No uniformed officers please.

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It’s Pride Week and I want to write about why I don’t think uniformed police officers should be in the Parade.   The police should be welcome, but they should attend the parade as civilians, dressed in ordinary clothing.

I’m not anti-police, so much as pro-safe spaces.  There are a number of groups of people and communities that may feel threatened by uniformed police officers (no matter how nice those officers might be!).  I know some LGBTQ* folks who have declined to attend Pride this year because they don’t feel it is a safe space for them.

Some communities that have experienced marginalization, violence and oppression perpetrated by police include (but are not limited to): Trans* folks, People of Colour, Indigenous communities, sex workers, immigrant and refugee folks, lesbians, gay people, queer folks, survivors of sexual violence, people with disability and people with mental health and addiction diagnoses.  Especially people who embody any of these intersecting identities in a visible or public way.   The police have a lot of power and privilege and this has often been used against, and not for/with, marginalized groups.

My own experience, and the focus of this blog, is related to my experience of living with a mental illness that does not always allow me to “pass” as normal or neurotypical.

I will describe one of my interactions with the police, as an illustration of my own preference not to have uniformed officers at Pride.

When I used to self harm and attempt suicide on a regular basis, I used to get to the hospital by car, bus, taxi or on foot.  Near the end of the years of regular ER visits, a doctor told me she didn’t think it was safe for me to drive myself to the hospital after cutting myself deeply.  I thought about it for a while and figured she was right.  The next time I hurt myself I was suicidal, not just cutting as coping.  I was home alone and I decided to call 911 rather than a taxi.   During the 911 call I told the truth to the operator.  I told them that I had cut myself on purpose and that I wasn’t feeling safe.  I sat on the staircase in the front entryway and waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and I could see tall people in dark uniforms outside.  I opened the door and two huge uniformed police officers stood there.  I was confused, already upset and I started panicking.  I asked where the ambulance was, I told them I changed my mind, I didn’t need police.  They came into the house and told me to sit on the steps.  They started asking me what seemed like hundreds of questions and told me I couldn’t move.  They asked me if there were weapons in the house, if I was alone in the house, if there was medication in the house, where the tools I had cut myself were, whether I had a doctor, what medications I took etc.

I felt more and more panicked.  I knew I couldn’t visibly keep panicking because I knew they wouldn’t leave until they felt I wasn’t a danger to anyone. The feeling of being out of control and knowing you can’t properly show your feelings is an unsafe and triggering one for a survivor of violence.

I felt like I had no choice but to do exactly what they said.  They told me the paramedics couldn’t come into the house until they were sure it was safe.  I tried to explain that I had harmed myself and had no intention of harming anyone else.  I was crying.  I offered to get the things they wanted (the blade, the medication) but they wouldn’t allow me to move.  I had to explain where the items were and one uniformed officer walked around my house collecting them, while the other stood and watched me.  They both had guns.  Generally, guns do not make a suicidal panicky person feel calmer.  Just FYI.

Then they were both back in the room.  I was sitting on the couch, now in the living room.  They asked me questions about my treatment and my medication. I didn’t want to answer them.  They were taking notes in a small black book.  I was keenly aware that this information could be used against me in the future.  I was scared I might have a police record, when what I really needed was medical attention.  I was confused and I didn’t understand how harming myself was a police matter.

Finally, at some point they determined the situation was safe.  Two paramedics, one man and one woman came into the house.  At some point the police left and went outside, making further notes in their cars.  I was embarrassed and ashamed because I knew my neighbours would see the commotion.  I felt my face burning with shame as I walked to the ambulance with the paramedics.  I begged them not to turn on the sirens because I was so embarrassed already.  I’d spent every minute since I opened the door to the house wishing that I had never called 911.     The female paramedic drove the ambulance and the male sat inside with me.  He was calm and kind and he didn’t have a gun.  I felt safer once the police were gone.

In the past, I’d had security guards sit by my bed, or just outside the door in the ER.  Ensuring that I didn’t run away before being assessed by the doctor.  That was associated in my mind with feeling unsafe and not being trusted.  Being a prisoner within a hospital rather than a patient.  That’s how I felt in my own home that day.

The ambulance took me to the hospital and I received treatment for my cut.  I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, because nobody really took my self harm seriously by that point.  They had labelled me borderline and didn’t believe I would ever actually kill myself.  I was often treated like a misbehaving child.

This memory is one reason why I don’t feel safe around uniformed police officers.  The other reasons, related to reporting violence, I will talk about more in future posts.

If I have a serious mental health crisis again in the future, I hope nobody will call the police.  I can’t think how that would calm me down or de-escalate the situation.  I would feel more at risk, rather than safer.

So, for this reason and for many others, I believe there are other ways to create safer and more inclusive spaces.  And LGBTQ* police officers, please feel welcomed by me at Pride…just leave the uniforms and guns behind.

 

 

 

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