Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In Addition to A World Without Police Killing

Some of the more radical and driven activists are talking about, writing about, and envisioning a world without police.

This is, I have little doubt, a co-concept of Angela Davis's Prison Abolition movement, her sister's Reparative Justice movement and similar threads of de-institutionalization that I would characterize as aspects of the slogan I have been promoting for several years now:

During the BlackOUT Collective's action at the Oakland (CA) Police Fortress-Headquarters in December, a banner was unfurled stating:  

Banner at Oakland Police Headquarters-Fortress, December, 2014
The action itself, an intentional blockading of the Police Headquarters in Oakland, was striking, indeed stunning. It's an action I've suggested a few times as an option in Albuquerque if nothing happened to change the bloodthirsty and murderous police culture that once predominated in the city, but it was actually considered "too radical" a step by some of those involved in activism against police violence in the Duke City.

Not only did the BlackOUT Collective and their allies blockade the Police Headquarters and unfurl banners and otherwise make a case for different/less/no policing, they held at least some of the ground at the facility for four and a half hours, while police held back a growing crowd of onlookers and supporters across the street. 

The police cleared doorways so that access and egress were possible, but apart from threatening the protesters and arresting a few of them, they did nothing untoward, quite the contrast to the way they have behaved elsewhere, even in neighboring Berkeley as noted in the previous post below. Quite a contrast to the way the police have behaved in Oakland, truth to tell.

They did not attack the demonstrators. Those arrested were released almost immediately rather than being held and brutalized at Santa Rita the way so many have been. Obviously, something had happened to change the minds of the police regarding protest actions in Oakland.

But what, and why?

I suspect that direct orders went out, either from the City Administrator or the police chief to stand down. To let the protest play out. And to treat the protesters with human decency and respect. I don't know why. Police have never to my knowledge paid the least attention to the optics of their behavior toward protesters, in Oakland and Berkeley especially. They have committed gross acts of violence against nonviolent protesters regularly and with complete impunity. It's part of their tradition and culture going back to student and labor revolts of the mid-20th Century.

But this time they didn't act the way they usually do, they didn't use their crowd suppression toys, and they didn't cause the kind of mayhem they so often do. They stood back -- for the most part -- and let the action unfold, until, at the end of the four and a half hours, they let the last of the protesters climb down from the flagpole and march off the grounds of the Police Headquarters-Fortress, and it was over. 

No one got hurt, no one got killed, no one was gassed or beaten to a bloody pulp. Statements were made, and that was that.

In other words, the police were demonstrating too. They were demonstrating that even when their Forts are the targets of protesters, they can behave rationally and in a more or less civil manner, that they don't have to respond with violence to every perceived threat. 

What a concept.

BlackOut Collective was conceptually going farther, however, to the elimination of police altogether.

Those who study the topic more than I have point out that modern policing in the US derives from Colonial era and later slave patrols, militias for the removal/extermination of Indians, and private anti-labor armed forces organized and deployed for the purpose of suppressing the 19th Century Labor movement. 

In other words, police have always been in service to power, wealth, and a racist status quo. They do not serve and protect the People. They can't. They exist to serve and protect the wealthy and their property from the People, and they always have. 

Officer Friendly is a deliberate lie. No such person ever existed except in fantasy and mythology. 

Police brutality is baked in to the way police forces have historically operated in this country, as is police killing of civilians, as is the corruption that seems to be a universal aspect of policing in America.

There appears to be no way to reform police more than marginally. 

They can and do change their behavior based on pressure from above or below, but the problems of over-policing -- and its brother mass incarceration -- remain, no matter how the police act. 

 So what can be done?

More and more are coming to the conclusion that the answer is to abolish police and abolish prisons. 

Doing that means reinvigorating communities, empowering them, and integrating various forms of social problem and conflict resolution with the every day operations of the community.


Something like that was supposed to happen with the movement to de-institutionalize the mentally ill, beginning in California in the late '60s and continuing throughout the country in from the 1980s onwards. Community mental health care services have never come close to meeting the needs of communities and the mentally ill. Consequently, de-institutionalization has meant that mental illness has been criminalized and the mentally ill, left to fend for themselves, have been made homeless or the primary denizens of local jails in a kind of revolving parade in and out of the local lockups -- where there are no services. 

From time to time, a mentally ill individual is beaten or shot to death by rampaging or fear-ridden police.

For them, there is no dignity, there is no justice, there is no community, and there most definitely is no peace.

The problem with providing services for de-institutionalized prisoner and de-policed citizens would be similar to the problem of providing mental health care services.

The providers would be looking to do as little as possible for as few as possible for as much money as possible. There would never be enough money to pay for enough service to those who need it. 

There are many problems with the over-policing and mass incarceration models of today, and they are hugely expensive, in many areas, policing and prisons are the biggest budget items by far. Community based services would be far less expensive, at least in theory. 

But would those services be provided? Could they be, given the way the public sector is organized and the way service providers operate? I would say it's highly unlikely, and different form of organizing communities and services is necessary.

We can't leave it up to paid consultants, elected representatives, and appointed administrators to do what is necessary. The communities themselves have to come together to make the required provisions -- whether the issue is mental health care or anything else.

The task is much bigger than simply getting rid of police or emptying the jails and prisons.

 Community building from the bottom up has to come first.

In future posts, I hope to get more deeply into some of the ideas and models that have been put forth as potential methods of doing away with police and prisons. Something has to be done about the multiple crises of homelessness, mental health care, over-policing and mass incarceration. Ending the patterns of abuse and killing that go with these crises is a good first step, but it's not enough.

I question whether Americans are prepared to come to grips with what is necessary, however.

Time will tell...

No comments:

Post a Comment