Who will police the police misconduct against LGBTQ activists of color?

Photo: INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images

Three protesters who sought to call attention to police brutality at a local pride parade have been convicted of disorderly conduct. But police violence against the LGBTQ community persists.

This month, three activists were convicted of several charges stemming from a protest at the June 2017 pride parade in Columbus, Ohio.

Wriply Bennet, Ashley Braxton, and Kendall Denton were convicted February 12 of six of the eight charges against them, including one count each of disorderly conduct.

Deandre Miles, a fourth activist who was arrested during the parade, is facing a felony charge for allegedly reaching for a police officer’s gun and will be tried separately.

On June 17, 2017, a group of black trans and queer people and allies blocked the Columbus Pride parade to protest the fact that, the day before, the police officer who killed Philando Castile had been acquitted.

The protesters also aimed to bring attention to the ways in which LGBTQ people of color, particularly trans women of color, are excluded from pride celebrations. They sought to block the parade for seven minutes of silence before the march continued.

Video of the event shows officers from the Columbus Police Department (CPD) shoving their bikes into protesters and tackling them to the ground. Four activists were arrested at the event, and have become known as the Black Pride Four.

“Though our method was a silent, non-violent, peaceful demonstration, the CPD immediately
opted for unnecessary force in lieu of our civil and human rights,” said a statement issued after the arrests by activist group Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus.

“The suspects wouldn’t obey officers orders to leave the roadway at the parade this morning,” Columbus police wrote in a Facebook post on June 17.

The board chair of Stonewall Columbus, the organizer of Columbus Pride, was subpoenaed by the prosecutor’s office and testified at the three protesters’ trial.

“Today’s verdict in the trials of three members of the #BlackPride4 further highlights the hard work ahead in our community,” Stonewall Columbus wrote in a February 12 Facebook post. “Upon completion of the new LGBTQ+ Center, we will dedicate space for organizations to host community forums and programming to ensure that these important discussions receive the attention they deserve.”

Some feel that Stonewall Columbus’s response to the protest shows evidence of the very exclusion of people of color that activists aimed to push back on with their silent action.

“You literally testified against them. You don’t care about the lives or struggles of QPOC [queer people of color]. Shame on you,” says one comment on Stonewall Columbus’s post.“If you got the cash for a new building you got the cash to cover their legal fees,” says another.

Others pointed to the irony that a protest against policing of trans and queer people of color was met with a harsh police response.

“What’s particularly disappointing to me is how the group became victims of the very thing they were protesting in the first place,” wrote Cameron Scott in an op-ed in Columbus Alive. “They asked for a moment of peaceful silence, but instead were met with violence.”

Like Pride organizers in many other cities, Stonewall Columbus increased its police presence at the 2017 march in light of the June 12, 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

What such efforts overlook is that for many LQBTQ individuals — particularly trans and queer people of color — police officers themselves can be a source of violence.

According to a 2013 report by a UCLA research institute, 48 percent of LGBTQ people who reported violence to the police experienced police misconduct in some form. More than half of those were wrongfully arrested. An estimated 5 percent of trans individuals have experienced sexual violence perpetrated by police officers.

For LGBTQ people of color, particularly black trans and queer people, the risk of police violence is especially high. Black and Latino trans individuals report higher rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual assault by the police.

A 2016 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that black LGBTQ survivors of hate-motivated violence were almost three times more likely to experience excessive force at the hands of the police than non-black survivors.

The Columbus Police Department is no stranger to such statistics. A Pacific Standard report released less than a week before the three activists were convicted details the fact that between 2013 and 2017, CPD officers killed 28 people, 21 of whom were black.

“A closer examination of CPD history details a pattern and practice of brutal racist behavior that has gone long unrectified by department superiors, cowardly city leadership, and the Department of Justice,” the report concludes.

It’s in the face of such racist and homophobic treatment that the Black Pride Four sought to protest police violence. When mainstream pride celebrations make space for police, they make such spaces less safe for trans and queer people of color.