rule to paint everyone with the same brush. Absolutely, some of them are queer/black/etc and allies. Sure, many police are motivated by helping/protecting people and some are even actively working with marginalized communities in a way that is thoughtful. And of course, some of them are your family/BFFs/kindly neighbours/did good things to protect you/maybe even a marginalized person you know. That still doesn’t mean that they’re oppressed by being asked not to participate recreationally in Pride as a large, unified, identifiable police force. That’s not how oppression works. It’s not an affront to inclusion to say no to a substantial visible police presence at Pride, and also inclusion can be hard to contend with, particularly with regards to an entity which has historically and currently worked to systematically subjugate LGBTQ folks and their various intersecting identities/communities.

2. There are legitimate reasons for a number of groups and individuals to feel discomfort/pain/fear when they see police. It is a very small minority of police who are actively violent against black people, indigenous people, other people of colour, trans people, mentally ill people, disabled people, homeless people, (non-normatively) queer people, sex workers, HIV+ people, (etc…) but those officers exist and flourish within the complicated frameworks of power and control of institutional force. Asides from the “bad apples”, there is the more expansive and nebulous issue of a culture of intimidation coming from law enforcement that seeks to keep in line those who are a perceived threat to the white straight cis able-bodied (etc) “way of life” and that is more pervasive and harder to see/point to.

3. A lot of the most extreme uses of excessive force (with guns/resulting in serious injury or death) from the police seem to stem from “misunderstandings” and/or (racist/transphobic/ableist/etc) panic trumping proper protocol/de-escalating measures. Knowing that people who look like you/from your community have died because of these “lapses in judgment” is awful and it makes sense to not want to be in situations where police are right next to you in uniform. There is very little way to know what will provoke the next violent incident. That is terrifying. Ideally, no one should be scared for their lives/reminded of the tenuousness of their safety at a fun parade with floats.

4. Most of the extreme examples of police brutality come from the States. True. But “it’s not like that in Canada!” is wrong. It would be disingenuous to state that the attitudes contributing to the most substantial cases of police violence aren’t alive and well in the way law enforcement operates here, at least institutionally speaking.

5. It’s not cute to shoot people with water guns when people who share that position of authority also shoot people with bullets on a fairly regular basis.

6. Saying that the police are mostly cool with LGBTQ folks now/have taken great strides is an indicator of ignorance. It’s like saying that “we don’t need feminism” or that “racism is over” because you don’t see the large-scale issues and microaggressions that may not impact you personally. Nothing has irritated me more on this issue than seeing people stating that “Maybe there are some issues still with trans people…” or “Yeah, but race (or gender/ability/class/etc) and sexuality are separate things…” You are just showing that you don’t care about segments of the LGBTQ community. Sometimes you don’t need to see the glass as half full. This is one of those times. Even if things are “mostly good” (and I am dubious about this) they can still be really bad for people who you don’t (know to) care about.

7. “Can’t we all just get along?” or any equally kumbaya-ish statement is actually a way to question, undermine, and silence dissent. It’s is the cry of the willfully ignorant who shrug off substantial issues because they are uncomfortable or it will necessitate further thought. It’s perhaps well-meaning, but stop it if you do it, and question it if you see it used as a tactic coming from your friends/family.

8. Police can still come to Pride as civilians. They can still march with the leather community, their queer book club, a bi-visibility organization, whatever. I’m not sure what the status of police unions or other non-Toronto Police Service police-type organizations, but even if they’re not welcome either, maybe just realize that it isn’t about the individuals, but about the larger culture of intimidation and control that makes people wary. (Edited to add: as far as I understand, they’ll also still be there to assist with crowd control and, you know, do their job. They just shouldn’t be there to be zany, loveable scamps at Pride who may or may not hassle and profile you the very next day.)

9. This isn’t just Black Lives Matters’ thing. They were organized enough to actually bring it to Pride’s attention, which is extremely commendable, but there are a lot of people who are not directly involved with BLM who either have personal safety reasons for not wanting a recreational police presence at Pride, or are just community-minded people who realize that, if they don’t feel complicated ways about the police, that may have more to do with their privilege than the universality of their experiences. And really, anyone who is saying that this is about BLM being demanding or pushy or whatever… Your racism/discomfort about any non-white group in a (momentary) position of power/having a meaningful say is showing.

10. If you legitimately feel bad for police officers who may need to not actively organize around their profession for one day, but you don’t care about the ongoing problems faced by very many marginalized groups, I don’t know what to tell you. You need to go think about your relationship to power/authority and your role in upholding the status quo and come back to this conversation when you’ve cultivated some empathy.