BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | A dozen queer activists were arrested during New York City’s Pride March as they protested the presence of police and corporate sponsors in the annual commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots that marked the modern LGBTQ rights movement’s start.
“To the police — You cannot mass incarcerate us, brutalize us, murder us, and call it pride,” Hoods4Justice, the group that organized the protest, wrote in a statement that was posted on its Facebook page hours before the action. “To Wells Fargo, Citi, and remaining corporate sponsors — You cannot pillage our homes, brand us, rob us of our dignity, invest in our imprisonment, and spray us with water hoses in sub-freezing temperatures and call it sponsorship. To the politicians — You cannot sit idly by and call it allyship.”
Hoods4Justice used a classic activist move — it never registered for the parade, instead jumping in with the 18 groups, including Rise & Resist, Gays Against Guns, ACT UP, and other activist organizations, that comprised the resistance section that was registered and situated near the start of the parade. The resistance — formed this year as a way for the Pride March to respond to Donald Trump’s election as president — was staged, prior to the kickoff of the march, on East 41st Street. In the several hours leading up to the parade, Hoods4Justice initially gathered at the rear of that contingent, but when the resistance organizations stepped onto Fifth Avenue moments after noon the group jumped to the front of that section.
“We’re here to declare that today’s Pride and coming Prides are a no-cop zone,” June, a member of Hoods4Justice, told NYC Community Media as the group marched south on Fifth Avenue to cheers and applause. The roughly 50 members carried banners reading, “There are no queer friendly cops,” “No cops no banks,” and “Decolonize pride.”
Hoods4Justice was joined by a small contingent from Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club marched in front of both groups.
It is always difficult to tell if the tens of thousands who line the march route are cheering specifically for the groups that are going by at that moment or just cheering for every group that goes by. Judging by the raised fists that frequently greeted the Black Lives Matter group, it was clear that the group was winning the crowd. The cheers were occasionally deafening.
“It shows that the good people of New York care about Black Lives Matter,” Hawk Newsome, who is the president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and an officer in the Jim Owles Club, told NYC Community Media during the June 25 parade. “The gay community stands on the side of Black Lives Matter.”
The police and Heritage of Pride (HOP), the organization that produces New York City’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, were clearly expecting Hoods4Justice, which was no surprise as a member was quoted in a June 19 USA Today article saying the organization would protest on June 25.
Hoods4Justice was trailed down Fifth Avenue by about two-dozen police officers on bikes and another roughly 20 to 30 officers and commanders from NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, which handles what police call civil disorder, and other police units.
When the group arrived at the east end of Christopher Street at roughly 2:30, about two-dozen members of Hoods4Justice stepped out of the march route and waited on a nearby corner. They were first penned in by police bikes and then with police stanchions. As the members moved west on Christopher Street on the sidewalk, they were followed on the street by members of the Strategic Response Group.
The members of Hoods4Justice timed their move back onto Christopher Street so that they blocked the parade route just as the NYPD’s marching band, which was leading GOAL, the NYPD’s LGBTQ police group, arrived. Some members of Hoods4Justice either handcuffed themselves together inside of long black tubes that covered their arms or linked hands inside the tubes, preventing the police from easily separating them. The blockade happened just yards from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots. Police brought out saws and threatened to cut through the tubes, and the entire process of clearing the disruption took about 30 minutes.
The crowd was not sympathetic to the disrupters.
“They shouldn’t be doing this,” said Steven, a 17-year-old who was watching the parade. “The parade is about acceptance, not resistance.”
As some of the 12 protestors were led off by police, some in the crowd booed loudly. Asked if they were booing the police or the protestors, people on the sidewalk were unanimous in saying they were booing the people who had blockaded the parade.
“All these guys are not the problem,” said Chris Laro, who described himself as a Vermont ex-hippie, referring to the police. “It’s not that it’s not a vital issue, but today’s not the time.”
A number of people whom NYC Community Media spoke with during and after the protest had no idea what it was about and had to hear an explanation from this reporter first before they had any reaction.
It is unknown if HOP or the NYPD was the complainant in the arrests, but a man wearing a HOP T-shirt reading “Executive Board” could be seen conferring with police during the arrests. While this is not the first time people have been arrested while protesting during the Pride March, it would likely be a first if HOP asked that the arrests be made. James Fallarino, HOP’s spokesperson, did not respond to a call seeking comment, and the police department press office could not supply an answer.
The crowd on Christopher Street cheered loudly as GOAL and LGBTQ members of other city uniformed services, including the corrections and fire departments marched by. GOAL invited the LGBTQ police group from Toronto to march with it this year after it was banned from Toronto’s annual Pride Parade.
The registered resistance contingent swelled to more than 2,000 people, effectively stealing the Pride show this year with its large group and loud message very near the front of the parade, which often more closely resembles a celebration.
“The crowd was joyous, the crowd was thrilled with our message of resistance,” said Ken Kidd, the activist who took the lead on organizing the contingent. “They joined in with us when we said, ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
Joining the resistance contingent were Housing Works, the AIDS services organization, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBTQ synagogue, and Indivisible Nation BK, a Brooklyn activist group. Gay City News, a sister publication at NYC Community Media, also marched with the resistance.
HOP initially resisted admitting the contingent into the parade at all, and also pushed back on the effort to have it located at the front. When HOP agreed to allow the resistance contingent a forward position, it capped the number of groups that could join the section.
“All of the groups came together to say this is not normal, this is fascism, and we are going to be resisting until this Trump regime is over,” Kidd said.