Pride Without Police

The New York City Pride committee recently decided to ban police from all Pride events until 2025. The decision comes after years of activists calling for the removal of police from the annual event.

NYC Pride released a statement explaining that the event “will transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

In making the choice to ban cops, NYC Pride cited the violence and danger people of color and trans, Black, and Indigenous communities face from police. Seeking to eliminate “an atmosphere of fear or harm,” the ban maintains that police stay at least one block away from the parade except in cases of absolute emergency.

Last summer, on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, police assaulted protesters with pepper spray and batons during the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and against police brutality. Jay Walker, organizer and co-founder of the Reclaim Pride Coalition, the organization that organized the march, was there, and recalled the incident in an interview with Georgia Voice.

“The officers who were lurking around the area are called the strategic response group,” Walker said. “[The SRG] was founded to fight terrorism — like to attend to suitcase bombs — [yet] with rise of Black Lives Matter, NYPD decided that they would redeploy SRG to focus on BLM protests and immigrant protests.” Weeks prior, on June 2, NYPD boxed in protesters protesting the murder of George Floyd at the Manhattan Bridge.

“A friend of mine had his arm broken by NYPD, was given a concussion, and held in holding cells for hours [where he] received no medical care,” Walker continued.

These are not the only reasons activists have called to ban cops. In the push to recapture “the spirit of the original 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day March,” Walker cited a number of issues the coalition aims to address:

  • The dependence on and looming presence of corporations
  • NYPD’s over-barricading of the parade, which limits mobility and presents a health hazard to the elderly and people with disabilities
  • The division of the parade into separate contingents compromises a sense of community
  • Increased regimentation — which Walker says the NYPD likely helped NYC Pride develop — has led to people waiting hours, having to pay money, having to report to specific locations at certain times, and a limited mobility within the march
  • An “overwhelming presence” of law enforcement and corrections officers

The Gay Officers Action League has participated in Pride for over two decades and publicly condemned NYC Pride’s decision to ban cops.

“GOAL has remained completely silent [about the police brutality on June 2], and yet they want us to consider them a part of our community,” Walker said in response to the organization’s condemnation. “GOAL had to sue NYPD in 1996 for the right to march in Pride in uniform with arms … [Eventually,] NYC Pride flung open its doors to all of NYPD, homeland security, state police, and ICE.”

Walker pointed out that NYC is a sanctuary city and contended undocumented people in the city — many of whom immigrated to escape anti-queer violence in their home countries — shouldn’t have to worry about being assaulted or deported by ICE at Pride. Thus, the community push for this decision is a direct reaction to the multitude of police murders of unarmed people of color, to police violence against queer people and immigrants, and to the intimidation and fear experienced by protesters.

The decision is also likely motivated by the historical origins of Pride itself, as it was the NYPD who raided the Stonewall Inn on that infamous night of June 28, 1969. What we know as Pride today — although seemingly a world apart from its origins — only exists because queer people rioted in response to NYPD’s regularly occurring racist and anti-queer bar raids. Last June, 50 years later, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill apologized for the department’s actions at Stonewall.

So, without police, who protects us? It’s a question regularly asked in today’s politics amid the calls from some activists, organizations, and politicians to defund and abolish the police.

Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, David Johns, who was thanked directly in NYC Pride’s statement, called out the privilege of this question.

“This response is reflective of how white supremacy works,” he said. “It’s reflective of individuals who have, or think that they have, benefited from an increase in police presence, [but] an increase in police presence is not indicative of lesser crimes. [There have] always been ways to make communities safer that don’t look like [what] American capitalist colonialist [police] are empowered to do, in particular in non-white queer spaces … Police get resources to do things they aren’t equipped to do.”

Walker noted that the Reclaim Pride Coalition has “had two unpoliced Queer Liberation Marches with no cops and the only instances of violence to occur were from the NYPD.”

Still, today in the U.S., mass shootings and white supremacist terrorism are horrifyingly common.

On June 12, 2016, just hours after the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a man was arrested by Santa Monica police with a car full of guns on his way to Los Angeles Pride. Thankfully, the Pride event continued without incident. In the absolute worst-case scenario of a bomb or mass shooter, Walker raises the point that the NYPD’s usual structure of barricades kettles people in, making it hard if not impossible to run to safety.

NYPD will likely be just one block away, but not participating in the parade. NYC Pride’s statement explains that security will be handled by “trained private security, community leaders, and volunteers” and that the NYPD can intervene in cases of absolute emergency.

Walker noted that private security firms can often contain former cops, some of whom might have been kicked off the force for any number of reasons.

Some questions remain about how NYC Pride will structure the parade in terms of contingents, barricades, and physical placement of security.

“The irony is that the two entities who are responsible for the dramatic shift, [NYC] Pride and NYPD, worked in concert for years to create the over-corporate, over-produced, over-barricaded Pride, and now those groups have seemingly divorced themselves,” Walker said. “We’ll see if it’s just a trial separation.”