A 1981 issue of The Body Politic, a Toronto gay community newspaper, calling for protests against the police following a series of bathhouse raids known as Operation Soap.
As Pride Week approaches in Toronto, I’ve noticed an uptick on my Facebook feed in “debate” about whether uniformed police officers should be allowed in the big parade. Notice that I put the word in quotes? There’s a reason for that. And that’s because it’s not really a debate, but more like a demand to allow the cops to take part. I’ve even seen a Change.org petition (which I’m not linking) calling for just that. And lots of petulant people are huffing that if the police aren’t allowed in Pride, maybe the city should just stop stop funding the event.
That demand for uniformed police participation is ultimately bad for the LGBT+ community. How do I know? Oh, because it hasn’t exactly worked out great in the Toronto public schools, either:
After a series of teachers and school workers detailed the negative impact of police officer presence in schools, the Toronto Police Services Board came to the verge of suspending the School Resource Officer program at its meeting Tuesday, pending consultation with community and education stakeholders.
The motion to suspend the officer program was moved by board member Ken Jeffers, after a half dozen deputations by members of the public, some teachers or workers within Toronto schools.
They were responding to an agenda item calling for a review of the school officer program, which has not been conducted since 2011.
Speakers told the board the presence of armed, uniformed officers in the school criminalized students from an early age, created a “school to prison pipeline” and had a disproportionate impact on undocumented students and racialized youth, including black students.
“The School Resource Officer Program, for too many of our students, creates an unsafe environment,” said James Campbell, a Toronto high school English teacher.
Katie German, who has worked in schools in Rexdale and Scarborough, said the appearance of a police car outside a school, day in and day out, sends the wrong message to both the community and to students, who she says do not understand why an officer is walking the halls in the first place.
A “school to prison pipeline” that has a disproportionate impact on undocumented students and racialized youth, including black students, creating an unsafe environment for said students? Interesting.
Now, let’s look at Black Lives Matter’s list of demands for Toronto. A glance at the page indicates that ALL the demands for Pride have been met (and crossed off the list), which is good.
On the other hand, the list of demands for education is still largely untouched. Only one demand, “The implementation of anti-racist training to be mandated at all levels of the Toronto District School Board”, has been crossed off. The list of unmet demands for education is the longest on BLM-TO’s site.
The presence of uniformed officers in schools with a larger percentage of non-white students is undoubtedly a part of the larger problem of racism in the education system. And that’s why the pressure is on to get the cops out of schools. The cops are dragging their heels, as usual, no doubt hoping that if they stall long enough, the push to get them out of schools will stop. (Spoiler: It won’t, because black kids are still being disproportionately targeted for policing, and black adults are still being disproportionately criminalized and imprisoned.)
So. How does this relate to the presence of uniformed police in Pride parades, and the BLM-TO demand to remove them (and their floats) from the event?
Well, obviously, black people and LGBT people have a major thing in common where uniformed police are concerned, and that thing is mistrust. Back in 1981, the police were raiding gay community nightspots, directly targeting them in an effort to pressure the “undesirables” to move elsewhere:
And even as recently as last year, cops were busting gay men just for being gay. In Toronto, not Iran. Project Marie, anyone?
A couple months ago, the cops undertook undercover operation Project Marie at Etobicoke’s Marie Curtis Park in response to community complaints about indecent exposure and an alleged sexual assault. As a result of the investigation, through which “a number” of plain-clothed male officers hung out in the park and at times were solicited for sex, a total of 89 charges have been laid against 72 people, mostly men, according to police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray.
Very few of the charges are criminal in nature.
The majority relate to bylaw infractions and provincial offences, including 36 for engaging in sexual behaviour in a park and 33 for trespassing property. Gray said the men charged were primarily consenting adults.
Though the charges are minor in a legal sense, they have the potential to ruin lives, according to LGBT lawyers who say the investigation is a gross overreaction by police.
“Toronto police sent undercover police officers into the bushes to wait for men to proposition them for sex so they could arrest them. In 2016,” Marcus McCann, a gay Toronto-based human rights lawyer, told VICE.
“That is unacceptable.”
So, like black people, LGBT+ people are disproportionately singled out for policing. Still. In this day and age. And that is NOT acceptable.
Suddenly, BLM-TO’s demand to get the cops out of Pride doesn’t seem so unreasonable after all, does it?