Should police be at Pride parades?
Over the weekend, the second annual Trans Resistance March and Rally took place. Noticeably missing, guiding and participating in the march from Nubian Square in Roxbury to the Franklin Park Playstead was the presence of police and law enforcement. Numerous chants were heard along the route from marchers, revelers and onlookers, bringing attention to many of the issues the black transgender community confront specifically. One chant was, “No racist police!”
“We plan to have minimal, if any, contact with law enforcement. Police officers will not be invited to the event or asked to secure the march route,” was the TRM’s statement on policing. “We will not take direction from law enforcement unless there is a clear, legal and reasonable explanation for doing so that does not impede our efforts to hold our event as planned.”
Over-policing is one of the tensions between Boston Pride, a 51-year-old event with a predominately white corporate-sponsored board, and Trans Resistance, a 2-year-old event with a racially mixed, grassroots board. Last year the murder of George Floyd raised additional fear LGBTQ+ people of color live with concerning the police. The refusal of Boston Pride’s board to publicly support the LGBTQ+ community of color position statement on policing simply further highlighted the decadeslong racial strife among us.
“Police came with sticks, came ready to throw down,” Athena Vaughn shared with the public about hyper policing of blacks at TRM last year, the first. Vaughn is the founding president of Trans Resistance MA.
The historic and present-day patterns and models of policing and punishment stem from centuries of colonialism, slavery, segregation and immigration. The over-policing of women of color is due to gang violence, the war on drugs, poverty, domestic violence, mental health and the sex trade industry, especially trans women.
“At TRM, we recognize policing in all forms as rooted in anti-Blackness, (trans) misogynoir, and the systems of slavery and incarceration. As a collective that advocates for the safety and liberation of Black trans women first and foremost, we reject the notion that police ‘keep us safe’ and refuse to work with them,” the group said.
Transmisogyny and racism put transgender women of color, in particular, at a high risk of police violence. Less than half of trans women of color report discriminatory policing such as “stop and frisk” and “walking while trans.” Trans women of color who participate in underground economies experience excessive police violence – i.e., 34 percent of Latinx and 53 percent blacks.
For example, it is common to hear trans sisters relay their tales of being subjected to excessive police violence, viciously attacked by off-duty police officers, arrested and charged with attempted murder for defending themselves. In addition, while in prison, many trans women are misgendered by correctional officers and inmates, sexually assaulted repeatedly and denied access to gender-affirming health care.
Many sexual assaults go unreported because half of the top police departments in the United States have no policies prohibiting police sexual violence against the public. And to avoid being assaulted during “stop-and-frisk,” many women of color have been forced into sexual acts to stave off arrest.
Another chant heard along the march route:“No justice, no peace, because these are our streets.”
Common night walking is one reason black trans women frequently end up in jail. Decriminalizing consensual sex work between adults would stem the problem. Democratic state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton has introduced a bill aiming to do just that. Policies protecting transgender people from discrimination and increasing economic opportunity would also help.
“Criminalizing the purchase and sale of sex particularly harms our Black trans sisters in the sex trades, it lands them in prisons and jail bunks just for working to survive in a racial capitalist economy that harms all people, and especially Black trans women! Call your legislator and leave a message, let them know that you support the full decriminalization of sex work,” wrote Elizabeth Ruckus of Boston while livestreaming the TRM.
There is a difference between policing a community and protecting one, splitting the LGBTQ community along race, class and gender lines. Although LGBTQ+ police officers might serve as a middle ground between having police at Pride parades or not, many communities of color, particularly black communities – straight or queer – suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder just seeing police. Sadly, the fear is not unfounded. Last June, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that African Americans are 3.2 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police.
LGBTQ+ civil rights and black civil rights histories intersect on many issues, with violence and police brutality among them. It’s my hope that come next Pride, this one issue is resolved.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.