How many police cars does it take to start the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade?

Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s not. Because Twin Cities Pride organizers asked for a low-key police presence at the front of the Pride parade, the hardworking volunteers and staff of Pride have been unfairly attacked and vilified.

Twin Cities Pride is a nearly all-volunteer nonprofit organization that puts on the free two-day Pride Festival and Sunday’s parade. Each year Pride hires the Minneapolis Police Department to clear the parade route and provide other traffic and security services.

The answer to the question? One. It takes one police car (legally required) to start the Pride parade, to make sure the route is clear. In past years, several other police cars have joined in at the front of the Pride parade. Uniformed officers would march behind those cars at the kickoff.

Pride did not pay for or request these other officers to lead the parade. But who cared? The Minneapolis parade that started back in 1972 to protest police harassment of the gay community was now enthusiastically led by the police — many of them out and proud members of the LGBT community. Amazing! It was an impressive spectacle — lights flashing, soprano sirens from police cars screaming, backed by the bass of the Harleys of the Dykes on Bikes.

But this year was different. Just more than a week ago, a police officer was acquitted in the killing of Philando Castile in the Twin Cities. While most members of our community appreciate the danger police face on the job daily, many members of the Twin Cities LGBTQ community still fear and distrust police.

So this year, Pride organizers decided to tone down the police spectacle at the start of the parade. Pride asked its police liaison to start the parade only with what was required — one unmarked police car — to show some consideration for those who are angry and grieving. Pride organizers also started discussions about where to feature police who wanted to march, although they realized any other spot would be less desirable. Everyone wants to be at the front of the parade.

However, these discussions suddenly became the subject of rumors on social media. Pride organizers sought to explain why they would not have a large police contingent start the parade. Then, the social-media hounds of hell of broke loose.

Echoing social media, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau called this “a decision to exclude officers.” Mainstream media, including the Star Tribune, piled on, calling it a “ban” of police. Reducing the show of police force at the start of the parade is not the same as a ban or exclusion. Exclusion is a powerful word. Gay people should know that — they’ve experienced a lot of genuine exclusion.

Twin Cities Pride knows that the police presence at Pride was celebrated by many members of the community and that it was genuinely painful for others, even with Pride’s efforts to tone it down. Pride organizers were not surprised by the protests that slowed the parade on Sunday. The false report of a police “ban” provided a distraction from outrage at laws that protect police from objectively unreasonable conduct.

Should communication have been better? Absolutely — on all sides. Should Pride organizers have thought to call Chief Harteau to let her know about the change to the start of the parade and to reassure her that she and her officers were welcome to march elsewhere, along with firefighters, drag queens and snowplow drivers? Yes.

Should Harteau have picked up the phone to talk with Pride organizers instead of releasing a public letter to Pride and tweeting about police exclusion when there was no such thing? Yes.

Unfortunately for Twin Cities Pride, the story of police exclusion built until it drowned out the truth. Pride organizers had very little time to deal with the rage directed at them from all sides just two days before their biggest events of the year.

Pride chose to apologize to police officers if they felt excluded or unwelcome and encouraged them to march with the Unity flag. Of course, that apology angered those who thought Pride had reversed course and lifted the “ban” (that never existed).

It took only one unmarked police car to start the Pride parade.

But it will take a lot of work to repair damaged relationships and reputations.

 

Eileen A. Scallen, associate dean for curriculum and academic affairs at the UCLA School of Law, is a former volunteer attorney for Twin Cities Pride. The opinions expressed are solely her own.