Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLMV) has expressed unhappiness with the Vancouver Pride Society's (VPS) final decision about police participation in the 2017 Pride parade.
The VPS announced their decision on May 18.
VPS co-executive director Kieran Burgess told the Georgia Straight by phone that BLMV was informed about the decision prior to the release of the statement.
"We wanted to balance all the voices in the community and we acknowledge that something had to change," he said. "We never want to get into a situation of banning anybody but we acknowledge that the way the police participate had to change."
Burgess said the VPS did have the benefit of watching how other cities, such as Toronto or St. John's, handled similar situations. He emphasized that they didn't want to rush the process so that they could consider all factors before making a decision.
BLMV did not respond to an interview request from the Georgia Straight.
However, they posted a statement online on May 18.
They state that the VPS has failed them by choosing pinkwashing, violence, colonialism, and white supremacy "over the safety, security, and comfort of Black queer and trans people". While BLMV expressed feelings of betrayal and anger with the VPS, they also "understand that their ultimate goal is to plan events for the LGBTQ/2S community".
BLMV said that they view police as "an oppressive institution that have no place in a parade for marginalized groups", particularly in the Pride movement which was "created in opposition to the institution of policing due to the violence it inflicts on the LGBTQ/2S community".
They claim that the reason the police want to march in the parade is because they are part of a white supremacist system "intent on criminalizing the most marginalized among us" and that "they are simply infiltrating our safer spaces, gaining some people's trust and turning us against one another".
Consequently, they believe that "by allowing police to permeate our (purportedly) safe communities, we are all exposed to the dangers of their violence".
Anthony Stonechild, who identifies as a gay-fluid man from the Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, said by phone that he's appreciative that the VPS struck a balanced resolution.
"I'm grateful that there will be some participation of the police in uniform," he said. "I regret the fact that they are being limited in their participation because as a person who has been fighting for the inclusion of the police—rather than having them fight against us—since the '80s, I always viewed their participation in the Pride parade as a huge victory for us."
Stonechild said that he moved to Vancouver around 1982 and participated in the Vancouver Pride parade when he was 17 years old. He recalled how police were lined up around Nelson Park to keep the parade participants in line, and that he mustered up the courage to put a rainbow sticker on a police officer's lapel.
"I don't want to go back to a place where the police are watching over us," he said. "I want them on our side. I want them marching with us."
He also stated he is not opposed to the issues that BLMV is raising but is concerned about their approach in addressing them.
"I think that they have a point but I think that the way they're going about it is incorrect," he said. "We don't build bridges with societies by closing doors in their faces and that seems to be tact that they're taking, that they cannot participate at all."
Although he has never experienced police harassment or brutality himself, he moved to Vancouver because he felt Saskatoon police would view him first as aboriginal but second as a citizen. What's more, his cousin was murdered by police in Saskatchewan.
"I have every reason to distrust the police but I recognize the fact that my life won't get better in terms of police involvement unless I can have a dialogue with these people and I can't have a dialogue with these people if I shut the door in their face," he said.
He hopes that BLMV are "open to the idea that dialogue and involvement, engagement, is the best way to move forward".
VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot said that the process has been challenging at times but it taught them to listen to various voices while remaining focused on their main goal.
"I think what we've learned is to stay steady on our planned course of action even when we feel pressure from multiple groups or people to make decisions in a hurry or to make a decision either way," she said by phone. "So we've steadfastly said we're engaged in this process, we're using dialogue and collaboration to make a decision, and we've stuck to that and waited until we were ready to make a decision and make an announcement."
Burgess also reiterated VPS' denouncement of any anti-black or racist sentiments.
"I would say to people who are unhappy that the police have been asked to change that they not let this become about race or attack Black Lives Matter," he said. "I think these are people who have done a tremendous job of bringing a conversation to the forefront and they deserve credit for that. On the other side of things, we acknowledge that this isn't everything that Black Lives Matter and some members of the community hope for, and I would say to them that this isn't the end of conversations but this is the decision for this year."
The Georgia Straight is awaiting a response from the VPD to confirm if points that BLMV made in their statement, such as the VPD not signing the Trans Equality Now pledge (which is asked of all parade participants) or that the VPD LGBT liaison will march armed, are accurate or not.