Police Are Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness With Some Astonishingly Tone-Deaf Results

CREDIT: Shutterstock

“Pinkwashing” has become a familiar ritual every October, from NFL football players donning pink gloves to gun shops selling pink guns, all in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A sizable industry has cropped up around the cause of “awareness.” And police departments are taking pinkwashing to a new, sometimes tone-deaf level. Towns across America have decked out their police forces in pink for the month. Many police departments are sporting new pink patrol cars. As Fairfield, Connecticut police chief Gary MacNamara explained, “If we change the look of the police cruiser, maybe we’ll change the way we look at breast cancer and breast cancer survivors.”

Some police departments are going even further in their commitment to awareness. Here are some of the more creative ways the criminal justice system has been dressed up to commemorate the cause:

Pink handcuffs. Police in Greenfield, Massachusetts will observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by wearing pins that say “ARREST BREAST CANCER – UNLOCK THE CURE.” Some officers plan to go even further to spread awareness by using pink handcuffs to arrest people.


CREDIT: Greenfield Police Department Facebook

“While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same,” the police force’s Facebook page explains.

The pink handcuffs could see a lot of use in Greenfield. Greenfield police have faced considerable controversy in recent years. The town had to settle a high profile lawsuit last year after police used a Taser on a man’s groin and ignored his pleas to go to the hospital. Doctors eventually had to remove a Taser prong from his groin. The town also recently settled with a prominent Cop Watch activist, Ademo Freeman, after a cop arrested him and another activist for filming the police.

Pink jail cells. Greenfield police aren’t alone in their zeal to spread awareness among criminals. Jails in Maryland have also encouraged inmates to “think pink,” enlisting prisoners to paint holding cells for juvenile offenders in 2011. Police hope the signature pink ribbon will inspire kids who are imprisoned in Anne Arundel County to donate to the cause:

“So maybe one day when they’re 30 years old and they’re thinking about this even that’s burned in their mind about being in jail for a small period of time, they’ll also remember that symbol. Maybe it will cause them to donate; maybe it will cause them to do something,” the Anne Arundel County sheriff told ABC2.

Pink Maserati. The affluent New York suburb of Westport, Connecticut is honoring breast cancer awareness by adding a hot pink 2016 Maserati to their police fleet. The car, which will not actually be used for patrol, was donated by Maserati of Westport and features special pink ribbon decals. “We feel this is a unique way to show our commitment to an issue that affects us all, personally and professionally,” Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas said in a statement.


CREDIT: Westport Police

Fake bail. Police in Chillicothe, Ohio have made a game out of breast cancer awareness with Cuffs for a Cure. The cops pretend to arrest people who then must post “bail” of $100, which gets them a T-shirt and a receipt that confirms they have paid their bail.

* * *

Survivors of breast cancer and incarceration may not take kindly to the efforts to dress up the criminal justice system, as well-intended the campaigns may be. Behind the pink ribbons, American police and prisons are inflicting sometimes fatal neglect and abuse on cancer patients. Women’s prisons in particular have been accused of ignoring symptoms and withholding treatment for inmates with breast cancer.

Former inmate and breast cancer survivor Sue Ellen Allen is outspoken about how women with cancer are treated behind bars. Diagnosed six months before entering prison, Allen had to fight for basic treatment at every turn even as the cancer sapped her strength. The jail delayed her chemotherapy, guards accused her of making up her medical needs, and she watched her friend die from cancer gone untreated.

Allen was lucky to survive. At a prison in Georgia, Paula Cooper underwent a mastectomy and was returned to her cell still bleeding. She died five months later, still bleeding.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month last year, Allen recounted how she was shackled in a freezing ward full of cockroaches for hours, waiting to be transported to the hospital for her mastectomy. “This is the way all women experience breast cancer in prison. There is no comfort or solace,” she writes. “They go alone, they suffer alone, they return to their prison alone.”

More broadly, the proliferation of pink brand campaigns has contributed little to breast cancer research. Many of the purported charities that capitalize on the attention prioritize profits over patients. And research suggests that the constant pink marketing campaigns actually make people take breast cancer less seriously.