Still too many coppas, not enough justice

7 Mar 2024
Too many coppas... not enough Justice

“Too Many Coppas, Not enough Justice” A protest chant heard annually on Jan 26 and regularly through the year whenever the police do their acts of injustice or brutality. The most recent time this cry was heard is on Mardi Gras eve on Gadigal Country, protesting the inclusion of police in the Mardi Gras parade.

Last week, two gay men – Luke Davies and Jesse Baird – were reported missing with grave concerns for their lives and the main person of interest in their case was Beau Lamarre-Condon, a police officer. Luke and Jesse’s loved ones, and queer communities along the east coast waited, keeping up to date with their worst nightmare via social media and 24/7 news cycles. According to ABC Lamarre-Condon eventually handed himself in and has been charged with two counts of murder.

This harrowing ordeal sparked discussions of whether police should be allowed to march in the parade and many shared the sentiment of ‘no cops at pride’. This incident was an additional confirmation to those that didn’t want police there in the first place. 

Pride and Mardi Gras started as a protest, with brick throwing and rallies that fought against policing in all its forms. Festivals that were started and spurred on to exist in spite of police brutality. 

Due to the extensive history of police violence and brutality towards minorities, many don’t feel that queer spaces are safe with them there, or a place they should be at all. 

It’s disappointing that Mardi Gras had them anyway and that there are some people in the rainbow community that want them there – I can only assume these people haven’t been arrested for allegedly looking like another person, like I once was. I can also only assume they didn’t realise that in the same week the Coronial Inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker was taking place – a death by the hands of Police Officer Zachary Rolfe.

It’s hypocritical to have a Rainbow Serpent and First Nations people lead the same parade you’re inviting police into.

The biggest trump card those that back the blue had was that Lamarre-Condon himself is a gay man, aptly pointed out but this irresponsible double entendre ABC headline

Both NSW police and the media tried to chalk Lamarre-Condon’s actions up to him being gay, rather than a cop. The NSW police commissioner went so far as to exploit Lamarre-Condon’s queerness by labelling the double murder a ‘crime of passion’.  She later clarified that she wanted to make it clear it wasn’t a hate crime. While Lamarre-Condon may be a queer person, the system that he upholds and was complicit in his crimes is anything but. There’s nothing queer about being a cop.

He was a power-drunk man with a history of stalking and aggression, access to a gun and a system that would aid and abet him. 

Sure, Lamarre-Condon didn’t do what he did because he hated gays or because Luke and Jesse are gay, but he was able to do it because he’s a cop.

Cops have never belonged at Pride

Globally, the start of pride is credited to The Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn, along with many queer venues at the time were regularly raided by police which was met with anger and protest from the patrons and set ablaze to the gay liberation movement. 

Here at home, in response to Stonewall and in the fight for their own liberation, the Lesbian and Gay community organised the first Mardi Gras in Sydney, in 1978. A march and protest in response to the archaic policing of LGBT+ folks bodies and lives. Despite having a permit and a planned route, the march was interrupted by police. In response, the march headed to King’s Cross to which they were met with police brutality.

Multiple arrests and bashings took place during the parade and the protests for charges to be dropped after. Eventually, the actions of the police were deemed unlawful and the parade has taken place annually since, with the 78ers towards the front of the parade in the lead

Last week, it seemed like common sense prevailed with Mardi Gras asking police not to join the parade after hearing the community’s concern after the news of Lamarre-Condon handing himself in, only for the Mardi Gras board to go back on the decision a day later

Interestingly, after the decision was made the names of the Mardi Gras board members were removed from their website and the 2024 float list was published in alphabetical order, rather than the usual parade run order.

The caveat was that police would march in plain clothes rather than uniform (surprise, they didn’t), their float was still flanked by armed and regularly uniformed police and they still pushed and shoved protesters both at the Pride in Protest event the day before the parade and Free Palestine protesters during the parade

The fact the police chose to appear  in uniforms despite being asked not to, shows their lack of care for the community they wanted to ‘protect’. Though if I’m honest, having out of uniform police wouldn’t have made the situation any better. The community wouldn’t feel any safer or at ease, it would make them feel more on edge, unsure of who around them is actually complicit and part of a gang that uses unreasonable force and violence on the same minorities a place like Mardi Gras is full of.

In the 2023 march, Senator Lidia Thorpe staged a protest of the police participating and delayed the march by laying on the road in front of the police float. The general response from the public had been that she was selfish, childish and it was ridiculous for her to bring politics into the march. She was removed from the march and a Mardi Gras board member had made comments about wanting to give her a lifetime ban. It’s sad that even just a year later, after a community heart break, this body that is supposed to organise for our community still doesn’t get it.

Keep the coppas out

Even before the saddening events of last week, Pride, Mardi Gras and similar queer liberation events have never been a place for police. Inviting the police disrupts the safety and happiness that a place like pride offers the disenfranchised. By welcoming police into these spaces you are not considering the safety of those in your community with multiple intersections outside of queerness. It puts the lives of trans folk, queer folk of colour and Blak people at danger. Inviting the police to Pride not only goes against what the start of these celebrations were, but it shows that the queer folk that are intersected with these issues are not prioritised in their own space. 

There are so many issues with the police and the systems they uphold, from deaths in custody, high rates of domestic violence  by police officers themselves,, mistreatment of sex workers, and lack of action or belief in victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. 

Luke and Jesse’s  deaths could have been prevented. In 2020, Lamarre-Condon tasered an Aboriginal man in the face and on the torso repeatedly, despite there being no resistance and the man crying out about having difficulty breathing (something too familiar with police brutality and Bla(c)k deaths) the violence continued. Even with the incident being filmed, and this being a part of a pattern of police violence against Blak people, Lamarre-Condon was cleared of wrong-doing. 

I wonder how many pride events are actually for the community anymore. Often led by cisgendered white gay guys who rarely let anyone else on the rainbow into their spaces or onto their stages. My local pride festival for example, Brisbane Pride holds their annual pride fair day in Musgrave Park, a historically significant gathering place for Brisbane Blaks. Despite their choice of location, the fair day still has a police tent, along with a police motorbike available for community photo op. 

Pride is supposed to be a protest and that’s exactly what groups like Pride in Protest and Queer Arabs did. Qantas understood it when they placed Luke Davies’ name on the front of their float to pay tribute to their friend. 

It’s a shame that Mardi Gras themselves don’t get it.

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