Police and Prison Abolition: Dreaming of a More Just, Less Violent World

Because Black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.

Huey P Newton (quoted in Bloom and Martin’s Black Against Empire)

To oppressed communities, the occupying army is never a liberator but only a powerful force of the empire that seeks to draw as many resources from the community as possible. In the era of neoliberalism, those resources tend to be of human capital. For various oppressed people within the United States, it looks similar. For Muslim and Near East, South-Asian people in the United States, they serve as intimate reminders of our War on Terror and the need to stockpile in the Military Industrial Complex. For Latin@s, it is the racialized threat of deportation, which extends in high-vulnerability times to more than just undocumented citizens – Latin@s in Anglo US are treated in ways similar to the orientalized Muslims. Native populations are still undergoing cultural and legalized genocide in order to lay claim to lands within the continent. And black Americans are inherently criminalized as a means of social and permanent-underclass control.

Human capital is capitalized through the Military and Prison Industrial Complexes as well as through managing and mitigating migration and migrant labor.

Early morning after Christmas, two black Chicagoans from the West side (just a couple miles from my residence and near where other family lives) were killed by police responding to a domestic dispute between a father and his nineteen year old son. The son – Quintonio LeGrier, an engineering student on leave from Northern Illinois University due to mental health issues – was carrying a bat and apparently threatening the father. The son was fatally shot, as was a downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, simply for opening her door. The father had called the police in an effort to get some help for his child, not accustomed to seeing him act in such a way.

LeGrier’s mother told media:

They did tell me he was shot seven times. That’s a bit much. That’s a bit much. I don’t take all of that. My son only weighed about 150 pounds. … Why do you have to be shot that many times? Why? If the police is trained in the field, then how, they’re just handling the situation by killing people?

The police cannot help. That is not their function or purpose. They are raised in a cop culture that treats them as hammers with every loose nail needing a violent solution. This is why they take down a fifty-three year old woman who pose no risk and a one-hundred and fifty pound teen with a baseball bat. They don’t second guess violent solutions because they are not trained to second guess violent and fatal resolutions when it comes to black lives.

LeGrier’s image held by his mother

Consider that, like the US and its military, nearly half of the general budget in Chicago goes towards the police. Consider also, according to the 2016 city budget, Chicago plans on releasing 319 officers from administrative work to directly police in “high crime areas” (p 12). For what purpose? What is a crime and who decides how to aid these communities?

The police are trained, but for what purpose? To police. To enforce borders. To minimize threats to the state and those it represents. In the United States, this threat is represented in the most intimate of ways not by white men who have caused most of the domestic and international violence in this country and through the world, but by the black population – those, as we know, forced into chattel slavery and substandard living conditions for the last four hundred years by the very white populations arming the police to intimidate, detain, and kill.

For the crime of policing – for the reasons of policing and the means of policing – we need reparations. African American and Native communities need recompense for the crimes of genocide, land-theft, chattel slavery and intentional bordering and how police have maintained these structures. Poor communities need recompense for wage and wealth theft and how the police have maintained these structures. But rather than make reparations, we are forced into racial and class policing, to keep us in line and keep the threat of blackness – which is to say the threat of resistance – at bay.

When we ask for accountability and control, we are given alternatives such as community policing, which acts as another way to police the community by training a small faction within – especially gentrifying areas – to police their own. Thus community members assist the police in restraining, detaining, reporting, and confiscating black and brown people.

CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, Chicago’s community & police organizing mechanism] is not an attempt to develop equal partnerships or to cooperatively address problems. They are efforts to police through the community, to enlist certain community figures and organizations to enhance the power and legitimacy of the police…

[C]ommunity policing is a misnomer. These programs result in neither democratic accountability of police agencies nor meaningful changes in police practices. Instead, they mobilize a small group of residents to provide a façade of legitimacy that allows policing to continue as usual. Community policing can result in more aggressive policing as “respectable” residents lobby to the officers to aggressively enforce low-level, nonviolent street crimes. (Counter-CAPS Report)

Rather than continue what does not work – arming and training a force towards violence and incarceration, aimed at poor and black citizens for the most petty of offenses – we need to reduce the police force by at least half and invest into making the community more safe, more whole, more responsive to its own needs. More livable for its own people.

Many of our problems are caused by the generational stigma of poverty and witnessing first-hand experiences of domestic and state violence. Children grow up with PTSD and have little recourse or guidance to deal with their anger in holistic means. Thus, survival becomes reactionary and even proactionary as several young people learn to strike-first or be killed. This is the state of detainment that we have become; not because Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with bad people without morals, but because our city deals with us immorally.

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Screengrab via Jason Berger. Acknowledgement to John W Brandkamp

A moral budget and a moral city hall would instead divest from the police and from our carceral systems. Instead of the armed and state-backed gang of police roaming the streets looking to escalate in order to terminate conflict, we should hire corps of counselors, clinicians, mental health workers looking to solve and reduce conflict. Job and skill training workshops that feed into actual jobs situated in the communities. Instead of divesting the communities through carceral justice, invest through schools and holistic, reformative justice. Turn empty lots into assisted living complexes, affordable fresh fruit stands, and health clinics built by and run by community members.

Yes, at first it’s going to cost more. It always does when there is generational trauma to pay back. But the investment far outweighs the daily toll of death and destruction.

This reinvestment is something we need to do because we’re human.

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