Artwork done by: Prabhneet Kaur
Though not a new phenomenon, police brutality and police presence have begun to epitomize the dire state that race relations in North America are currently in. If society accepts the notion that people– regardless of race– should be afforded the right to live as they want, then society should also work towards ensuring that vulnerable social spaces remain safe.
One way to ensure that these spaces are “safe” is by banning uniformed police officers from entering. Though this may seem contradictory (why should events or spaces that are meant to be “safe” ban police officers, those who are meant to serve and protect?) the negative implications of allowing uniformed police officers to participate far outweigh the positive.
Take, for example, the recent debate in Toronto about whether uniformed police officers should be allowed to participate in their annual Pride Parade. After Toronto’s Black Lives Matter group contended that Toronto Police be banned from the city’s annual parade, Pride Toronto’s claim of inclusivity was called into question. Gay Pride and Pride celebrations all over the world have their roots in fighting state-sanctioned violence and police brutality. If it were not for trans women of colour standing up against police violence, pride would not be celebrated annually. Gay Pride, trans people of colour, and police violence are all intrinsically tied, and have been since the inception of Pride.
Despite the historical traumas that form the basis of Pride, the Toronto Police have called the ban against them exclusionary and counter-intuitive. At first glance, yes, the ban does seem contradictory to the beliefs and message of Pride; Pride is meant to be inclusive and a celebration of all identities. The argument that excluding police officers from the parade makes Pride exclusive, however, is a faulty claim. Not only is Black Lives Matter calling for a ban of uniformed police officers– thus, excluding the institution of the Toronto Police and not individual officers– it also makes Toronto Pride more inclusive for the people it should include.
The history of police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community, racialized people, and other minority groups, allowing the Toronto Police to march in the Pride parade not only neglects the safety and comfort of those groups but also exemplifies a general disregard for the opinions of minorities even within minority groups; it is– and always will be– those with intersecting identities that are the most persecuted and least protected. It is the trans women of colour who began the gay resistance and “pride” that are left in the dust. By excluding the Toronto Police, a group that has historically affected the LGBTQ+ community negatively, Pride is more accessible and inclusive to those that Pride should protect and serve.
Spaces like Pride are the most extreme example but the same ideologies can be applied to any social space where police presence is often debated. Another example that comes to mind is the school officer program that has been in place in the Toronto District School Board for many years. Though it does seem to make sense that schools should be protected and police officers could provide a level of protection that regular hall monitors may not, the invasion of the police in schools creates a “school to prison pipeline” that many activists are trying to dismantle. The perception of the space is changed when officers are allowed into schools. What was once a place of learning is transformed into an extension of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it is an unfortunate yet believable statistic that the schools with embedded police presence are also the ones in neighbourhoods with a greater number of racial minorities living there. Police presence, in this case, is seen as a means of criminalizing students from a young age.
Police presence can recover. If police officers want to reclaim their title as the protectors of a lawful and peaceful society, then they must pay their dues. Officers should listen to why they are not welcome in certain spaces, think critically about the historical and continual effect that their presence has had and will have, and understand that the implication of their presence shifts the way a space is perceived. By learning to listen and understand the complaints of those they claim to serve and protect, perhaps police officers can earn back their place in these spaces.
Written By: Rebecca Gao