‘Police are a force of terror’: the LGBT activists who want cops out of Pride

Queer groups are protesting mainstream festivals and organizing alternative events that recognize ongoing police mistreatment of LGBT people

It took half a century, but this LGBT Pride month, the New York police department (NYPD) finally apologized for the infamous 1969 raid on the Stonewall gay bar.


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    Some queer New Yorkers had a simple response: apology not accepted.

    It was a symbolic PR stunt, said Colin P Ashley, a local queer black activist. The NYPD is still an oppressive force in so many lives.

    Ashley is part of Reclaim Pride, a coalition that wants more than a 50-year-late apology. The group wants police removed from Pride altogether.

    Queer and trans activists across the US are engaging in cops out of Pride efforts this month, with protests and alternative cop-free events that seek to recognize the ongoing police mistreatment of LGBT people. These groups are pushing back against corporate-sponsored parades that embrace police in the name of inclusion and unity and return to the radical and riotous roots of the movement.

    Police have often been a force of terror for queer and trans communities, said Malkia Devich Cyril, a queer activist and Black Lives Matter member who said they wont be attending San Francisco Pride, due to the way police and corporations have co-opted it.

    The efforts to remove policing from Pride are really efforts to ensure safety for the communities that are there. Its a protective act. Its an act of resistance, said Cyril, whose mother was a member of the Black Panthers. Its an act that attempts to restore some measure of safety to our rights to organize.


     
    The
    The Peoples Power Assemblies & Workers World Contingent at the 2017 New York City Pride march. Photograph: Brenda Sandburg

    Opposition to law enforcement marching in Pride parades is not new, but has intensified this year as the festivals have adopted themes honoring the anniversary of Stonewall, the LGBT rebellion against police abuses that led to the first Pride march and cemented June as Pride month around the globe.

    The tide is growing around the idea of restricting police involvement in Pride across the country, and across the world, said Ashley, whose group is organizing a Queer Liberation march on 30 June separate from the citys world-famous parade. Police arent invited.

    Some Pride organizers have argued that the festivals are an opportunity to build bridges between law enforcement and queer communities, that LGBT officers deserve to march, and that the police brutality of 1969 is not todays reality. But in California, New York, Florida and other regions this year, activists are standing up to pro-police LGBT leaders.

    Police are not standing with us

    Were not going to build a bridge with police officers who keep burning them down, said Alex Andrews, a sex worker activist in Florida, who was upset to learn this week that a police contingent was scheduled to march just a few groups behind her Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) coalition at St Pete Pride on Sunday. We want to march and we want to be proud participants, but theres going to be this element of fear that is going to be following us.


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    Sex workers were integral to the original Stonewall riot, and many who work in the underground industry today are queer and trans people who have reported suffering violence, arrests and harassment at the hands of police.

    Its kind of a punch in the gut, said Kristen Cain, another SWOP organizer in Florida, who is bisexual. Pride is about family for me, she said, the holiday she most cherishes every year, but now she is feeling anxiety about police: They are not standing with us, they are actively fighting against us.

    Some queer groups have organized mass actions in response. In Sacramento, hundreds of demonstrators blocked an entrance to the citys festival, carrying No Cops at Pride and Black Trans Lives Matter signs. Pride organizers had initially said police would be banned from marching in uniform to honor community members harmed by police violence, but reversed course days before the event.

    Police dont protect us, said Ayotunde Ikuku, who is part of a group called Still Here that organized the protest. Every other day, we are trying to not be murdered by them.

    Ikuku, a 22-year-old non-binary black activist, said some Pride attendees were uninterested in learning about the protest, and even enraged at the disruption. A group of older white gay men were openly hostile, racist and violent to the protesters, they said: There was such unwarranted anger misdirected at us.

    Some videos captured physical confrontations, and at least one man mocking a protester for being trans.

    There was just a lot of hate, said Ikuku, adding that it was clear some gay people were satisfied with marriage equality and uninterested in the continued struggles of other LGBT people: They could support us, too, and would lose nothing from doing that Pride is about showing up for our community who is not shown up for, who is not heard.

    Police violations of LGBT Sacramento residents are also not a concern of the past, activists noted. Last year, a black trans woman protesting the police killing of unarmed Stephon Clark was arrested by Sacramento police and thrown in the male section of the county jail.

    Ayotunde
    Ayotunde Ikuku: Police dont protect us. Photograph: Courtesy of Ayotunde Ikuku

    Independence Taylor, a 21-year-old Still Here activist, said that when he was a homeless teenager on the streets of Sacramento, police would mock and threaten him and the other trans and queer youth, waking them up in the middle of the night.

    With police welcomed by festival organizers, he said, I worried about the security and safety of my friends of color It makes me feel like any wrong move could be cause for them to walk up to me and harass me.

    Some of the attendees opposing Still Here just wanted to party or believed Pride should be about love and unity, said Taylor, adding that he wished the event was welcoming to low-income and homeless queer people, who cant afford tickets: Dont keep people out Pride to me should be a day of community building and community education.

    While some have argued that police are necessary for public safety purposes at Pride, others have said there are ways for communities to provide their own security. Ikuku cited the work of the Black Panthers as a model for community patrols.

    Why gay cops arent welcome

    In San Francisco, home to one of the biggest Pride parades in the country, the police department (SFPD) has given out rainbow pride patches for officers to wear this month, and has a Pride SUV that will drive in the parade, a spokesperson said, adding that officers and their families and friends are looking forward to walking in this years parade.


     

    SF Prides theme this year is generations of resistance, which some critics have argued is particularly insulting given this embrace of SFPD, which raided a queer hangout spot in 1966, sparking a rebellion against police in a riot that pre-dated Stonewall.

    Kick cops and corporations out of pride stickers are common around the Bay Area, spread by an activist group called Gay Shame, made up of mostly working-class trans people of color.

    The
    The San Francisco police department has a Pride SUV that will drive in the parade, a spokesperson said. Photograph: Courtesy of SFPD

    Police exist to kill and torture black and brown people, the group said in an email to the Guardian. If you are [celebrating] cops, you are celebrating white supremacy, there is no way around it. A Pride cop car is like a rainbow confederate flag.


     

    They added: People say that we just need more trainings and more LGBT cops, but you cant reform a system that is built on racial terror.

    At Pride in Detroit this year, neo-Nazis disrupted the celebrations and police, in effect, provided an armed escort for the white supremacists in an effort, officials said, to prevent violent clashes.

    In New York, the police commissioners belated apology was limited to the event 50 years ago, and did not acknowledge ongoing problems.

    We reject this apology. Its empty, said Natalie James, a co-founder of Reclaim Pride. It implies as if the police abuses are a [historical] thing.

    Ashley said the apology did not change his mind that police should be unwelcome at Pride including the gay ones: While I understand the struggles of black police in an institution that is racist, and I understand the struggles of gay officers in an institution that is still homophobic, the institution as a whole is still oppressive to these communities.

    One day after the commissioners apology, Layleen Polanco, a trans woman, died inside New Yorks notorious Rikers island jail, where she was housed in solitary confinement, and stuck behind bars because she couldnt afford bail for a misdemeanor charge.

    We have made no progress, said James. The NYPD as it exists is antithetical to queer liberation.

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