Let’s celebrate Pride by abolishing the police

It’s the only way our communities can gain the liberation they deserve
Photo: Toronto Police rush past No Pride in Policing Coalition activists at Toronto Pride kickoff at City Hall. Screenshot from video taken by Morgan Yew @weynagrom
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Each June, Toronto’s official Pride Month kicks off with a flag-raising at City Hall, attended by community leaders, the mayor, and other public officials. Less welcome are the kinds of radical queer and trans activists whose opposition to police formed the basis for the Pride movement in the first place.

At last week’s event, about 25 LGBTQ activists with the No Pride in Policing Coalition were blocked by security, prevented from getting near the flag-raising ceremony, while police in uniform pushed past to join Toronto’s mayor John Tory.

Holding banners reading “We Must Change Everything” and “Abolish the Police,” the No Pride in Policing Coalition couldn’t have done a better job showing the hypocrisy that perfectly illustrates the futility of reconciling a rebellion against the state, with the militarized arm of the state itself.

These radical activists represent the true spirit of Pride — an event commemorating the rebellion against the police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969. Pride Toronto traces itself back to the first Pride March held at the end of June 1981 in the wake of the mass resistance to the bathhouse raids conducted by police. I remember when marchers stopped outside the 52 Division station, chanting “Fuck You, 52!

Toronto's LGBTQ community responded with mass protests in the wake of the 1981 bathhouse raids conducted by Toronto police.
Gerald Hannon

Today, the Pride movement continues to be a rebellion against escalating police violence against Black, Indigenous, and racialized queer and trans people, sex workers, as well as poor and unhoused people, many of whom are queer and trans.

In 2016, in the midst of the Movement for Black Lives against police murders of Black people, Black Lives Matter Toronto, the honoured group that year, stopped the Toronto Pride parade with a demand that police no longer march. It was a watershed moment. The majority of Pride Toronto’s core supporters finally came to understand that police remain a major danger to Black, Indigenous, and racialized queer and trans people.

For the past two years of the pandemic, like much of the rest of the world, Toronto Pride has been a virtual event. This year, that changes — and the police want back into the parade.

The No Pride in Policing Coalition was formed in 2018 to make sure that police would stay out of Pride, and so far has been successful. In 2020, with the world rising up against anti-Black racism and police violence, the coalition adopted a position in favour of abolishing all police, and later extended this to cover prisons as well. That year, while Pride Toronto organized virtual events, the coalition organized a rally and teach-in of 3,000 people at City Hall.

Last year, coalition activists took over Yonge Street in a march to police headquarters, and the call was extended to include No Pride in Genocide, to focus on the thousands of young Indigenous people killed in the settler-colonial residential “schools,” and a demand for the abolition of all forms of carceral injustice.

This year, the coalition will be organizing a number of abolitionist Pride events, calling for the abolition of police and prisons, beginning with the flag-raising kickoff with Mayor Tory at City Hall.

​“Those picketing are pointing out that Tory has nothing to do with ‘celebrating the history, diversity, and courage’ of queer and trans communities, as he has been actively involved in police brutality against unhoused encampments,” said Beverly Bain, co-author of the recent No Pride in Policing report.

In Toronto, there is growing evidence that Tory and the City of Toronto engaged in surveillance and preparation for major police violence against encampment residents and supporters last summer.

The mayor’s office has also been actively involved in efforts to try to get the police back into the Pride parade.

The police remain a major danger to marginalized people everywhere, especially Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people. Report after report and reform after reform have not worked to make policing less dangerous for the people most affected.

The Canadian state as a whole has prioritized the protection of resource-extraction capitalism as part of the defence of its national security, mandating attacks on Indigenous people. Meanwhile, the very same RCMP continues to face major allegations of pervasive and institutionalized sexism and sexual violence within it.

This is not an individual problem of a few “bad apples” but an institutional problem with policing itself, the laws they are mandated to enforce, and institutionalized police cultures they are embedded in.

Look at the issue of trans people and imprisonment. A rights-based approach addresses whether trans people are imprisoned in a correctional facility appropriate to their gender identification. While this is important, an abolitionist approach asks more radical questions, such as why they are being imprisoned at all.

Although it has major roots and histories in Black feminist organizing, abolitionist approaches to policing became much more possible with the mass global uprising against anti-Black racism and the police in 2020 following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black, Indigenous, and racialized people.

The Defund the Police movement has transformed the call into widespread popular demands, opening up major social and political space for our struggles.

But despite these mass protests and pervasive community organizing, funding for the police continues to expand as they become more armed, militarized, and deadly.

This police expansion is also motivated by those in ruling positions in this racist, capitalist society knowing they will need militarized police forces to put down rebellions and resistance from our movements, and those resisting the imposition of more extreme forms of austerity that are sure to come once the pandemic is finally over.

It is clear that the brutal attacks on encampments and their supporters were intended to intimidate and destroy organizations and organizing capacities among people who are just trying to provide support for the unhoused.

The solution is mutual aid

Abolitionist politics are also far broader and deeper than simply defunding and abolishing the police. Centrally, abolitionism is about taking funds away from these carceral institutions to build real community safety and to meet people’s needs.

It is a radical (getting-to-the-root-of-the-problem) perspective on social transformation. Examples include taking all “wellness checks” and “mental health” work away from the police — and related criminalizing and psychiatrizing institutions — and transferring it instead to community-based agencies and groups.

Another example is shifting “missing persons” work from the police to community groups including people that actually care about and know the people who are missing. In a joint statement with Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, the No Pride in Policing Coalition called for such a response following the serial murderer and missing trans sex workers in Toronto.

Abolitionist approaches are not just about reducing police power and funding but are based on creating alternatives that meet people’s needs, and providing the kind of safety the police can never provide.

Abolitionism is also not a rights-based politics based on inclusion or integration. Instead, it is a socially transformative approach.

As one example, look at the issue of trans people and imprisonment. A rights-based approach addresses whether trans people are imprisoned in a correctional facility appropriate to their gender identification. While this is important, an abolitionist approach asks more radical questions, such as why they are being imprisoned at all.

The rights approach accepts the existence of prisons and policing, while an abolitionist approach rejects the system itself as inherently violent.

Abolitionism demands the urgent dismantling of these carceral state institutions, through transferring social resources, building alternatives, and mutual aid. Abolitionism validates caring and social-reproductive labour, work that is not always waged nor seen as “productive” in capitalist relations.

Abolitionist organizing holds out hope and possibility for decreasing police and social violence, while creating new ways of coming together in radical collective solidarity that address people’s needs and decrease danger in people’s lives. It is central to creating a world defined by real community safety and taking care of each other.

Gary Kinsman is a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition and the co-author of The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation

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