Listen to this story, narrated by C.S.E. Cooney:
This essay deals with police brutality, violent hate crimes against queer and disabled people, child abuse, and domestic abuse.
Like most kids, I grew up believing that the police were there to protect us, especially vulnerable people. I grew up in an abusive home, with abuse from my biological father that has left me with a permanently damaged spine, eye, ear, and skull … as well as PTSD and all of the associated experiences of that. I grew up believing that if I could get my mother to report my biological father’s abuse to the police, we would be saved. They would swoop in and protect us, because who wouldn’t want to protect a young child and an abused woman? That’s what the police are there for, right?
One night when I was around fourteen, my biological father beat my mother and me significantly and I was finally able to convince her to call the police because I believed they would support us. When they showed up, they had a laugh and chatted with my abuser. They saw him as a comrade, not a criminal. They saw him as one of them … and they saw us as the threat.
As they talked, I began to recognize them. They were his friends from hockey.
They pulled me — a child — aside and told me, “Your dad’s a good guy. He probably just got frustrated. What did you do to frustrate him? And actually, he could take you away from your mom because right now it looks like your mom might have been beating him.”
My mother wouldn’t be able to leave him for another couple of years because she feared that he would take her children … and she feared that we wouldn’t last long without her to intervene.
I learned that day that the police weren’t concerned with my safety. It didn’t matter to them. They didn’t want to protect the innocent and preserve justice. Like most people in power — like most people from groups that are supported by ableist, cis, hetero patriarchy — they were interested in staying in power. They were interested in trying to make us too afraid to challenge the status quo.
I’m sure it didn’t help that I was femme. I had identified as male in my childhood, but was easily read as feminine. I think that is why the police called me a “pussy” for not fighting my father back. It was the same rhetoric that I received from my childhood doctor when I told him that I was being abused. It was the same thing that I heard from most of the adults I told about my abuse. They saw me as male and therefore thought that I should be working on hitting him back to enforce my own power.
I had grown up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, so over time I convinced myself that small-town police might be corrupt, but city police would definitely be more supportive. That’s why I reported a beating by a stranger in Ottawa. He had driven a truck down an outdoor mall to try to run me over. When I jumped into a protected area in front of a store, he stopped his truck and began yelling: “faggot”, “queer”, “fairy” … the standard litany that I have experienced throughout my life. He then grabbed me by the throat and picked me up off of the ground, trying to choke me. There were two mall security people nearby laughing and cheering him on. When I was able to get him to loosen his grip, I yelled to them that they were supposed to protect patrons. They said that nothing could get them to protect someone like me.
I was finally able to escape and ran into a restaurant nearby and asked to call the police to report a crime.
When a police officer showed up, he began to take my statement up until I said, “He was yelling faggot and …” and then the officer closed his notebook and said, “I really can’t help you. It seems like you don’t have any information about this guy.” It was only after I gave him make and model and license plate number of the truck the guy was driving that the officer told me, “I guess I will see what I can do.”
I called the station several times over the next two months and was told that the officer was on vacation. Eventually I was told that the truck belonged to a company and that they would have to look up who was driving it. Despite repeated calls, I didn’t receive an answer from them and nothing was done about it.
“On vacation” seems to be code for “wants to make sure that the case is not reported further”, because my current local police department has told me the same thing for any violent incidents I have reported in Peterborough. The first time someone drove up on the sidewalk yelling the word “faggot” and trying to hit me with their car, the officer was “on vacation” for several months. I finally called enough that he said he, “… looked into it and the driver is an upstanding member of the Peterborough community.”
There have been a lot of those “upstanding members of the Peterborough community”. They have slammed my head off of lampposts. They have spent months at a time kicking my walls in the middle of the night, yelling the words “faggot” and “queer”. They have thrown beer bottles and oranges and eggs and pop cans at my head from cars. They have stalked me, followed me, and even called me Peter Pan(sy), which I personally thought would make a great drag name.
I stopped reporting these hate crimes eventually.
Last week, someone threw a stone at our window directly at the spot where our rainbow flag is located. When we spoke to our neighbours, they told us that there had been an older, reasonably well—dressed man hiding in the hedge in front of our house for the past few weeks. I didn’t report it. Instead I mentioned it on Facebook. Immediately people responded with:
“Tell the police!”
“He shouldn’t get away with it!”
They were all of the usual words of people who are able to feel a sense of protection from the police. People whose rights as citizens are protected.
It marked a difference for me, a semi—intangible line between people who can reasonably expect a degree of protection and support from police … and the rest of us — the outsiders, the marginal, those who know that the police don’t have our interests in mind. The line felt like a division between those who feel a sense of belonging, protection, and citizenship, and the rest of us who will never have that sense of belonging. The rest of us know that “to serve and protect” only means to serve the interests of hegemonic power and to protect the status quo.
Hate crimes go unreported, but that’s not because they don’t happen. It’s because we have learned not to report them. We have learned that reporting them allows for other forms of victimization — humiliation and a reminder that we are viewed as not worth the basic rights of a citizen to receive protection.
We are stared at everywhere as Queer people … but it seems as though we become invisible … as though we are intangible when we need help. We haunt the streets we walk on.