Akwasi Owusu-Bempah in Spacing Toronto on Pride and Black Lives Matter

owusu-bempah-5x7portProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of race and policing. This piece, written with Mariana Valverde of the Centre for Criminology, was published in Spacing Magazine on January 25, 2017. The complete piece is available online The following is an excerpt of the longer article:

The truth and post-truth about Pride and Black Lives Matter Toronto

Toronto’s police force has long been known for its sophisticated, expensive PR machine. It is thus not surprising that in the wake of the January 17th community meeting to set policy for Toronto’s Pride 2017, the police version of “Pride policy” was quickly taken up and reproduced in countless media stories, many complete with sad comments from gay or lesbian police officers who (no doubt sincerely) believed they had been exiled from Pride events. The truth was that the meeting voted to exclude police force floats and booths from Pride events.

The Pride organizers have not seemed particularly organized lately, so there is some uncertainty about how things will work out. However, what is indeed true is that Black Lives Matter’s demands, accepted by the majority at the community meeting, did not include banning police officers, queer or otherwise, from participation in Pride events.

First, on-duty police are needed to close streets and regulate traffic, and they will no doubt be treated with respect by Pride organizers, as has always been the case. Off-duty police will be as free to march in the parade as anyone else. Whether they are allowed to wear their uniforms is a matter for police management to decide. (There are very good reasons why officers and soldiers are not generally allowed to wear uniforms and carry guns while off duty).

What Black Lives Matter activists wanted — and what their allies of all races at the Pride meeting agreed to do — was to prevent police forces from using Pride events as PR opportunities.