If, as the case of rapist Oklahoma cop Daniel Holtzclaw demonstrates, our bodies are not our own; if, as the cases of Eric Garner and Alton Sterling demonstrate, everyday survival in a capitalist world is punishable by humiliation, assault and death, then the struggle can not be one to get a more diverse, “softer” or more “community-based” policing. The absolute and unanswerable power the police have over our lives is directly proportional to the power we lack. This reality can only begin to change when we disempower the police in all the spaces they operate.
How can we disempower the police and empower ourselves? This is a long-term project, which will involve rebuilding community relationships to solve social problems and oppose police violence, and replacing capitalist fragmentation with free association.
First, we can rely on each other rather than the police. Anytime we call the police for help, we risk someone we know being hurt or killed. But if we develop lines of communication, opportunities for self-education, and collective conflict resolution in many different settings, we can start to exclude police from our lives. Instead of police mediating our conflicts, we can begin resolving them ourselves.
Second, we can build fighting organizations against police violence. These could include groups specifically geared toward monitoring police conduct or challenging their legitimacy in our communities. At the same time, community, school and workplace groups of all types can oppose the expansion of police powers and respond to police violence when it happens.
Third, we can develop “cop free zones” in our communities, once we are strong enough to solve social problems ourselves and confront police impunity. This will involve reclaiming public spaces to air grievances, imagine alternatives and socialize, while challenging the fragmentation that capitalism produces and police enforce.¹ They could begin as temporary “No Cop Zones,” and expand as semi-permanent occupations that a community holds, supports, and defends.
Here are some concrete ideas for how to begin disempowering the police:
- Develop community “phone trees” and rapid response networks to relay important information, alert folks to police checkpoints, raids or surveillance, and respond to threats from the police in real time. Record police conduct, take collective action to stop police violence when it is happening, and care for those victimized by it.
- Study and share conflict mediation skills, so that minor beefs like noise complaints can be settled between neighbors without involving the police. Begin building these skills in neighborhood and tenant associations.
- Build survivor-led groups to defend against domestic violence and sexual assault. People turn to the cops when they have no other way to address violence in private spaces, but alternatives like support networks, crisis centers and self-defense groups can begin to leave police intervention behind.
- Fight against eviction, whether from a house, an apartment, or a tent. Police exist to protect the property of landlords and bosses and enforce their ability to make working class folks pay for access to it. Build tenants’ unions, solidarity networks, eviction defense groups, or other organizations that can defend a neighbor’s access to keeping a roof over their head, regardless of their ability to pay for it. When the police get called in to enforce an eviction, be there to keep them out and keep a neighbor in their home.
In the Streets
- Encourage neighbors to refuse to talk to the police when they come snooping around the neighborhood. Protest and discredit police programs that incentivize neighbors to snitch and thus contribute to each others’ criminalization and incarceration.
- Build neighborhood networks to intervene in police activity wherever it happens. Forms of this are already popping up around the U.S. and can be activated through existing lines of communication from ongoing community, workplace or housing organizing. Draw examples from copwatch on how to record police interactions, but don’t stop at monitoring the police. Create a collective culture of resistance that intervenes and deters police from using force and arresting vulnerable targets.
- Build women, queer and trans led groups to defend ourselves against street harassment and queer bashing. When we are able to defend ourselves, we won’t have to rely on the same police who harass us in times of crisis.
- Organize campaigns to repeal repressive police policies at local, state and federal levels, like Stop-and-Frisk in New York City or Civil Gang Injunctions in Houston.
- Prevent the construction of police stations and other facilities through protests and blockades. Set up informational tables outside of police stations and storefront locations to raise awareness about attempts to expand heavily policed areas.
- Support a militant protest culture to stop police from controlling and undermining demonstrations, and prevent arrests in the streets.
- Wage campaigns to remove police from schools, including elementary, secondary and higher education institutions. These efforts can be led by student groups, teacher’s unions, or parent associations, on their own or in coalitions.
- Protest and shut down police recruitment campaigns, for example at job fairs or career days.
- Oppose police institutions using schools for their own purposes, whether through research partnerships that “reform” police while rebuilding their legitimacy, or efforts to house riot police during major protests.
On the Job
- Join with co-workers to disrupt material support for police departments or refuse service to cops, like the UPS workers who carried out a Hands Up, Don’t Ship action in Minneapolis. Remember, there is strength in numbers! Coordinate with co-workers to minimize the bosses’ retaliation for these kinds of actions.
- Demand that labor unions disaffiliate from police unions, like teaching assistants in California recently demanded of the AFL-CIO.
- Within existing job-related organizations, develop the collective’s capacity to defend against police repression. Study and develop strategies & tactics for out-maneuvering the police when you need to defend picket lines, building occupations, or other protest actions. Bosses and cops work hand in hand to keep workers from winning any power on the job.
- Organize Know Your Rights workshops to minimize the legal impact of police interactions, whether on strike or at any other time.
Disempowering the police will vary depending on conditions. Do you have ideas for campaigns in your neighborhood, school or workplace? Are you already involved in a struggle to disempower the police? See our Campaign News to connect your efforts with the fight for a police-free world.
1. Mike Davis provides a historical look at this changing landscape in the context of Los Angeles. Davis, Mike. (2006). City of Quartz. New York: Verso Press.