Throughout U.S. history, the law and policing have been used as tools of control. For the LGBTQ community, there were a number of laws that put us at the mercy of police abuses. Laws about the kind of clothing you had to wear and laws prohibiting serving alcohol created an environment of police corruption through the exploitation of gay bars and people who frequented gay bars. The police blackmailed the bars and even if money was paid, they would still engage in raids. The raids were routinely filled with violence, including sexual assaults. Then the police would place people’s names in papers, often causing them to lose their jobs and more.
Pride creates a moment where we can recognize there has been incredible progress in accepting the LGBTQ community. Despite the strides we’ve made there is still an assault on our full equality, especially the tsunami of laws targeting the trans members of our society.
Pride also creates a time to be intentionally intersectional within the LGBTQ community and the broader community. While the degrees were vastly different, there is a shared experience of being targeted by laws and law enforcement.
As a part of Pride this year, we can celebrate the new laws the Washington state Legislature passed that take a few steps towards police accountability. A new Office of Independent Investigations will investigate all police uses of deadly force. There will be an attempt to improve the process for decertifying officers, including increasing the number of offenses that can cause officers to lose their certification. There is also a new law to require officers to intervene when they see other officers using excessive force.
A final bill will regulate police tactics, including barring police from using chokeholds or neck restraints and limiting the use of military equipment. Denver Pratt recently wrote an article in The Bellingham Herald detailing that this law, if followed, could have prevented the use of neck restraints 51 times by Whatcom County law enforcement over the past five years. It would have prevented 26 uses by Bellingham police, more than a third of which involved mental or behavioral health issues. The data predictably shows that the use of force was disproportionately against people of color.
The legislation, while at least a reduction measure, is far from a solution. Which is another way it is fitting to celebrate these changes with Pride. Pride has often been a celebration of incremental changes, far less radical than what we need. Pride has also been a call to action to not stop fighting, to believe that change can and will be made.
Read more of the June 16-22, 2021 issue.