A week-and-a-half since the shocking footage and stories of alleged police brutality at Mardi Gras, many are asking the question ‘what has this done to the relationship between the police and the queer community?’ The answer is easy: the police have and, unless something changes, never will be friends of the queer community.
The lead-up to Mardi Gras seemingly saw great police-queer relations. The AFP ran ads in this newspaper declaring they ‘had supported Mardi Gras for 15 years’, and people were excited to see them and their NSW counterparts marching in uniform once again. This, however, covered over the sordid history of our relationship. Whilst police may have been ‘supporting Mardi Gras for 15 years’, it was only 20 years before that period they were bashing and arresting revelers on mass at the first march. And whilst Mardi Gras – and the police – have changed, this history lives on.
Mardi Gras, just like all other queer events, is a challenge to the heteronormative system. And as enforcers of this system, the police can never be true friends of the very movement challenging it.
Nearly every queer activist who has interacted with the police could point to this awful treatment. My experience came at Mardi Gras last year, watching the way police treated people heading into Mardigrasland; dragging people to drug trucks with no recourse. This is a brutality of constantly ‘keeping order’ – ensuring that no challenge to our system on our streets is successful. And whilst it may not be official policy it is done violently. Violence is part of the modern police culture. They are a physical, and violent, arm of the modern state – an arm with a culture of keeping order at all costs.
And that is the deal about the police marching in Mardi Gras. Whilst it might be a nice gesture, in the end that is all it is. Once those police get back on duty, they are police officers first, and Mardi Gras supporters second. And what that means is keeping queers in line – ensuring that there is order on the streets, and being physical about it.
That leaves me with one final thought about the march and its history. Think about this carefully: What would happen if the parade reverted back to a march to protest the oppression of queer people? We saw it at the protest against police brutality in Sydney. What side were the police on? They were no longer supporters, but were on the other side of the barricades; a place where they’ll always end up.
With that in mind, maybe we should re-consider our invite to the police at next year’s parade.