Especially white queerfolx.
Okay, relax. If it makes it any easier, white peeps, I’m white, too. So maybe you’ll be more comfortable with a white person telling you to think about some things.
Let’s talk a bit about a galvanizing reason behind these protests. And as I write this, US military forces are literally being deployed to possibly enact lethal force on their fellow Americans — in response to peaceful protests of thousands of POC and their allies.
Please think about that, too, as you read this. About the United States military being sent to possibly employ lethal force against American citizens.
Primarily, think about police brutality, because that’s a major driver of the current protests.
I wanted to bring this up today because June is Pride month, and it’s important to remember that the modern LGBTQ rights movement was launched in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City. Queerfolx had had enough of police intimidation and brutality directed at them, and that night, when police attempted to raid the Stonewall (again), patrons decided “enough.” And they fought back, launching several days of protests and stoking more organized resistance in the queer community, thus setting in motion the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. A year later, the first Pride march occurred in New York, commemorating what we’ve come to call the Stonewall riots/Stonewall uprising. Many POC were front and center in that uprising. Keep that in mind.
The current protests are not only a response to the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of law enforcement; they’re also a response to the many, many, many murders of Black men and women at the hands of police over many, many, many years.
Floyd was Black; the Minneapolis police officer who allegedly killed him is white. What happened was captured on video; the white policeman kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he was dead, though Floyd pleaded with him to stop, that he couldn’t breathe. Onlookers also pleaded with the officer to stop, pointing out that Floyd couldn’t breathe.
The New York Times reconstructed Mr. Floyd’s murder HERE.
Second, what happened to Mr. Floyd is the latest in a decades-long assault on Black Americans by police officers, part of the systemic racism that defines American law enforcement and the history and power structure of this country.
Vox noted on June 1 that the totals of murders of American civilians at the hands of law enforcement are
…reminders that police killings are not just a problem suffered by black Americans — that they affect Americans of all ethnicities. But controlling for population (that is, looking at killings per million people) shows that it is black Americans who are most likely to be killed by police officers — that they are nearly twice as likely to be killed as a Latinx person and nearly three times more likely to be killed than a white person. Black Americans are also about 1.4 times more likely to be unarmed in fatal interactions with police than white Americans are (and about 1.2 times more likely to be killed unarmed than Latinx Americans).
This disparity is such that in eight US cities — including Reno, Nevada; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Scottsdale, Arizona — the rate at which police killed black men was higher than the US murder rate. And from a criminal justice perspective, there appears to be little connection between police killings and violent crime. Some cities with high rates of violent crime have fewer police killings than those with higher violent crime rates, a situation that can make police killings feel wanton and baseless.
— from Vox, “The anger behind the protests, explained in 4 charts,” June 1, 2020 (bolding mine)
Mapping Police Violence also has information and stats, and noted that between 2013-2019, 99 percent of police officers who had killed someone were not charged with a crime.
The policeman who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd until he was dead was fired, as were his three police compatriots who were with him when he made the choice to kneel on a man’s neck. The man who kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck was finally arrested a few days later and has been charged with murder and manslaughter. Given this country’s history with exonerating police officers, even in blatant abuses like this (see here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples), it remains to be seen what will happen.
America not only has a history of police brutality toward its Black citizens, but also little to no accountability of police to the communities they’re supposed to “protect and serve.” This country has also militarized its police force, thus throwing more fuel on an already raging fire.
The state of Minnesota’s “urban warfare” rhetoric is the inevitable consequence of this decades-long militarization of American police departments, Arthur Rizer, a policing expert at the center-right R Street Institute, told me late Saturday.
“You create this world where you’re not just militarizing the police — you equip the police like soldiers, you train the police like soldiers. Why are you surprised when they act like soldiers?” Rizer, a former police officer and soldier, said. “The mission of the police is to protect and serve. But the premise of the soldier is to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them. When you blur those lines together with statements like that … It’s an absolute breakdown of civil society.”
American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But “they don’t care,” he said. Most of the time, heavily armed police units such as SWAT teams are used not for the hostage and active-shooter scenarios for which they are ostensibly designed, but instead for work like executing search warrants, a 2014 study found. And agencies that use military equipment kill civilians at much higher rates than agencies that don’t, according to a 2017 study.
That’s Nick Baumann, writing in The Atlantic, “When Police View Citizens as Enemies,” May 31, 2020.
This is one of the realities that Black people and other POC in this country as well as marginalized groups like LGBTQ+ people experience.
And that’s not including what they get every day from non-police. Racist microaggressions, hate, fear, belittling, ignoring, dehumanizing, hurting, maiming, killing.
This is what being Black in America means.
Police brutality affects POC and especially Black Americans at much higher rates than white Americans. For those of us who are white, this is one of those moments in which you show up or you continue to support a white supremacist power structure with your silence and by ignoring what’s happening now and what’s been happening for decades.
If you are a white person and you’re not sure what you can do to be an ally and to enact antiracism (not just “not being racist”), The Cut has links to great resources to start educating yourself in antiracism and also how to help during the protests.
I came of age in an era of constant queer protest against a power structure that sentenced all of us to death in the midst of a plague that wiped out thousands, in an era when police STILL showed up at queer bars looking for reasons to fuck with us. On the nights they opted not to card everybody in the place, they’d stand along the walls and watch us, their leers and expressions intimidating and dangerous.
This is my queer history, and though I have white privilege, my queer self knows the fear and mistrust of the police establishment, and I think about the violence enacted on queer bodies by law enforcement during my lifetime and lifetimes before mine.
But even in my queerness, I’m still white, and for that reason, I am educating myself about antiracism and white ally-ship, because I don’t think I’ve shown up enough for my fellow POC Americans. I’m doing that now, and in the spirit of Pride — in which a bunch of queerfolx got ultra-fierce and told the NYPD to basically go fuck itself, I will support my fellow Black Americans in this moment and beyond.
Antiracism is intersectional; we’re dealing with a system that oppresses a majority of us, and it’s on us, white folx, to get our shit together and talk to each other, to educate each other about the systemic injustices that have created American society, and to show up ALL THE TIME for racial justice, for gender justice, for queer justice, for class justice, for all the ways justice is enacted.
It’s not easy, working for justice.
But that’s the true spirit of Pride — standing up to oppression and seeking justice and change — and we, as white queerfolx especially, need to enact it in the ways those fierce queers did on that night in June, 1969.
Remember who we are, and what we can accomplish.
And stay safe and vigilant. These are fraught times, and you’re needed now more than ever.
[Feature image source: Swamp, “Learn Your Gay History: Stonewall Riots – June 28, 1969.”]