“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” the poet W.B. Yeats wrote in his poem “The Second Coming.”
Yeats’ words seem eerily true as the horrific news keeps coming in. Just out of Pride season, the world seems full not of promise or love but of hate.
As I write, protesters, from the left and right — some carrying guns — are arriving in Cleveland on the first day of the Republican National Convention. On July 17, Gavin Long, a black veteran, killed three police officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge, La. Days earlier, Micah Johnson, another African-American veteran, fatally shot five police officers and wounded nine others. Montrell Jackson, one of the police officers killed in the Baton Rouge shooting, was African American. Gay Latino police officer Jesus Retana was among those injured in the Dallas shooting. The shootings appear to have been a (deranged) response to the recent brutal police shootings of black men Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. To add to the toxic mix, there is conflict between some in the queer community and Black Lives Matter.
Like everyone, white, black, brown, queer or hetero, I’m angry, sad and struggling to process this horror. How do we move forward with any hope in this despairing moment?
Recently, in Union Station in D.C., a police officer noticed that I couldn’t find where to board the train to Baltimore. (I’m legally blind.) The officer not only gave me directions, but bought me a cup of coffee. I was thankful for his kindness. But I couldn’t help but wonder how he would have treated me if I’d been black, trans or homeless.
The queer community historically has been harassed by police. The Stonewall riots, considered the start of the modern queer rights movement, were a response to a police raid on the bar. In the 1950s, gay men were arrested for looking too feminine and queer women were stopped by police for looking too masculine. Today, queer people, especially, of color and trans, continue to be unfairly treated by (some) police. “Discrimination and harassment by law enforcement based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an ongoing and pervasive problem in LGBT communities,” according to a 2015 Williams Institute report.
Given the unjust way that police have often treated LGBT people, it’s hard to understand why some in our community don’t support Black Lives Matter. I wouldn’t presume to speak for people of color or to say I know what it’s like to be black and racially profiled by a police officer. I don’t have kids, but if I did I wouldn’t have to have “the talk” that African-American parents have to have with their kids about interacting with law enforcement. Talking honestly about racism and police shootings is incredibly difficult. I have no ready words to offer. Yet, having endured raids, abuse and mistreatment by the police throughout our history, I can’t help but wonder: how can anyone who’s queer not try to be an ally with people of color, hetero and LGBT, who encounter racial disparities from law enforcement?
Meanwhile, the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are beyond contempt. Many good people, gay and hetero, are cops. Especially after Orlando, I’m grateful for the police who work hard to protect our community.
“The movement began as a call to end violence,” DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives leader told the New York Times, “that call remains.”
I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a police officer, doing his or her job, when so many distrust, or even hate, the police. “In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat,” Jackson wrote on Facebook shortly before his death.
To move beyond despair, we must work to stop the violence and the hate.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.