This Sunday, June 4th, at 11am, the Winnipeg Pride Parade will take place (we encourage you to go, and also to check out the Winnipeg Trans March Saturday, June 3rd at 2pm). You may have heard discussions– on social media, on the news, in coffee shops, on the bus, at the dinner table, and where ever you hear about what’s going on– aboutWinnipeg Pride’s request for police officers who want to march in the parade to attend without their uniforms.
This decision has been controversial, even though this request (and it’s a request) only extends to the police that are marching, and not to the police that will redirect traffic for the parade, who will remain in uniform. This year in Toronto, some police officers and city councillors complained about the funding Toronto Pride receives from the city and that this funding should be revoked because police were requested not to attend in uniform. And many support this view. But why the controversy? Why are many two spirit, trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay, and queer people against police presence at pride? Part of this is explained by the different experiences people have had with the police.
Many people have positive perceptions of the police. This is often connected to having positive interactions with the police or minimal personal interactions with the police. There is also positive cultural messaging around police, for example, that they are there to ‘serve and protect’, that they treat everyone fairly, that they are only human and are doing tough but necessary jobs. For some people, these attitudes and their direct experiences with the police seamlessly overlap. However, these experiences are not universal and it is very important to listen to what people who are negatively impacted by police are saying about their experiences. For many people, their experience with police doesn’t align with these mainstream attitudes at all.
The same CBC article linked above explains that Pride Winnipeg conducted an online survey and 200 of the 600 respondents, a full third, described a variety of negative experiences with the police including “experiences of mistrust, apathy and prejudice” and that these experiences were “prevalent among transgender people, two-spirited people and queer people of colour”. In other words, a large group of people from the two spirit, trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer community have indicated that they feel uncomfortable with the police because of negative direct experiences connected to systemic oppressions such as racism, transphobia, homophobia and colonialism.
(If you are interested in reading more personal accounts that provide examples and analysis of the violence that two spirit, trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer people face, check out these recent public Facebook posts: Levi A Foy’s post or Terre Chartrand’s post).
In Solidarity Winnipeg’s Vision Statement we say that we envision transforming society to achieve social and ecological justice on an anti-colonial basis. This can ultimately only be achieved by replacing capitalism with a more democratic society not driven by profit. We affirm that the key to changing society is building powerful mass social movements while caring for each other.
The discussion about police at Pride connects to this in a few ways. It is no coincidence that two spirit, trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer folks, face other forms of systemic oppression in addition to police violence, and this indicates that our current system doesn’t deliver social justice for all: we need to transform society.
Additionally, since many people have positive attitudes towards the police because their own encounters have been minimal or positive, sharing the reality that their experiences are not universal is part of challenging people to connect with each other, to care, and to work together to support activities to change society. In this case, it is about persuading people that the idea of uniformed police being excluded from the Pride Parade is progressive. Is a good thing.** Though trying to change people’s minds doesn’t create a mass social movement, it does strengthens people’s connections to each other, without ignoring differences, and this helps with any future mass social movement that may manifest.
Lastly, by challenging ideas around an institution like the police, which is deeply rooted in the capitalist system, we can open the door to other questions about society as a whole. For example, if police, as an institution, cause harm to marginalized groups that already face other barriers and oppressions, and at the same time we put a lot of money into this institution while cutting other social programs and implementing austerity, how would things be if we took a different approach? What would society look like if we put more resources into social programs, and community support than we currently do and put less resources into policing? What if public transit received more resources and instead of trying to improve bus driver safety by having more police presence on buses, we try to achieve this in another way? What if instead, public transit attempted to minimize fare disputes by being entirely free? What would a different, transformed, better, society look like?
Though this write-up does not do justice to the big question of police in society, in Solidarity Winnipeg, we are interested in discussing and thinking about these kinds of questions, in addition to and in connection to the organizing activities we engage in.
(For example, at our next meeting, we will discuss “Is Heterosexism Over?” (if you are interested, see this article: Marriage Will Never Set Us Free.)
If organizing and thinking about these broad questions is something you are interested in, please, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and see how you can get involved.
Written by Teddy Zegeye-Gebrehiwot. Member of Solidarity Winnipeg.
**June 4 2017 edit: Someone helpfully pointed out to me that the line ” the idea of uniformed police being excluded from the Pride Parade is progressive. Is a good thing.” can be interpreted as being supportive of plain-clothed police officers at Pride. To be clear, I think the presence of any police at pride is a problem, uniformed or plain-clothed, but I am focusing on uniformed police because Pride Toronto, Pride Winnipeg and other Pride marches have made statements regarding police in uniform.
Ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Solidarity Winnipeg’s