This contribution was submitted by Valerie Baeshk, an organizer in Boise, ID. Shout out to them and the growing crew of police abolitionists in their town!
I am a genderqueer, white radical activist in the Northwest. I am inviting you to remember. I am inviting you to engage in critical imagination and radical honesty with yourself and those around you. This piece is specifically for people in the communities that I am situated in in Idaho and the northwest. It is my hope readers will critically examine why abolition work is important, necessary, and feasible, and alternatively why liberalism is an abject failure. Please note that some of the examples listed here are hypothetical anecdotes based on lived experiences and no personal identifiers are being used. This piece was originally written as a writing sample for a job role, and I intend this piece to evoke thinking and collaboration about what makes this essential work possible.
Recall all of the police brutality, intimidation, PR stunts, community picnics, whitewashing of news, and police’s defensive stance following the deaths. Recall police brutality is an issue that spans intersections of time, space, economics, ability, and identity. Recall that when you call the police on your noisy neighbors you may be playing God- you may be the match that lights the fire of death. Recall that the police use their weapons to intimidate and threaten people, especially those in the queer community and communities of color. Recall the gun that was put to the head of an unarmed, non-english speaking refugee’s head. Recall a quiet and peaceful house. Recall the police banging on the door. Recall them gun-loaded, ready to kill another black person. Recall that they apologize and pretend what they did was acceptable, and it will never become public knowledge without an arrest.
Recall the seemingly outrageous and vile murders of unarmed people of color in 2016. There were articles written about them. Remember the trauma inflicted on them, on their families, and on the larger global community. Note how many police persons were fired or faced repercussions for their deaths. At least 303 black people were killed by police in 2016 alone. Repeat their names. Mourn their deaths. Recollect the videos of their deaths. Exposure didn’t make them safer. Their deaths didn’t shake the institution of the police. Restore the fact that they were human, that they were somebody. Notice that they were murdered by the hands of the government that says it will protect them. That said it would learn them, be them, see them.
Recall your reaction to all of this. Were you moved?
Recall that all of this is happening in Idaho.
This is exactly the reason activist work is needed now more than ever. The institution of the police, since it’s inception, has valued racial profiling and been complicit in the American imagination that has created simplistic mythology about black people, black bodies, black queerness, and black existence. According to Corrine Werder, the primary role of creating the police institution was to enforce order and to prevent crime. They state, “Enforcing order and disciplining bodies that occur outside that order are the central roles of the police…the presence of police is a disciplinary, control function,” and this certainly pervades society today in terms of what enforcement looks like, how it is acted upon, and who is affected, despite or in conjunction with violent measures. Similarly, Dr. Victor E. Kappeler notes the institution of slavery and control of minorities prevailing after the abolition of formal slavery contributed deeply to the formation of policing and the rise of the formal institution of the police.
As a white person, I was educated to believe otherwise. I was educated to believe the police were here to serve and protect me. I had a very naïve and wishful perspective. I have even had “pleasant” experiences with police. However, now that I am more aware of how the police operate as an institution to control and criminalize people of color and the queer community, I think differently. I also recognize my privilege. I am white and I am genderqueer. The police may be there to serve me; they may not. I now want to educate others with privilege to know the same. I want people with privilege to know deeply to their core that as long as a system is responsible for the brutality and murder of anyone (Tate et.al. 2017), it is not a healthy system (even if it does serve them to some extent). I want them to know that this reality is not because a couple of “bad” cops. It is systematic, and it is historical (Chaney and Robertson 2013). It is real, it is cyclical, and it is tragic (Webster 2016). I want them to believe that no human is illegal, that no one deserves to be put in a cage, that we are more than our worst actions or our very best production. I want them to know we can all engage in critical resistance to imagine safer communities (Safe Neighborhood Project). If a system is invariably broken, it must be fixed. It is imperative that we as collective activists, lawyers, scientists, and anyone else, heal such systems of oppression in every way possible. We must stretch our imaginations and our limitations to explore what possibility looks like:
What do we imagine when we desire safety?
What does safety feel like for different people, at the intersections of identity?
How can we cultivate safety and moral authority without racist, sexist, genderist, and classist systems of oppression?
How can we tangibly and effectively operationalize resistance to create safer communities?
Abolitionist activism is one avenue to explore these questions and to create tangible solutions. It must be intentional, intersectional, and powerful. Based on the words of Rose Braz and found in a Short FAQ on Abolition “Abolition means creating sustainable, healthy communities with the power to create real safety without police tearing communities apart”, which is exactly the task with which I challenge myself and fellow organizers. While of course my dream is that we live in a cop-less society, that is not necessarily feasible in 2017. However, we can make concrete goals keeping in mind visionary and intriguing spectrums of possibility. We can utilize abolitionist actions moving forward. We can teach ourselves and others to start thinking and perceiving in ways that are inherently abolitionist. We can critically analyze abuse of power, systems of oppression, and ways to feasibly decrease reliance on these systems, as well as dismantling systems that do not work.
Chaney, Cassandra, and Ray Robertson. “Racism and Police Brutality in America.” SpringerLink. Accessed February 19, 2017.
Kappeler, Victor. “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing.” A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing | Police Studies Online. Accessed February 19, 2017.
“Safe Neighborhood Campaign.” Safe Neighborhood Campaign | Audre Lorde Project. Accessed February 19, 2017.
Sinyangwe, Samuel, Johnetta Elzie, Deray Mckesson, and Brittany Packnett. “Police Violence Reports.” Mapping Police Violence. Accessed February 18, 2017.
Tate, Julie, Jennifer Jenkins, Steven Rich, John Muyskens, Kennedy Elliott, Ted Mellnik, and Aaron Williams. “How The Washington Post is examining police shootings in the United States.” The Washington Post. July 07, 2016. Accessed February 19, 2017.
Webster, Colin. “Deadly injustice: Trayvon Martin, race, and the criminal justice system: Ethnic and Racial Studies: Vol 0, No 0.” Accessed February 19, 2017.
Werder, Corrine. “Corinne Werder on the History of the Police.” Google Docs. Accessed February 19, 2017.