An Auckland Pride Festival community hui turned chaotic over the weekend as tensions rose over the decision to ban police from wearing their uniforms in next year's parade.
The hui, hosted by Auckland Pride Festival on Sunday night at the Grey Lynn Community Centre, was described beforehand as a "safe space for all voices to be heard". But attendees described the event on social media as "incredibly tense".
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"It was incredibly tense, but by the end of the hui, most people were recognising the racism of NZ police (some just didn't care)," an attendee wrote on Twitter.
He recalls "astounding racism from many of our elders" at the event, and said one of the elders "stood over and spat at a Maori trans woman".
Another described the hui as a "s***fire of incompetence" that shows "just how clearly we're not a community".
An attendee, who wants to remain anonymous, says a scrap at the event was triggered by police brutality figures.
Emilie Rākete, the press spokesperson for People Against Prisons Aotearoa, stood up at the hui and read out police brutality statistics, the witness told Newshub.
"An amputee took offence to this, an older white fella, he'd been having issues with Rākete," the witness said. "He got up and went over, and I didn't see quite what happened, but there was a scuffle and they were both on the floor fighting."
Ms Rākete told Newshub the man stood over where she was sitting, "screaming in my face that Māori ask for it by the police, and when I suggested to him that he should go, he spat in my face".
She claims Māori are disproportionately affected by police violence.
"I'm used to this kind of treatment when I talk about police brutality, because it's an issue many people aren't interested in dealing with, but it was really heartening in that moment when other attendees of the meeting stood between that man and me."
The witness said the fight was "disgusting" and not a good look for the LGBT community.
"I think the fact that that hui was so poorly managed and ended up in a scuffle with people walking out, I don't think that sends the message that the LGBT community is particularly professional or that we are able to deal with our own problems."
Half of the meeting's attendees left after the fight, she says.
A contentious decision
The controversy traces back to a decision by the Auckland Pride Board two weeks ago to not allow New Zealand Police to wear their uniforms at the 2019 Auckland Pride Parade - an annual march down Ponsonby Rd set to take place on February 16 next year.
"This decision has been made following a series of community feedback sessions, including the 2018 AGM and Community Hui series held in venues across Auckland," a statement by the board said on 9 November.
New Zealand Police Senior District Liaison Officer Tracy Phillips said police officers were extremely disappointed by the board's decision, telling Newshub at the time if police are not welcome in uniform, then "we're not going to force ourselves on anybody".
The Pride Festival board told police officers they must wear T-shirts instead of their uniforms, which is when Ms Phillips says she made the call that the New Zealand Police will no longer attend the parade.
"There's been a number of community huis over the last couple of months, and there's been a couple of people coming to those huis saying they think that the police marching in the Pride Parade is tantamount to Destiny Church marching - which was quite brutal," said Ms Phillips.
The Auckland Pride Board made the claim that "visibility of the Police uniform, in particular, had made [attendees] feel less safe about participating in the Auckland Pride Parade".
The Facebook event page said: "The Board invites people who wish to talk about the Police decision to attend a special Auckland Pride Community Hui, facilitated by Tim Foote, at the Grey Lynn Community Centre this Sunday 18 November, commencing at 7.30pm."
But the board's decision seems to have touched a nerve within the LGBT community: "I won't be marching with my service if my brothers and sisters, from an [organisation] that seeks to help other and move forward, won't be welcomed as they are," a Twitter user wrote.
"Sadly, the 2019 Pride Festival is finished - most of us could never be associated with this illogical decision," another wrote. "Hopefully, something good can rise from the ashes in 2020."
The hui was described as "emotional" by another attendee.