Sixty people attended Southeast Community Services on February 13 to take part in a town hall event regarding the role of police at Pride events. Organized in part by Queering Indy, the panel consisted of Riley Bove, member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation; Zaniya James, co-founder of The LATE Project, which offers support to Black trans youth; Jessica Louise, a well-respected community advocate; Chris Handberg, executive director of Indy Pride, Inc.; and Satchuel Cole, founder of IMPD Transparency and the No Questions Asked Food Pantry.
Panelists quickly made their stances on the issue clear, all but Handberg, by taking a firm stance against police presence at Pride. Handberg, the only white man on the panel, portrayed himself as a moderate who was there to listen to the community. He said that this and other divisions in the LGBTQ community were driven by the fact that the community is a nebulous idea that is largely defined by those outside of it.
Other panelists, however, had more concrete criticisms.
Louise said that the divisiveness comes from the fact that many “don’t trust the lived experiences of marginalized people.”
Her point was quickly proven true. Panelists discussed the history of Pride, which started with a heroic struggle against the police after one of their routine raids on the Stonewall Inn.
The Stonewall Rebellion was led by militant queer people who were used to physically struggling for everyday survival.
As panelists turned from the roots of Pride to the role police play in the LGBTQ community today, Handberg attempted to offer a justification for IMPD’s presence at Indy Pride events.
“The city ordinances require that at large events you have to have one officer per thousand people,” he explained.
An audience member challenged Handberg on this point, citing one of the city’s largest events, Open Mic Night. She said when they fill out the city forms for their events, they cross out the section that asks which uniformed officers they’d like present and instead write in the name of the private security company they want to use. Cole backed this up, stating that the Feast of Lanterns has always used a security company rather than IMPD officers.
The same audience member challenged Handberg on whether Indy Pride was a safe place for Black LGBTQ folks, saying that she didn’t even feel safe at the new transit center because of the number of uniformed officers typically present.
Handberg said Indy Pride could “explore private security” with the city. He then went on to say that he can’t speak for how people feel around police officers but that he hoped people would feel safe at Pride, which did not sit well with other panelists.
“If we’re confused about how a Black trans woman would feel with police presence at Pride, we could go back to that June night, in 1969, and we could say, ‘Goddamn. What would Marsha P. Johnson do?'” said Louise. “Or we could have trusted the lived experience of the Black trans woman sitting on this panel, because Zaniya just said she doesn’t feel safe with police anywhere.”
After the panel, Handberg quickly made himself scarce. Audience members and participants milled about and overwhelmingly expressed their agreement with the anti-police sentiment of remaining panelists.
It is safe to say that the community has spoken. Whether the Indy Pride board of directors heeds their concerns remains to be seen.
Let’s revive the militant roots of Pride, and let’s start by getting the cops out!