With the month of June comes Pride season as well as Fights Over Pride season. It actually goes all the way back to the days shortly after the Stonewall riots when the newly awakened LGBT community of Greenwich Village tried to decide on how to keep up the unity and power of their newfound movement. At one of the earliest meetings, leaders asked what they could do to help the community — some suggested LGBT liberation and equality by destroying the global capitalist system of oppression, while others suggested getting some blankets for the homeless LGBT people who slept in the neighborhood park.
So there’s always been a split on how the community should come together, celebrate diversity, and advance equality. Over the past few years there has been a growing issue of allowing police to participate in Pride celebrations that has already drawn protests at Pride events and divided the LGBTQ community. While the most vocal and outspoken side has been the anti-cop, very little has come from, for lack of a better way to put it, “pro-cop” side. Yes, I am about to advocate for police participation in Pride.
Now, before I get into the argument itself, I want to go ahead and set fire to the straw man dismissal many will level at me about being a “cop lover.” I actually am regularly critical of police, and that is easily provable by reading my Twitter or talking to me instead of assuming. I have long been critical of police violence and excessive force.
During one of the recent demonstrations I found a comment by a protester to be incredibly revealing: “We had more restrictions on force when I was in Afghanistan than they do.” Police trainer Dave Grossman, who teaches officers and departments that they are warriors and that they should be less hesitant to use lethal force, is indicative of the problems in modern policing in America, as indicated by the deaths of Philando Castile and Daniel Shaver as well as the practice of “no-knock” SWAT raids.
Police should be public servants whose job is to protect and assist the public, not treat them as enemy combatants, as a side revenue stream for cities through excessive fines and civil asset forfeiture. In fact, well before overly aggressive policing and excessive fines targeting the poor became a mainstream issue, I was a victim of it. Because of prohibitively expensive fines and a rookie cop who disliked some of the stickers on my car, I spent 10 days on the county work farm, had my car repossessed, lost my job, and more (including my dog running away). Excessive policing changed my life, and because of how punishing this was, I went active-duty military to escape destitution and soon found myself in Iraq. No, I was not beaten or shot, but I understand how bad policing can affect people’s lives. I am a staunch critic of using police as a revenue stream, of police abusing their positions, corruption, and of course excessive force and unjustified shootings that would get anyone else a murder or manslaughter conviction.
The legal concept of “qualified immunity” has been a dangerous and harmful factor in police policy and should be limited. Finally, in my view, police should be held to a higher standard of conduct, be overseen by civilian review boards, receive far more training in mental health and deescalation techniques, and most important, when found guilty of a crime receive a heavier punishment than is standard, especially when it comes to framing suspects, abuse, torture, and shootings.
And that is why I support cops at Pride. Sounds contradictory, but I assure you it is not.
In this media age, it is easy to see all police as the same and from the same organization, when that is absolutely not the case. There are about 18,000 different law enforcement agencies in America totaling over three quarters of a million employees. These agencies run in size from literally one police officer to the New York Police Department’s 40,000 sworn officers. Unlike in most countries, these agencies are not part of a nationally run organization or even a state organization but rather their local governments. This results in various standards of training, oversight, qualifications, policies, pay and benefits, and even local police “cultures.” A cop from rural Wyoming can be very different from a cop from New York City. Because of this, there shouldn’t be a call to remove police from Pride celebrations overall. I can understand the reluctance of cities such as say, Baltimore or Ferguson, Mo., not wanting cops at their Pride celebrations because those police forces have serious department-wide issues of violence toward people of color and massive corruption. Those cops have most certainly not earned a place at Pride.
However, there are police departments in this country that have made huge strides to reduce police violence, racial profiling, corruption, and militarization, and have adopted a more community-focused approach. They have civilian review boards, community relations departments that work with local minorities to address issues unique to them, and make efforts to remove officers who are unqualified, incompetent, or dangerous. No, these departments are not just small suburban ones, but include some in major cities. There are good cops out there, and this is proven by the fact that many of these changes have come not just from city governments but from within the departments.
I know there is a belief that “there are no good cops” that gets passed around among people, and that to me is not only logically wrong, but ideologically and emotionally driven. And it greases up that slippery slope that catches so many people who believe such things in contradictory beliefs about other groups or shows it to be purely an ideological belief, which opens up a whole other set of issues. There are good cops out there who work within the system to make it better, and as I said, some of these reforms, such as reducing focus on low-level drug possession come from within the department leadership. A department with massive systemic problems should be held accountable and criticized, but a department working to improve that has a bad cop shouldn’t. You can no more have a cop stop a burglary if he’s not there than have a cop or department remove and punish a bad officer if they were not aware of it. And frankly, let’s be realistic, there will always be bad cops just like there will always be bad people in any organization.
If one truly believes that all cops and all departments should be held accountable for the actions of other departments or cops who were not known to be bad cops until it could be proven, then what prevents that belief from being passed on to other groups and organizations? I can easily find corruption and abuse in literally every organization and institution in society that reflects badly upon them and justify not having them be represented at Pride. This would certainly cause no small amount of outrage among those supporters who would defend their groups with a very strong “That doesn’t mean they’re all bad” or “That’s not reflective of their overall actions.” Yet it seems to apply to police for some of those folks who would say those things. The usual answer for that is that police are part of systemic and even institutional oppression, which I can certainly agree with in many if not most regards. However, as I also pointed out, almost any group can be found to have elements of oppression, be it systemic or institutional. Additionally, and this will certainly frustrate and anger many opponents of cops at Pride, not everyone in the LGBTQ community agrees with some of these ideological and philosophical beliefs.
I linked to my article about the Philadelphia Pride flag issue from last year for a reason. The LGBTQ community is nowhere near as unified on a system of belief as some people would think. Pretty much the only thing the community can agree on generally is gay and lesbian rights. Many want to drop transgender people, many erase bisexual people, and many are offended by the word queer. Some are conservative, some are mainstream liberal, and some are outright Marxists. There are intersectional feminists and TERFs, racists and Black Lives Matter advocates. There are tons of ageism, classism, and body-shaming issues as well. My purpose as a writer is often to talk about these divides and why they are often wrong and offensive, and the one thing that I am consistent on is on how we need to get rid of those divides. So yes, one of these divides is the advocacy of bans on police representation at Pride, and we need to address it.
Saying that Pride started as a protest against police 49 years ago is not a valid argument, considering that we gladly put Democrats in our parades and they for most of their history were not only the party that advocated segregation but were anti-LGBTQ (Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act). However, we recognize that they have changed and are now champions of our community, and most of us are Democrats or at least liberal/left. We’ve never banned Log Cabin Republicans as far as I know, and last year at our Pride here in Oklahoma City, we actually had the self-described “paramilitary” leftist militia the John Brown Rifles set up a booth. This is notable because you might recall that in 1995 a militia member committed the largest act of domestic terror in American history here. Yes, a militia at OKC Pride. One might say “but they’re the good ones” still doesn’t remove the militia movement’s history of domestic terror from being associated with them. Now, you might say, “So what about our association of cops with systemic violence? If you don’t want that militia, we don’t want cops.” That’s a fair argument, to which my reply goes back to who do we exclude based on whose beliefs? I can easily make the argument that absolutely no socialists/communists be allowed at Pride based on a long documented history of homophobia and institutional oppression by people and groups within those movements. But I won’t because Pride does not belong to any one political ideology, any one philosophy of social progress and equality, and certainly should include all of the community. Warts and all.
While I can recognize that there are bad institutions and bad people, I know they don’t represent all of their given group. Yes, the Ferguson and Baltimore police are bad institutions in desperate need of reform, and I would never argue for their inclusion at their Prides as just two obvious examples. But there are much better police departments out there that do belong at Pride. There are good cops trying to make a difference in departments that have issues who deserve to be recognized and celebrated. An openly gay or even transgender cop just a few years ago would have been unheard of, much less departments working to improve their relationship with the LGBTQ community to crack down on hate crimes and punish discriminatory officers. There are departments that actively work to reduce bias against people of color and excessive use of force, with one of the best examples being the city of Dallas (although there are still issues and differing takes on those improvements) We want police departments to improve and we want good police, and part of that is celebrating good cops and good departments. Are there any perfect departments out there? No, of course not. Nothing involving groups of humans is ever going to be perfect. However, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Banning all cops from Pride is neither right nor fair. Banning the bad cops, sure, I’ll agree to that.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.