The Pride London festival kicks off in just a few days, but before festivities get underway, organizers are reaching out to the London Police Service to ask it to refrain from flying the Pride flag at police headquarters this year.
In a letter made public on July 13 but dated July 10, the Pride London team says it stands with Black Lives Matter London and describes the police reaction to demands from Black Lives Matter London — including calls to defund the police and reallocate those funds for social services — as “unacceptable.”
Black Lives Matter London spokesperson Alexandra Kane previously told Global News that “the system really does focus a lot on Black people and Indigenous people and criminalizing them. And we want to make sure that this stops.”
A June 6 Black Lives Matter rally drew a crowd of roughly 10,000 people to downtown London. Days later, city councillors unanimously passed motions asking several organizations — including the London Police Service — to address issues raised by Londoners during the rally.
On June 18, chair of the London Police Services Board Dr. Javeed Sukhera presented a letter to the police board, which included 12 proposed actions. Among the items was a call for police Chief Steve Williams to try to find “flexibility” in the police budget and for the board to then “provide information to council as to recommendations on where those funds may/will be reinvested.”
At that time, Williams said the force was taking the situation very seriously and was “fully committed to carry out concrete actions,” but he also stressed that in regards to funding, it’s important to consider that police logged 32,000 hours of overtime last year.
The board voted to receive the letter from Sukhera, but it’s not clear when the recommendations will be addressed further.
“While we recognize the work London Police Service has done to engage with London’s LGBT2Q+ communities over the past several years, the lack of progress with our Black and Indigenous communities is very disappointing, to say the least,” Pride London’s statement reads.
Speaking on The Craig Needles Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL on Monday, Pride London president Andrew Rosser said it’s “very obvious” that LGBTQ2 communities have had a long history with police and have “done a lot of work” to advance that relationship.
“But there is a huge gap in response from London Police Service and Black Lives Matter and the requests that they’ve had. We want to step up and support Black Lives Matter as an organization, and one of their key kind of demands or requests would be for organizations like ourselves to rethink our relationship with the police and insist that they do better,” said Rosser.
“We really want to be there to stand up for all Black lives but especially, in our community, Black queer lives and Black trans lives.”
Rosser says over his roughly eight years with Pride London festival, he’s found that police have been open to having dialogues about how to work with LGBTQ2+ communities but adds “massive action” is needed.
“It’s a massive issue, and I don’t pretend to know all of it. What I do know is that organizations like ourselves need to step up and support the movement.”
As of late Monday morning, Rosser said he had yet to hear back from police. Global News has reached out to the London Police Service, as well as the City of London and the London Police Association, but had yet to receive comment by publication time.
“I really hope that they will respect the decision. I do know in other communities, this request has been made and basically ignored. I would hope London Police Service listen to our request and don’t raise the flag on Friday,” Rosser said.
In 2018, Pride London barred uniformed police officers from marching in its parade — however, officers were able to take part out of uniform. At that time, officials said the decision was made in an effort to make the festival more inclusive after hearing from Black, Indigenous and individuals of colour who expressed that seeing a large presence of police in uniform was a deterrent.
“We’re finding people aren’t coming because of that and we want to make sure it’s inclusive to all,” Rosser said in April 2018.
The 2020 Pride London Festival runs from July 16 to 26, though events have been altered due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We have so much going on. There is literally two, three, four events every day,” Rosser said.
“We start with a kickoff, we’re doing a spotlight on our LGBTQ2+ digital artists — a website to feature some of the amazing artists we have in our community.”
Rosser says Pride London will use a variety of platforms, including Twitch, Facebook and YouTube, to make sure all of their usual events can continue online.
“Our virtual Pride community celebration will be submitted videos from all our wonderful community partners and LGBTQ2+ artists. That will be in place of our parade on the 26th at 12 p.m. and it will be a fun way to celebrate,” said Rosser.
“We’re also trying to promote people to celebrate Pride in your homes — get outside and do Pride chalk art and tag #ChalkYourPride and also use the #PrideAtHome to show how you’re celebrating Pride at home.”