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Community members respond to LGBT Community Center banning armed, uniformed officers

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Posted at 4:36 PM, Jun 17, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center) has decided it will no longer allow armed, uniformed officers at its facilities and events.

“Last year, The Center heard from over 140 Black community members at our Town Hall for the Black LGBTQ Community. Many spoke of the pain and hurt that is caused when one does not feel welcome in our LGBTQ community, including at The Center.

Overwhelmingly, we heard that the lack of policy restricting the presence of armed, uniformed law enforcement officers is a barrier to the Black LGBTQ community feeling welcomed at The Center,” said CEO Cara Dessert in a letter posted to The Center’s website.

RELATED: San Diego LGBT center to stop using armed, uniformed officers at facility, events

“I fully support it. I think we’ve come a long way, but we’re not where we need to be,” said community activist Charles Brown.

“I’m black, and I’m gay. So am I a target? I think I am. I have been targeted before, it’s a horrible feeling to have when I walk past a police officer in uniform with a gun attached to their hip. I’ve done nothing wrong, but one too many times I’ve been pulled aside for looking like the other guy.”

In the letter, Dessert when on to say, “This is not about good or bad individual law enforcement officers, but rather a systemic problem in law enforcement that devalues Black lives and creates an environment in which our Black community does not feel welcomed, and in fact strikes fear and trauma.”

RELATED: San Diego Pride: No law enforcement agency contingents in Parade, Festival

Organizers of the San Diego Pride Parade have also asked that uniformed officers be excluded from the celebration.

“They’re invited to participate, just not in uniform,” said Brown. “The feeling as a Black, gay man that I have is ‘if you’re not in my skin tone or my demographic, then you will never understand.’”

Big Mike Phillips, also a community activist, said he knows he will never understand what someone like Brown has gone through, but believes the decision to ban uniformed officers will only destroy an essential relationship with San Diego Police. He said it took many years and hard work for the LGBTQ community to build that relationship.

“Let’s sit down and talk about how we can make sure we can help protect Black Lives Matters and make a difference with the help of the police department instead of saying ‘no we don’t want you because you wear a gun and a uniform,’” said Phillips.

“If people are out killing our Black brothers and sisters in America, they should be arrested, tried, and punished to the full extent of the law. But, if you have people on the same side wearing the same outfit saying ‘we want to be with you, we want to get on our knees, we want to march with you’ then we have our community saying ‘no we don’t want you’” said Phillips. “You’re going to turn your back on people that really want to help.”

“This all started with police brutality at Stonewall, if they haven’t learned and we haven’t learned to come together to keep from those things happening, then neither one of us deserve to be going into the center,” Phillips continued.

SDPD Police Chief David Nisleit said the following in a statement to 10News.

“I am extremely disappointed with the decision made by the leadership of the San Diego LGBT Community Center. Banning people because of their profession and their desire to serve the community is counter to the message of inclusion they have always stood for. The decision to exclude uniformed police officers should be reconsidered.”

Both Brown and Phillips agree meaningful conversations with community members and police need to happen to move forward.

“Don’t fear my skin, get to know me, and that’s the conversation that we need to have with the police chief and the department,” said Brown. “Until those conversations are had, the trust issues will still remain.”

In a statement to 10News on Wednesday Dessert said, "The Center has long-existing policies that include prohibiting weapons on the premises of all our facilities and only calling law enforcement into our facilities as a last resort or a true emergency. These policies will continue, and law enforcement in plain clothes and without weapons are welcome at The Center for any services and events."