Dec. 31, 2001, is a day I will never forget. It was the day I was physically assaulted and arrested by Philadelphia police officers responding to a call I made to report a shooting that occurred a few feet in front of me while standing in line to purchase pizza. At the time, I was fresh in my role as an assistant managing director for the City of Philadelphia and its inaugural liaison to LGBT communities.
Perhaps it was naïve of me, but I thought for sure upon the arrival of the police they would want to question witnesses about what they saw. I soon learned they were not interested in what we saw and saw us only as distractions to quickly getting into and out of the crime scene. This and other negative experiences with the police in the “Gayborhood” stained my perception of policing.
That’s why the recent calls for no police zones or participation in LGBTQ+ pride events around the country sound a welcoming bell for me. Although Philadelphia’s annual Pride celebration has been pushed to September this year, I’ve watched cautiously as the organizers of New York City’s Pride, which began as a defiant memorial of an anti-police uprising, say they will rely on private security for events.
Today, we are witnessing and learning about more and more events of police-led hostility and crimes against Black and brown people. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman and EMT in Louisville, Ky., who was shot and killed in her own home; George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis killed at the hands of law enforcement; and Isaiah Brown, a Black gay man shot in April by a Spotsylvania County sheriff who had just given him a ride home and “mistook” the phone he was talking on for a gun, are glaring examples of police officers’ overuse of deadly and excessive force in encounters with Black people.
These incidents and others remind me of just how tenuous the relationship is between the police and Black and brown communities. This relationship is even further strained and fragile if you are transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law reports, “LGBT people of color, youth, and transgender people are particularly vulnerable to profiling, entrapment, and violence by law enforcement.”
We can’t afford to give up on ensuring our rights are recognized and protected by the police, especially when members of the LGBTQ+ community also serve as police officers.*
Seeing a 40% increase in gun deaths largely in communities of people who look like me presents an enigma when considering what a fair and balanced system could look like. For those of us rallying for criminal and social justice reform, the previous raises the question: How do we dismantle something that has not historically worked for — and instead worked against — Black and brown people, and still strengthen the protections the system must also afford us as citizens who are four times as likely to be victims of violent crime than those outside the community?
A 2017 Pew Research Center report, Behind the Badge, found that most officers agree that in order to be effective, police need to understand the people in the neighborhoods they patrol. About 7 in 10 (72%) say it is very important for an officer to have detailed knowledge of the people, places, and culture in the areas where they work.
It’s time to stop criminalizing people because of who they are. It is time we adopt meaningful criminal and social justice reforms like those recommended by the ACLU and the LGBTQ+ reforms led by Movement for Black Lives Matters that create safer communities for us all including the majority of police who put their lives on the line every day working in our communities. Reforms such as reinvesting savings from the current policing budgets into alternatives that will keep local communities safe and ensure access to equitable, affirming, accessible, quality housing, employment, health care, social services, and education for trans, queer, and gender-nonconforming people can have immediate and long-term impacts.
To this end, as Philadelphia prepares for Pride events in September, I cautiously welcome meaningful and intentional engagement with the police at LGBTQ+ Pride events and in my North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Mike Hinson is the president and chief operating officer of SELF Inc., the largest provider of emergency housing services for single homeless adults in Philadelphia and the inaugural mayor’s liaison for LGBT communities in former Mayor John F. Street’s administration.
*Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to remove language incorrectly attributed as a direct quote from a community leader.