Hamilton·Point of View

Community over hate: We must all stand up for our shared values

In this opinion piece, Pride activist Cameron Kroetsch urges a community response to hate violence.

In this opinion piece, Pride activist Cameron Kroetsch urges a community response to hate violence

Police estimate about 60-70 people in total showed up for rallies on Saturday. The two demonstrations were separated by a police "safety zone," said Supt. Mike Worster. (Laura Howells/CBC)

As a member of Pride Hamilton's board of directors and the City of Hamilton's LGBTQ advisory committee, I've had a front row seat to everything that's happened leading up to, during and since Pride in Gage Park June 15.

But before I get into it, I want to be clear that I'm writing this as Cameron, local queer Hamiltonian, and not as a representative of any group I belong to.

Yes, Pride was a wonderful celebration enjoyed by thousands of people but that's not the story that needs to be told right now. There's time for that, and there's time to get excited about Pride 2020, but right now we need to heal and I need to set the record straight.

I'm the person who spoke to police before, during, and after what happened.

I co-organized the community conversation at city hall June 18. I voted in favour of the advisory committee's motion to cancel the Pride flag raising ceremony at city hall. And I was there when a guy dressed like a ninja turtle smashed his metal helmet into someone's face.

This was organized, intentional, and violent. These extremists showed up spoiling for a fight and happily menaced and attacked anyone that got in their way.

Insufficient police numbers

They were greeted by the community, allies, random people who live near the park, drummers, chanters, singers, and kazoo blowers, all who opposed their violence and held them at the edge of the permit area away from the main event space.

And, no, police weren't anywhere near the park in sufficient numbers when the violence broke out. They weren't there to protect the community and I can't see how that wasn't intentional.

I say this because I'm the one that briefed them before the event. They called me to ask about what to expect, where it would happen, and who would show up. There was no doubt in my mind when I hung up the phone that I had been impeccably clear, that police would be there, and that they would be prepared.

Police say several people received minor injuries after an altercation at the Hamilton Pride festival, but no victims or witnesses have come forward. (ihearthamilton/Twitter)

I not only told them the what, where, and who, but went over a map with them, explained what had happened the year before, and filled in some blanks about what I'd been hearing about white supremacists gathering in Hamilton that weekend to make trouble. They knew all of this because I told them.

Even if I hadn't, they had their own intel to guide them. After all, the police were present last year and saw what happened and they said that they had been following the movements of local extremists and knew that there would be an escalation.

If, in the end, their choice not to show up was about a recruitment booth, I'd be surprised.

Rising tide of hate

But if that's it, then I'm not sure where to go from here to build a relationship with an organization that's preoccupation with attending Pride to recruit is more important than its duty to protect every resident and citizen of Hamilton.

The truth is that many of us already know that a rising tide of hatred is descending upon the City of Hamilton. Yes, that sounds very Gotham City, but that's often how it feels for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, at least from what I'm hearing.

The events of Pride made that painfully clear. Hate preachers, white supremacists, yellow-vesters, and others, organized a violent attack and felt emboldened to do so.

Why? Because they've been gathering down at city hall every Saturday since late 2018, building momentum, bringing each other coffee, and stoking that hateful fire.

No one stopped them then and no one is stopping them now: not the police, not the mayor, and not our city council.

We have no choice but to find ways, uncomfortable or not, to come together as a community and stand up against this hatred in our city. Part of that means that our leaders must acknowledge where they have failed to protect us and to hold those responsible accountable.

Equivocations, generic statements, and arrests for parole violations won't do anything to keep us safe. We need strong and decisive action and we need everyone to get on the same side here: the side speaking out against violence and hatred in our city. There is no other side.

It's important that we all take stock of what's important to us, what freedoms we care about, and how we're prepared to stand up to support one another. Every action, large and small, contributes, but silence will continue to let this dumpster fire rage.