On Sunday, Black Lives Matter-Toronto demonstrated how to do civil disobedience properly.
While the Pride parade marched along its route, they sat down and refused to move until Pride Toronto agreed to a set of demands. Pride Toronto’s Executive Director Mathieu Chantelois signed them, with a ridiculously gay black plume.
On Twitter, a stupid number of (mostly) white men have referred to the delay as a hostage situation. They liken young, Black activists sitting down to a military operation where people storm in with guns and threaten lives until various demands are met.
Just search @BLM_TO + hostage and you can see the fool’s parade of people, including a handful of journalists and a famous talking sock puppet, who didn’t think to Google the definition of the word.
Have these folks forgotten already about the hostage situation that resulted in 49 people murdered at a gay nightclub in Orlando?
Did they not hear of the hostage situation in Dhaka this past weekend, where at least 20 people who had been taken hostage were killed?
Are they seriously so out-of-the-loop that they’re unaware of what the global standard for “hostage” is right now? And who has been targeted? And who has been killed?
Or, is this a literary tool that is being used to crush Black Lives Matter’s credibility so that the social change they seek can be, again, marginalized and ignored?
I doubt the word “hostage” would have been used had the group been comprised of white people.
This was the third sit-in held during Pride events. A sit-in during the Trans* parade didn’t seem to rile up the Sue-Ann Levys of the world. Neither did an occupation during the Dyke March.
Apparently, Pride’s longest and most boring event is some people’s sacred cow.
This is probably because the Pride Parade has long been a vanilla showing of corporate Pride. In between the school buses of supportive teachers and librarians, union activists, community groups and interest organizations, are the major banks, Air Canada workers jumping around in mini airplanes, and Kijiji.
It’s an example of bourgeois liberation: being gay is not only OK, you can take it to the bank (literally).
Many activists have made quiet peace with this fact. There are other events that inject the necessary politics into Pride.
But this is why Black Lives Matter’s protest was so stunning. They actually did it. They stopped the parade to demand that Pride Toronto better reflect Black queer and Trans Torontonians. They made the most apolitical Pride event a political one, and pissed off the right people in the process.
And, in case you’re the kind of person who needs this spelled out, their demands will improve Pride for everyone. A more diverse and inclusive Pride makes for a better Pride.
The biggest point of contention between the men calling this a hostage situation and supporters of Black Lives Matter seems to be the involvement of Toronto Police in the parade. One of the demands agreed to was that police will not be involved in future parades.
Toronto Police has been carding and harassing Black Torontonians with impunity. Recently, the ombudsman decried the woefully inadequate de-escalation tactics used when dealing with someone in crisis (and recall: Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku were victims of this). Toronto Police routinely does not respond to suspicious deaths of Indigenous women, or Trans women.
These are the realities that Black Lives Matter is fighting to change. Police need to earn access to community events. Until then, the community gets a say on their presence.
Pride Toronto ultimately decides who marches and who does not, and these decisions are made within a broader political climate. Recall: for a time, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was denied a float at the parade for demanding justice for Palestinians.
Chantelois could have refused Black Lives Matter’s demands. He could have ran down to the Peel Region Police float and asked them to jump off their booming flatbed truck, take out their rainbow guns and rainbow riot gear and clear the protesters out.
But he didn’t. He agreed to their demands.
Telling Toronto Police that they are not welcome in the parade is an important and powerful symbol: the police need to deal with the many, many internal problems that they have if they want to be embraced by the community that they police. For many people who live under the shadow of the security state, you are not safe and proud if the float beside is comprised of the people monitoring your social media feeds, carding your siblings or harassing you.
It is not at all surprising that the pro-police logic is coming from a chorus of (mostly) white men who see the police as agents who serve and protect them. Because in Canada, that is the origin of policing: the white enfranchised citizens have always had a different relationship with police than everyone else.
For everyone who’s freaking out about what Black Lives Matter did, and how mean these young protestors have been to the cops, there’s really nothing substantive left to say.
I mean, other than: don’t worry, you still have the St. Patrick’s Day parade.