Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The "Uniform Crisis" is over; can we please get down to real business now?

In response to pleas of varying hostility from those abused by APD officers on September 10, as well as some partially misguided attempts to find an early scapegoat, Officer Dani Lee Harris has decided not to wear her Atlanta Police Department uniform as grand marshal of the Atlanta Pride parade this coming Sunday, partly over concern for her own safety and her children's safety.

Congratulations on a meaningless victory, based on intimidating of one of our own. Friendly fire 1; real-world change 0 (or maybe 0.5, depending on whether recent changes in tactics are a genuine sign of the future).

Most of this unchecked animosity towards Officer Harris is based on her early comments about tactics of "officer safety" made barely after the raid, when she likely didn't know much more about the whole situation than the rest of us. Under APD's currently questionable leadership, and with no tangible information to give us, the best Officer Harris could do then was explain how the policies are defined as written. Whether she believes those policies are unethical or illegal is something she is likely prevented from expressing until the current legal issues are resolved.

So why should this "victory" be empty? We've let our anger branch out beyond the true issues and blind us to the real meaning of Pride: proving that LGBT+ Americans exist in all parts of society, and we are all working towards the same goals.

In Sunday's parade, we will see other out-and-proud, uniformed members of the Atlanta Police Department (and perhaps officers of other jurisdictions). Do we demand that all of them take off their uniforms because they somehow represent hate and injustice? Officers march in uniform at Pride not to offend or intimidate, but to prove that we have strong allies working within APD. We need those allies on our side, and their presence at Pride shows that they're willing to work for change for all of us.

So, too, will we see veterans of the United States armed forces in the parade. Do we demand that all of them leave their uniforms at home until "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed? Countless heroes fight for our country today without questioning political motives, spending up to years at a time enduring humiliation, abuse, and even death for their sexual orientations and identities. But similarly, veterans march in uniform at Pride not to offend or intimidate, but to prove that we too believe in defending our country and our hometowns, despite their flaws.

I'm very happy that the owners of Atlanta Eagle have made the "no-uniform compromise" officially acceptable, and I hope this is finally the end of the matter. We've spent too long on this petty distraction from real action. Remember that we have critical local elections coming up next week, and with a new Mayor and Chief of Police, the incoming administration will have no choice but to find reconciliation for our grievances. Those same allies within APD will be our community's connection to the new leadership.

So... now that she has extended her compromise not to wear an APD uniform at Atlanta Pride, I have a request in kind for the rest of you:

If you see Officer Harris at Pride this weekend, please walk up to her and offer her a big hug. She is on our side. If we do not stand together, we shall most certainly fall.

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