Twin Cities Pride organizers are asking police officers not to march in the big Minneapolis parade on Sunday in light of the Philando Castile case and continued tension between officers and marginalized communities.
After St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted Friday in the shooting death of Castile, many who plan to attend the parade voiced their concerns about a police presence, organizers said.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, who broke barriers as the first lesbian to lead the department, called the decision "divisive" in a letter to parade organizers Thursday: "I am beyond disappointed that you didn't feel you could talk with me before making such a divisive decision that has really hurt so many in our community including the LGBT members of this Department (and their family members)."
Later, she replied to someone on Twitter who told her not to attend.
The annual parade, which draws about 350,000 people, has started in previous years with several marked squad cars and uniformed police officers heading down Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
This year, organizers said, there will be only one unmarked police car — mandated for safety reasons — at the front of the parade. There will be “limited police participation in the parade itself,” Twin Cities Pride said in a statement. There will be fewer police officers in uniform compared to last year, when Minneapolis police upped their patrol after the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, organizers said.
“We always have several police departments wanting to roll down Hennepin with lights and sirens to participate in this announcement that the parade is about to begin,” organizers said in a statement. “With the recent verdict in the Philando Castile case Twin Cities Pride has decided to forgo this part of the police participation in the parade for this year and respect the pain the community is feeling right now.”
While many regular parade attendees applauded the change, those in uniform criticized it as “exclusionary.”
St. Paul Deputy Police Chief Mary Nash said she was disappointed and that her colleagues have shared their frustration.
Nash, the department’s LGBTQ liaison, said 12 to 25 St. Paul officers have taken part in the parade in previous years.
“I understand people are angry and we can respect their feelings, but the reality is at the end of the day if we can’t work together it becomes more challenging to become better as a community and to become better as a police department,” Nash said.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said organizers should be “ashamed” and called the action “disturbing.”
“It’s shameful to see this group of leadership head in this direction,” Kroll said in a statement. “With the uptick in terrorist attacks worldwide, this outward anti-police sentiment is alarming. For an organization that prides itself on being accepting and inclusive, the hypocrisy amazes me.”
Twin Cities Pride Board Chairwoman Darcie Baumann said the organization did not intend to “hurt or harm or make anyone feel excluded.”
“Unfortunately, we have hurt and offended the LGBTQ police officers, and that was not at all our intent,” Baumann said. “But in the wake of the verdict, we want to be sensitive to the population that is grieving … and seeing those uniforms brings angst and tension and the feeling of unrest.”
Across the country, other Pride events are taking similar action.
Organizers in Portland, Ore., are asking officers to consider not wearing their uniforms because some “don’t feel comfortable attending alongside police in uniform,” according to the Oregonian. Various law enforcement officials were upset and at least one county sheriff’s department decided to not march at all.
In the Twin Cities, Eva Wood, anti-violence program director at the LGBTQ-rights group OutFront, said she supports the organizers’ decision.
“I personally think they made the right call,” Wood said.
The increased police presence in response to the Orlando shooting at Pride last year left many people of color feeling “unsafe,” Wood said.
“Specifically, the queer and trans people of color reached out to us saying cops in uniform at Pride might make white people feel safe, but not us.”