The prompt for this week was Awakening but I am going to rename it to WOKE, a word getting lots of usages these days in society. Before I get to that let me address shortly the word Awakening. This was a term that was often bantered about in the Buddhist circles I have inhabited for nearly 30 years now. All it apparently takes to become enlightened is to wake up and realize that we are already Buddha’s in our own right. The key to getting to this realization, per many teachers including my mother, was to sit still and be quiet. I was never very good at that, and this remains the case today and perhaps that is why I am still waiting on enlightenment. So that is about all I have to say about that prompt for today.

Woke as used in the current vernacular is synonymous with social awareness and frequently applies to the awareness of the reality of institutional racism in American. The origin of the word has been attributed to a 2008 song by Erykah Badu titled Master Teacher and the song’s refrain “I stay woke”. 

For the sake of honest and productive discussion, and not as an attempt to piss in the punch bowl, I am going to say that The Center’s recent leadership decision to exclude police participation in Pride activities was a poorly thought-through attempt at being “woke”. I do not think it was the correct decision though I do think it was more than just knee-jerk political correctness, at least I hope so.

The Queer Community certainly has its own very long fraught and prejudicial history with the Police and more specifically with the vice squad here in Denver as has been the case in many communities in the country. The police though is not a stand-alone entity but reflective in many ways of the embedded racism and homophobia that pervades our entire society. They are the enforcers if you will of a predominant zeitgeist. In a society as unequal as ours, there is the inevitable friction between the haves and have nots and a disproportionate share of the have nots are people of color.

Being a nation that is absolutely saturated with firearms any attempts to defund the police would likely not end well and of course, that isn’t going to happen. New York City for god sake just elected a retired cop as their mayor in response in no small part to the uptick in violent crime in the city. The uptick in crime is of course a multilayered issue but that level of nuance is not what got Eric Adams elected mayor.

Things within the realm of possibility when it comes to police reform though could involve for starters attempts to change their culture. It is more than an issue of a few bad apples. Though not a guarantee of dramatic change incorporating more minorities including LBGTQ officers can only help, hopefully. Better screening and much more intensive training is required. Western European social democracies could provide a template on how to recruit and properly train police officers.

I do think the chant to “defund the police” is a bit facile. However, law enforcement’s bloated budgets could certainly be reduced, and funds redirected elsewhere. The use of homeland security monies used in arming local police departments to the teeth needs to stop and a significant level of disarmament is in order.

Sincere attempts to establish trust between the communities most affected by police violence need to desperately happen. This will be difficult and involve a realization that it is not an us vs them issue. The racism that is at the core of much of the tension will be very difficult to confront.

Keeping uniformed cops out of Pride seems to me to not be a very effective way of addressing such complex issues. Not very “woke” if you will. Perhaps taking an in-depth look at how we got from the cops beating and arresting folks at the Stonewall Inn to cops in cruisers participating in gay pride parades may be worth the time and effort. I do not mean to imply that all is well with police and the queer community as trans folks of color and gay men and lesbians of color will attest to.

Back in the day, by this I mean the late 1970’s, there were several years where Symposia were held in conjunction with Pride Week and various issues, some rather hot button as I recall, were presented in workshop/discussion format. Perhaps I am going out on a naive limb here, but I think we as a community are mature enough to pull this off again without totally trashing each other. Maybe.