A rainbow-painted police car? Give us a break

Opinion: New Zealand’s LGBTIQ community deserves more than rainbow cars and empty gestures, write Aaliyah Zionov and Emilie Rākete.

Last week, the New Zealand Police unveiled the latest in a long series of publicity stunts aimed at courting the LGBTIQ community. To prepare us for their fourth year in a row marching in the Pride Parade this weekend, the police has made a spectacle of slapping a rainbow on a police car for two weeks. This gesture is meant to celebrate the fact that they are now “committed to diversity”, at least for a couple weeks of the year.

If the police had a dating profile, we would be their “Looking For”. We are two young transgender women of colour with a strong sense of justice and a passion for building a world where anyone, of any orientation or gender identity, can feel safe going about their lives. This is why we believe that both the police and the Auckland Pride Board should pay attention when we say that we’re disappointed and insulted by this charade. We feel so strongly about this that we’re willing to sacrifice valuable Grindr and HER time, on our night off, to write and explain why.

We are proud to be members of Auckland’s LGBTIQ community. We are inspired every day by our history, and the victories won by our forebears and foretwinks struggling for acceptance. We’ve learned the lessons of the fight for Homosexual Law Reform, and the struggle to have the AIDS campaign funded and recognised as a human rights issue. As we carry the torch, we bear in mind those who risked unemployment, beatings, and arson attacks fighting openly for their rights. We recognise that changing society for the better is a long, painful process that demands active effort by people from all walks of life. That’s why, in a country where police brutality, racism, and violence is still an everyday occurrence, we are insulted that the police believes we’ll mistake a coat of paint for any kind of real progress.

No one knows better than us that sometimes when you look like shit, it’s easier to just slap something colourful on and pretend you’re doing fine. That’s our usual last-minute clubbing strategy, and it’s working out well so far. But if the cops are holding themselves to the same standards as we do after Vodka Cruiser number seven, that’s probably a bad sign.

We can’t help but be reminded of last year’s fiasco for Māori Language Week, in which “pirihimana” was written on the side of police cars along with a koru pattern. Police officers got to pat themselves on the back for celebrating Māori culture, while continuing to do nothing about the police’s “unconscious bias” against Māori that, as Police Commissioner Mike Bush admits, is a huge problem all over the country. To no one’s surprise, a fancy new paintjob did nothing to change the fact that Māori are still eight times more likely than Pākehā to be handled with force by the police. If we want to get more specific, they are six times more likely to be shot, 10 times more likely to be hit with a baton, and 12 times more likely to be pepper sprayed.

In the face of these statistics, “celebrating” the police’s commitment to diversity is not just silly, it’s offensive. For the young Māori racially profiled every day, picked from the streets of their papakāinga and dragged through a justice system that is biased against them every step of the way, a temporary paintjob on a police car means less than nothing. The families of the people killed every year by the police in reckless, unnecessary car chases wouldn’t sleep easier knowing that it was a rainbow car which killed them. When a jackboot is ground into your neck, as we see almost routinely on Aotearoa’s streets, no amount of rhinestones will distract from the injustice.

A screenshot from the ‘rainbow car’ promo video.

At every proud moment in our history when brave people stood up to fight for change, the cops were right there, making sure things stayed exactly the same. When Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahu led a campaign of peaceful resistance to protect Parihaka, it was the cops who burned and destroyed their homes. When the National Gay Rights Coalition took to the streets demanding the right to be legally gay, it was the cops who laughed at them and beat the shit out of them on the street.

Simply put, the job of the New Zealand police is to protect the status quo. When the status quo is sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia, as it still often is in New Zealand, their job is to protect those too. If they no longer pepper spray us for holding hands with our partners in public, it’s because we fought, against all odds, for that right.

And now, like so many regrettable exes, the cops come to us saying that they’ve changed, that things are different now, that they’d never treat us like that again. But we need more than a boombox playing “Same Love” outside our window to rekindle this romance. We have to see some real change before we believe it.

Until then, we refuse to accept the New Zealand police taking Pride on a date once a year to prove a point. We’ve all been with someone who cared more about their queer cred more than they cared about us, and it hurts. The LGBTIQ community has a responsibility, to all those still being victimised by police brutality today, to stand by their side and not be taken in by empty gestures. Our community is too smart and too strong to sacrifice our history to hot gays in uniform.

Aaliyah Zionov is a Tāmaki Makaurau-based activist, prisoner advocate, and aspiring teacher born in Israel. Emilie Rākete is a prisoner advocate from Tāmaki Makaurau studying the political economy of prisons in Aotearoa. Together, they helped found People Against Prisons Aotearoa in 2015

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