The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Cops Were at Stonewall—Just On the Wrong Side!

Police During the Stonewall Riots

Around the country various Pride celebrations are debating whether police groups should be allowed to march as police. Of course, we wouldn’t have the Stonewall Riots without them—we just need to remember they were the violent thugs who started the riots and LGBT individuals were their victims—yet again.

There has been something of a controversy over Pride celebrations excluding police groups from marching as police. Sgt. Bill Hummell or the Aurora, Colorado police claimed, “Rather than fighting for inclusivity, you are excluding a group of gay, lesbian and transgendered people from participating.”

In fact, no one is being excluded for being gay, lesbian or trans. The exclusion is for being part of an organization that has been violent, intolerant, racist, and corrupt.

If a group of gay Nazis wanted to march they could be excluded for being Nazis, not for being gay. There is a huge difference.

We have to acknowledge that not every cop is violent, but policing as a whole is, regardless of how individuals act. And I don’t mean they are violent only in self-defense. I mean they are needlessly violent and escalate situations more often than not. The reality is cops are psychologically prone toward violence. As I’ve presented evidence on this at Radical Center, cops are far more violent in their private lives than the general public is. They are violent off the job and on the job. It cops are more violent toward their spouses and children than the general public—and they are!—then we shouldn’t be suprised when they treat the public violently.

They are taught to be violent and given training that intentionally escalates situations. Over and over we see them killing people with impunity. About one hours drive from where these Colorado police are complaining officers beat up a 73-year-old frail woman with dementia. After they did they left her handcuffed in a cell, without medical treatment, while they joked about hearing her bones crack from the violent treatment they handed out. They found beating up an old woman hilarious.

Now, most the focus on police violence is about their treatment of the African-American community but this epidemic of police violence hits everyone. It just hits certain groups more.

The LBGT community has long felt the brunt of police violence. That police groups were ever allowed to march in Pride parades indicates the LGBT community is far, far more tolerant than the policing community. I witness police in Chicago harassing people in the gay community. I witnessed it in San Francisco as well, on October 6, 1989. I was living on Castro when police showed up one night and started marching down the street with truncheons out to beat screaming that everyone had to go inside and clear the streets.

1989 police violently force all residents of the Castro off the streets.

People fled into the Castro Theater, which locked the police out, as well as dozens of stores on the street as these thugs asserted their right to control the streets. The excuse they gave was a peaceful protest in the Castro. There was no conflict until the police arrived. There was no violence till the police arrived. There was some people protesting and everyone going about their business. That all changed when the police turned the situation violent for their own pleasure.

A recent study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reported that “compared with the general population” six times as many LGBT individuals reported being stopped by police in a public space. They contend this shows the gay community “are over-policed and raises the issue of bias-based profilig” by police.

The sad reality is cops are violent in ways that are unnecessary. They are prone to escalate situations toward greater and greater violence, not trained to de-escalate.

I’ve come to the conclusion that sadly, given the behavior of police — and it has been getting worse, not better — they should be treated as if they are another violent street gang. If some of them are gay that’s not a reason to allow the gang to march. Any individual who wants to march can march.

But, until we see a national improvement in how police behave they shouldn’t be allowed to join Pride celebrations except as individuals.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.