During a July 10 visit to Twin Lake, I was involved in an incident at the intersection of gender discrimination, possible racial profiling and the dysfunctional allocation of police resources.
Twin Lake is in Theodore Wirth Park in the Minneapolis park system. But it sits physically in Golden Valley. One other person was with me on a small beach, and as I lay on my stomach reading, I pulled down the top of my swimsuit.
When I saw five or six police officers approaching, I thought they would be passing us to address a real problem. Instead, they surrounded me and cited me for nudity because I had exposed female breasts — for being topless while female. Minneapolis Parks ordinance PB 2-21 explicitly prohibits exposure of “female breasts,” despite such gendered language not being in the state statute.
The officers, all but one of them male, were from the Minneapolis Park Police, the Minneapolis Police Department and the Golden Valley Police Department.
After telling me I would receive my ticket via mail, the police went to the main beach, where they cited others for toplessness while female on the basis of drone surveillance. Those people had their tops on when the police arrived. Videos of these events are online.
Shep Harris, the mayor of Golden Valley, has since said on Facebook: “These issues are not about race or gender discrimination.”
Excuse me? An ordinance with language treating people differently according to gender is the very definition of gender discrimination. Many male breasts are larger than mine, yet those people are not cited for nudity when topless. If the standard of nudity is not based on size of the breast exposed, it is clearly based on gender profiling. This is also harmful for trans folks, because it profiles people based on assumed binary gender.
As if we needed more evidence that gender discrimination is very much alive if you’re topless while female — when I went to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting on July 15 to speak about my citation, a man from the audience shouted at me, “Put your shirt on!” No parks commissioner reacted to this harassment. I was livid.
To our elected officials: Your silence after harassment is not neutral. You are upholding the status quo of gender inequality.
Harris offers the number of white people cited as evidence against racial profiling. What do we know? We know the white people cited that day were with black people. We know there were other white people on the beach that day, engaged in the same activities as those cited, doing so even at the time of police arrival. We know beachgoers perceived racial profiling so strongly that they chanted “Say his name!” and “Black Lives Matter!” until police left the beach in a de-escalation effort. MPD was also present, but has remained silent on this issue.
Some people have admonished me for speaking out, saying the Park Board and MPD have more pressing issues. I wholeheartedly agree. It should not take three police departments and seven officers to cite two people for nudity and one person for drinking alcohol — the day’s final outcome after “further review.” Meanwhile, reports say MPD will not go to certain parts of the city and we are facing a global pandemic, alongside epidemics of racism and homelessness.
We must consider the dysfunctional allocation of resources in police departments. This is not a critique of individual officers, but rather, of systems of policing. Are we comfortable with police using drones? I see the potential for good, but there are many drawbacks: Possible racial profiling is just one.
And we must ensure that our parks and spaces for public discourse remain harassment-free for all genders.
(According to Harris’s Facebook page, my citation has since been dropped. No one has informed me of this officially.)
Paula Chesley lives in Minneapolis.