“Wake Up Faggots! The Cops Are Not Your Friends!”
That was the harsh and heartfelt headline for a piece I wrote quite a few years ago, and fortunately never published.
It was brought on by several incidents in the early 2000s where Vancouver police repeatedly mishandled gaybashings.
The first time the Vancouver police and I crossed paths was in 1970, several months after I began writing my gay news and views column in the Georgia Straight. I was sitting quietly with a friend one afternoon in my Broughton Street living room when my apartment door suddenly burst open and my home was full of cops in uniform, flashing badges and turning the place upside down in search of some alleged pot that they believed I was dealing.
That was the premise, but the lead officer took a great interest in the pile of letters from my gay and mostly very closeted readers that sat next to my typewriter.
“So you’re the faggot in the Georgia Straight, eh? Thought so? Are these letters all from queers too?” And on like that.
I was 20 years old and scared shitless.
It was only last year that, due to another reporter’s Freedom of Information inquiry, we learned that I was among those active in the gay community who were under police surveillance. Dangers to the state, obviously, even though our fucking and sucking were no longer illegal. That probably was what pissed the cops off more than anything.
Fucking pigs, eh? Can you blame me?
Back then the Georgia Straight offices were in Gastown, along with many of our favourite coffee houses and pubs — anyone remember the Europe and the Classical Joint? — and around the same time as my home invasion I was walking from Cordova to Hastings Street late one night to catch a bus back to the West End. As I passed a dark and grotty alley I saw two police officers standing over what appeared to be a gaunt and hollow-eyed junkie, crouching down on the cobblestones.
I can still picture every detail. One officer was slowly and rhythmically putting the boots to the derelict, and the other officer looked up at me and asked, “Can we help you?” It was kind of him to ask. I shook my head and carried on.
So I wasn’t really all that surprised, a year or so later, when a young street hustler by the name of Brad showed up at my door with his then-fashionable white t-shirt and white bell-bottom jeans streaked and blobbed with his own blood.
Between sobs and shakes and a good stiff drink, Brad explained that he’d just been taken from his usual post at Davie and Broughton by a cop, while the cop’s partner waited in the car.
According to Brad, the officer trotted him into an alley under the guise of frisking him, then pushed his face up against a wall so hard that he required a hospital visit to stop the bleeding from his nose.
Yeah, I have a lot of residual respect and admiration for the men in blue. Not!
So it may come as some surprise to you to know that I was glad to see Vancouver’s police take part in this year’s Pride parade.
I still have very mixed emotions in the presence of police officers. My early and formative experiences are not erasable and will forever taint my views of and dealings with law enforcement.
But I want them in our parade because to exclude them would be to overturn decades of work by our community and the police in opening lines of communication, encouraging the public pride of gay and lesbian police officers, and building a police team that has experienced the kind of sensitivity training that was unheard of when the cops burst through my front door.
Many folks in our community, including Jim Deva who we have this year honoured so publicly and deservedly, worked hard to open and nurture a dialogue with our police. Do we really want to throw that away?
I’m glad that Black Lives Matter raised the issue so we could have the discussion. I’m glad that several marginalized groups have held their own Pride events, because that’s moving important issues to the top of the agenda.
I’m certainly glad the police agreed to not appear with their armoured vehicle, a symbol of the dangerous militarization of community police work.
And yes, I’m also glad the police marched in this year’s parade.