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Cops once rousted gay community, now will march with them

Thousands gather for the Sac Pride parade and festival

Thousands gathered for the Sac Pride parade and festival in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, June 10, 2018.
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Thousands gathered for the Sac Pride parade and festival in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, June 10, 2018.

City cops will march in their blue uniforms in Sunday’s Sacramento PRIDE parade, and if you don’t think that is a huge deal then you don’t know you Sacramento history and your American history.

In the last few years, the actions and overreactions of local law enforcement have caused pain and unrest in the Sacramento community.

From the egregious fatal shootings of Joseph Mann and Stephon Clark within the city limits to the persistently horrible judgment exercised by Sheriff Scott Jones to the mass detainment of activists and journalists by Sacramento Police at a March demonstration, these incidents and others have exacerbated long simmering rifts between cops and some segments of our community.

For these reasons and others rooted in history, it was not unreasonable for some members of Sacramento’s LGBTQ community to object to having uniformed city cops – cops who are also members of the LGBTQ community – march in Sunday’s Sacramento PRIDE parade.

“To honor the pain and marginalization of community members who have been harmed by police violence, we have asked Sacramento Police not to participate in uniform for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” the Sacramento LGBT Community Center said in a Facebook post last week.

Opinion

The Stonewall Inn, of course, was the name of a Greenwich Village gay bar that was raided in June of 1968 by New York cops, whose aggressive rousting of Stonewall patrons resulted in an uprising that is now viewed as a seminal moment in the history of gay people in America.

History tells us that before and after Stonewall, police officers have been the instruments of societal homophobia enforced with batons and discriminatory laws that cops carried out because America couldn’t handle how some people loved.

Initially, local cops didn’t accept this history as the reason why some in the LGBTQ didn’t want to see their uniforms at the parade. And in their initial response, cops did what they often do – they circled the wagons and only saw their side of the story.

“Sad that inclusion doesn’t really mean everybody,” Capt. Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department wrote in a Facebook post. “Worse part is to hear how much this hurt our LGBTQI officers who looked forward to participating.”

I know Capt. Leong a little bit; he’s a good cop. Last September, I saw him diffuse a potential confrontation downtown between demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Clark by Sacramento Police and supporters of law enforcement who had been encouraged to show up at the Clark protest by Sheriff Jones.

Leong’s quick work in getting between Clark protesters and Jones supporters saved the sheriff from having a violent clash blamed on him.

Sacramento is thriving right now in so many ways but police-involved violence has set the community back. To deny this is to perpetuate the culture that made the violence possible in the first place.

The killing of Clark focused international attention on Sacramento, casting our city as ground zero for police brutality. The city cops overreacted at Clark protests last March in what seemed like retribution.

We seemed to be returning to the bad old days of us-against-them.

Uniformed cops marching at Sacramento PRIDE is a small gesture that shows that reconciliation is possible if people listen to each other.

Some cops, including some in Sacramento, don’t like to hear criticism. They don’t like hearing citizens insist they reform their policies and practices, especially those that result in violence directed at communities of color or LGBTQ communities. They don’t like hearing citizens remind them of the awesome power they possess: The law says they can kill us or arrest us, even when they are wrong.

These rifts put LGBTQ cops in a painful no-man’s land, somewhere between their colleagues and their community. Pioneering African American and Latino cops had these experiences. Some were viewed with suspicion by their colleagues and they were mistrusted within their own communities for wearing the uniform.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, the first African American chief in city history, knows something about this. He can speak from authority to his troops about breaking barriers and he did.

He can talk to them about understanding the community they work in and how earning trust in this community is a cause worth the sometimes painful effort. And Hahn did.

The chief and councilman Steve Hansen, the first openly gay elected official in city history, shuttled between two sides of hurt, angry people who weren’t listening to each other.

Then they essentially forced the two sides into a room for five hours. The session was described by one participant as “peace, love and understanding – or else!”

In a statement, Hahn said: “Everyone at the table listened, heard one another, and spoke from the heart, making it apparent that everyone had the same desire to do what was best for the community.”

Letting LGBTQ cops wear their uniforms in the parade is the right thing to do. It will be a powerful symbol of reconciliation 50 years after Stonewall.

And by wearing the uniforms at Sacramento PRIDE, one would hope police would listen to people still struggling with seeing the uniform and be mindful of what that uniform has represented to them.

If you wear the uniform then really wear it and all it has represented. Be the change that makes people see the uniform more favorably, something that can only be achieved by being open minded.

“This is a breakthrough agreement to honor the legacy of the Stonewall raid and embrace our LGBTQ officers,” said Hansen. His voice and his presence on Sacramento’s elected city body is also a symbol of hope and progress.

People can change, but only if they are willing to be one community and only if we all remember that we are more than what we wear, but we are what we do for a living and who we love.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.

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