Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The future of Pride does not involve police

When Pride marches return to streets post-lockdown, we have to reevaluate the role of the police in their design.

by Jason Okundaye
04 June 2020, 7:00am

Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Coronavirus has rendered mass congregation medically unsafe, and as such this Pride season will be host to some of the first ‘Digital Prides’ across the globe. This also means that for the first time in recent history many Prides will have no police presence of any kind. But what if, even when Pride returns to the streets, we could eliminate police involvement permanently?

Removing the police from Pride parades is not a new idea, in fact, it has become a basic demand of queer Black activists. In 2017, Halifax Regional Police in Canada agreed to step away from the city’s Pride parade recognising their participation as "divisive". Further, in 2019 Toronto Pride members voted 163-161 against allowing uniformed police officers to participate in the annual Pride March, as has also occurred in Vancouver. In Hamilton, an independent review into the police response to violence at last year’s Pride will be released next week.

The motivations behind this demand are simple: policing is antithetical to the liberation of Black and queer communities who feel the rough edges of the state’s capacity for violence. With Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the globe in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and black trans man Tony McDade, it's a demand that is as clear and relevant as ever.

As the academic Alex S Vitale has articulated, the militarisation and expansion of the scope of police work in America has only enabled violence and abuse, while proposing no solutions to the social problems which are alleged to make this policing ‘necessary’. And the police are no allies of queer people, no matter the number of queer officers they recruit, or how garishly they decorate themselves with rainbows during Pride month. Despite escaping without penalties, the Met Police have recently been investigated for institutionally homophobic failings in the chemsex-related murders of four young gay men in London. The Home Secretary has recently responded to a horrific incident of serial rape by authorising police-led sting operations against gay chemsex parties -- an approach which will encourage homophobic targeting from authorities, and comes in the absence of harm reduction strategies that we know keep gay men safer during chemsex. Internationally, queer people report a feeling of indifference from police to act on anti-LGBT+ violence, and our confidence in police-led justice is undermined by a lack of accountability and prosecutions when we report homophobic crimes.

Despite these failings, white queer people often form a core defence for policing, arguing that police help to enforce ‘tolerance’ and provide community ‘safety’. But if we are to understand the police as foot soldiers of the anti-Black machinations of state power, this uncritical support can be understood as a form of homonationalism that weaponises borders and police violence to ‘protect’ white queer communities from a racialised, ‘intolerant’ other. Racist and Islamophobic narratives often present Black and Muslim communities as the greatest threats to queer tolerance, consequently justifying over-policing. That is not to suggest that white queer people only fear homophobic and transphobic violence from non-white people, but the position of policing as a solution depends on supporting and validating an institution which is itself implicated in the cycle of violence. An institution which escalates conflict and perpetuates racist brutality cannot be relied on to ‘protect’ us. The police cannot be both virus and cure.

"If we are to understand the police as foot soldiers of the anti-Black machinations of state power, this uncritical support can be understood as a form of homonationalism that weaponises borders and police violence to ‘protect’ white queer communities from a racialised, ‘intolerant’ other."

Street hate crime is, despite failures of prosecution, most regularly cited as reason for the police’s importance to queer communities. But the disproportionate young age of perpetrators of transphobic and homophobic hate crime indicates that addressing the circumstances which cultivate hatred and violence would be more impactful than stronger policing. Certainly, to combat hate crime, anti-bullying education provision is key -- something that has been deprioritised recently due to criticism that focus on queerphobic bullying is one-dimensional and portrays LGBT+ people simply as ‘victims’. For example, a teacher in a blog for Stonewall commented that “new lessons celebrating diverse sexualities, gender identities and the history of Pride replaced lessons which had painted a one dimensional picture of LGBT students as victims.” While concerns about only representing LGBT+ victimhood are valid, it is also essential that young people are made to take seriously the very real threat of physical violence against LGBT+ people, such that they do not go on to become perpetrators of queerphobic violence themselves.

Community-led alternatives which reject policing and carcerality as answers to street violence are already being championed by Black and brown queer people and feminists. The queer arts collective Pxssy Palace offers free taxis for trans and disabled people of colour to travel to and from their club nights, whilst feminist campaigner Kelsey Mohamed compels us to “envision a society that takes responsibility for violence that happens within our communities” through promoting bystander intervention training.

Black queer people in the UK have also grasped the urgency of removing bastions of law enforcement from our celebrations -- as indicated by our backlash against, and the subsequent withdrawal of, Home Office and National Crime Agency stalls from UK Black Pride 2019. This is because we are, by and large, under no illusion that policing and borders are a legitimate path for community safety. I certainly cannot imagine the attendees of UK Black Pride tolerating any veneration of the police going forward. So white queer communities, it is your move next. As Black trans feminine artist Travis Alabanza, who often speaks of anti-trans street violence, writes in their play, Burgerz: “You know in these hate crime adverts they always advise the poor trans person to call the police, and I always want to ask back, ‘Why would we bring more trouble to our door?’ And then I remember we aren’t all in the same house… are we?”.

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