Activist Dean Spade speaks about the effect of pinkwashing in police forces

By Mary Yates

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
Dean Spade gave a talk at Amherst College on October 13th. (Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Trans activist Dean Spade addressed the increasing presence of trans people in popular media, and its effect on modern trans politics in his talk at Amherst College on Thursday, October 13th.

Spade is an associate law professor at the Seattle University School of Law. He is also the author of “Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law” and has released a documentary called “Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back” which focuses on a local queer community controversy and examines the ideas of pinkwashing.

Spade described the new program the Seattle police have implemented as “wrapping the police force in a rainbow flag to show they are left wing.”

According to Spade, the Seattle Police Department has recently come under scrutiny for racial disputes, notably following the murder of John T. Williams, a 50-year-old Nitinaht man of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in 2010. Following these allegations, Spade said that the police force has begun using tactics to seem friendlier to minority communities.

Spade said that following these types of programs are still pitfalls to the reform that is happening. Like the Seattle Police Department, Spade said that many other police forces are being “window dressed,” and that there is no material relief or reduction in the harm done to trans people.

“Transformative politics is always hard to digest, you need the right head space,” said Georgia Welch, a Smith College student.

According to Spade, solutions offered by police departments include harsher punishments for offenders and more prison time. Spade said that this is the opposite of what needs to happen and that instead communities should fight to stop this kind of police activity.

Spade suggested that campaigns to reduce police, close prisons and stop new prisons from being built are actions that could be taken to build “the world we want.” He suggested that alternative approaches of crime prevention and violence response “without police” can help to reduce police presence in people’s lives.

After the talk, Spade held a question and answer session between himself and audience members. The audience responded positively to his talk, and many members said they found him engaging.

“The talk was really insightful, he provided a great overview of the book, limiting the law is important when going towards the liberation of marginalized people” said Saffron Turner, an audience member who had read Spade’s book.

Spade paid tribute at the end of his lecture to Jen Manion, an associate history professor at Amherst College and one Spade’s friends. Manion will be teaching courses open to UMass students in the spring, including “History of Sexuality” and “People’s History of the American Revolution.” She is currently teaching a course about United States carceral culture.

Mary Yates is Collegian Correspondent and can be reached at [email protected].