Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Black Women’s Defense League in Dallas, Texas

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Because reform won’t happen.

By Mariame Kaba (reprinted without permission from the NYT)

Ms. Kaba is an organizer against criminalization.
June 12, 2020

Congressional Democrats want to make it easier to identify and prosecute police misconduct; Joe Biden wants to give police departments $300 million. But efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.

Enough. We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police.

There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.

So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.

Now two weeks of nationwide protests have led some to call for defunding the police, while others argue that doing so would make us less safe.

The first thing to point out is that police officers don’t do what you think they do. They spend most of their time responding to noise complaints, issuing parking and traffic citations, and dealing with other noncriminal issues. We’ve been taught to think they “catch the bad guys; they chase the bank robbers; they find the serial killers,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, in an interview with Jacobin. But this is “a big myth,” he said. “The vast majority of police officers make one felony arrest a year. If they make two, they’re cop of the month.”

We can’t simply change their job descriptions to focus on the worst of the worst criminals. That’s not what they are set up to do.

Second, a “safe” world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death.

I’ve been advocating the abolition of the police for years. Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid of the police or simply to make them less violent — here’s an immediate demand we can all make: Cut the number of police in half and cut their budget in half. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. The idea is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.

History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.

The Lexow Committee undertook the first major investigation into police misconduct in New York City in 1894. At the time, the most common complaint against the police was about “clubbing” — “the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks,” as the historian Marilynn Johnson has written.

The Wickersham Commission, convened to study the criminal justice system and examine the problem of Prohibition enforcement, offered a scathing indictment in 1931, including evidence of brutal interrogation strategies. It put the blame on a lack of professionalism among the police.

After the 1967 urban uprisings, the Kerner Commission found that “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.” Its report listed a now-familiar set of recommendations, like working to build “community support for law enforcement” and reviewing police operations “in the ghetto, to ensure proper conduct by police officers.”

These commissions didn’t stop the violence; they just served as a kind of counterinsurgent function each time police violence led to protests. Calls for similar reforms were trotted out in response to the brutal police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the rebellion that followed, and again after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The final report of the Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing resulted in procedural tweaks like implicit-bias training, police-community listening sessions, slight alterations of use-of-force policies and systems to identify potentially problematic officers early on.

But even a member of the task force, Tracey Meares, noted in 2017, “policing as we know it must be abolished before it can be transformed.”

The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence. But police officers break rules all the time. Look what has happened over the past few weeks — police officers slashing tiresshoving old men on camera, and arresting and injuring journalists and protesters. These officers are not worried about repercussions any more than Daniel Pantaleo, the former New York City police officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death; he waved to a camera filming the incident. He knew that the police union would back him up and he was right. He stayed on the job for five more years.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.

What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response. Additionally, police officers themselves commit sexual assault alarmingly often. A study in 2010 found that sexual misconduct was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct. In 2015, The Buffalo News found that an officer was caught for sexual misconduct every five days.

When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.

People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.

When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.

Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) is the director of Project NIA, a grass-roots group that works to end youth incarceration, and an anti-criminalization organizer.

Kollaps und Mutualism

1906-san-francisco-earthquake-blend-shawn-clover-2
“1906 + 2010: The Earthquake Blend”
Website: shawnclover.com | via Laughing Squid

Since the lockdown/”PAUSE” order was issued here in so-called New York nearly a month ago, a group of friends and I have come together to discuss the current collapse/failure of the state and what we radicals might make in and of it. For our first session, we discussed technologist Vinay Gupta‘s concept of resilience maps (video below) and were lucky enough to be joined in discussion by Vinay Gupta himself. In one of the many fortuitious moments that have been sparked by the global pandemic, my friend tweeted at him and he just happened to be awake, quarantined at his home across the pond, and happy to walk us through the finer points of his SCIM threat modelling framework.

I quickly noted that this model could likely be spiffed up and fashioned as a response to (or furthering of — to be less of a shadethrower here) the current mostly-grassroots and largely apolitical disaster charity efforts that have been posing as “mutual aid”. By creating groups of actual mutuals and doing regular wellness checkins, maybe we could identify gaps and quickly help each other address them. Rather than wasting tons of food when what people might actually need is medicine or masks or bandages, maybe we could take the time to talk through needs and identify if there even were any for that particular day.

statefailuremap

The basic ideas that I have boiled it down to are twofold.

  1.  A daily checkin with 6 discreet questions:
    – Is anyone in your home too cold?
    – Is anyone in your home too hot?
    – Is anyone in your home hungry?
    – Is anyone in your home thirsty/needing water?
    – Is anyone in your home injured?
    – Is anyone in your home ill?
  2. A regular cadence to do more extensive mapping and addressing of threats beyond the domestic sphere (infrastructure challenges, transportation and logistics, security)

SCIM-1
The infrastructure map

We discussed this all for several weeks, and came up with many questions and few answers to how or if we wanted to proceed. So I figured a logical next step would be just to “open source” the thinking via this blog and see whether it would gain any traction. I will also share a few more resources unearthed during our brainstorming.

Questions 

  1. Are these the right questions?
  2. Is computerized technology an appropriate way to address this?
  3. Should this be an app or an SMS bot or something else?
  4. Where should the data live?
  5. How should the data be shared? (For my part, I liked the idea of anonymized time series data)
  6. Who should be able to join?
  7. Should it be a community of folks that know each other or just a geofenced open community?
  8. What about privacy?
  9. If privacy was coupled with anonymity, how do we meet needs? A centralized drop off point? A dating app-like mutual reveal and chat?
  10. Are frameworks developed for state purposes appropriate for autonomous mutual aid?

Resources

I’d love to continue this conversation with you either in the comments or via email. Drop me a line!

Gratitude: December 2018

The last few months have been tricky for me. In some ways they’ve been super fulfilling and in others they have been exceedingly frustrating. But through it all I’ve been grateful for my family, friends, comrades, and even strangers who’ve been eager to grab coffee or lunch and talk, offer help, or just join me in little adventures. I’m also exceedingly grateful for literature, music, culture, the pulse of humanity. Here are are few things in that vein that have keep my spirits up.

Panic At The Disco – Pray for The Wicked
I rediscovered this band (Well, it’s only one guy and a bunch of hired guns these days really, right? But whatever..) this year and this album is kinda corny but fantastic. Brendon Urie’s voice is gorgeous and the whole album never fails to lift my spirits.

Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman
This book was invigorating in a way I did not expect. As a person that has participated in direct action in the past, it was great to see myself and my peers reflected in this story as part of a legacy of global resistance.



Palestine Underground

Palestine Underground is a short documentary by Boiler Room about the lengths the young folks in the Palestinian hip hop and techno underground will go to get together and party. I was moved and inspired by their spirit and love of life despite the hardships of life in disputed territory.

Cindy Milstein on The Final Straw Radio
This is a long but crucial interview with a preeminent anarchist thinker on the topics of death, grief, mourning, care, and institution building. A lot of the things she has to say about building circles of care are close to my heart and the work we are doing in my collective CoLET.

Angélique Kidjo sings Blewu in front of world leaders for Armistice Day

I was exceedingly proud to receive this video of Angelique Kidjo singing this song in Ewe (my family’s language!!) to world heads of states as part of the Armistice Day Celebration. May the spirits of the ancestors do their best on this lot. Ay yi yi.

Here are the lyrics in English and then below in the original Ewe.

Blewu (by Bella Below) (lyrics translated into English)

Slowly slowly,
Gently, we will make it safely home,
Gently, we will make it safely home,
Slowly ;
Slowly, the leopard does not press his steps;
Softly, gently, the leopard does not press his steps;
The animal with tail does not jump over the fire;
Slowly.
God in whom we confide is the only one who knows our problems;
The Rich man we trust is the only one who knows our problems.
Stay awake, pray;
Stay awake, pray;
Even with a long life, one can not escape the Hereafter;
Even with a long life, you can not escape the Hereafter.
Gently, we will make it safely home,
Gently, we will make it safely home,
Slowly.

Blewu (by Bella Below) (in the original Ewe)

Blewue, blewue
Blewue mia d’aƒe lo
Blewue mia d’aƒe lo
Blewu
Đɔɖɔɖɔ Kpɔ̃ me yɔna azɔli o
Blewu, blewu
Kpɔ̃ me yɔna azɔli o
Lã to asike me da ata dzo o
Blewu
Mawu si me mieleeya koe nya mia agbemenyãwo
Tsuito si me miele, eya koe nya mia agbemenyãwo
Minɔ ŋudzɔ, mido gbe ɖa
Minɔ ŋudzɔ, mido gbe ɖa
Agbe nɔ kaka megbea Tseƒe mayi o
Agbe nɔ kaka megbea Tseƒe mayi o
Blewue mia d’aƒe lo
Blewue mia d’aƒe lo
Blewu

Rewrite the Docs

solidarityforever

Thanks to everyone who watched my talk at Write the Docs Portland 2018. The blogpost that it is based on is here and below are some links to the organizations I mentioned. The ones that accept donations are indicated with a $ sign:

Solidarity!

Gratitude: April 2018

You know the drill. Before the month is out, I just want to take a moment to give thanks for a few things that have been giving me (sorely-needed) life this month.

1) Drake’s “Nice for What?”

I’ve been having a tough month and this song and video came right on time. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history, folks.

2) BBCAmerica’s Killing Eve

killingeve

I have had a big crush on Sandra Oh ever since I saw her in the 1995 short film Prey with (the also swoon-worthy) Adam Beach. I unfortunately didn’t really dig Grey’s Anatomy so I was waiting for her next thing and am excited to be able to watch her as the lead every week in BBC America’s fantastic new crime thriller Killing Eve.  Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is also the star and writer of the excellent Fleabag on Amazon Prime) is genius and the villain played by Jodie Comer is creepy and brilliant. Three cheers for a thoroughly female-driven thriller!

3) Autonomy Institute’s “Keynes, Foucault and the ‘Disciplinary Complex’: a Contribution to the Analysis of Work” 

PrisonerCrew-1440x811

The Autonomy Institute is devoted to rigorous study of work. I am a big fan of everything they are doing to question the meaning of work and beginning to envision a post-work world. This article delves deep into work’s role as a means of creating and enforcing social order.  I encourage you to read it and then peruse the rest of their site as they are putting out a lot of great scholarship and commentary.

Fund What You Love

I’ll be honest: I don’t love my job and I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved any job I’ve ever had since I began my working life in earnest. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had several lovely work environments in beautiful offices with truly fantastic co-workers — many of whom I still count as my closest friends — but I’d still not call that loving my job.

No, I’ve had jobs from unbearable to perfectly survivable, and the older I get, the more I realize that here in late-stage capitalism, a job I love is not the goal, –being able to put time and money and resources into things I want to see flourish is. I don’t do what I love, I fund what I love.

By this I mean, I am a donor of my money and time and skills. I currently do unpaid work for at least five different groups and give money and/or advice to dozens more. I don’t work on the front lines of any efforts to cure the sick or free the encaged or smash the empire, but I do my best to give to groups that do. And I’m finally coming around to realizing that funds and funders matter.

I recently facilitated a dinner event attended by people from both the commercial and nonprofit spaces, and I noted a distinct snootiness towards people who hadn’t committed their lives to radical struggle defined as working in a cooperative or a foundation-funded NGO. I’ve encountered this sensibility throughout my journey as an independent activist/organizer and it’s lame and wrong. The “revolution” will no more be funded by large non-profit donors than it will by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

The truth is that the struggle has and will always require a diversity of tactics, as well as a diversity of funding and energy sources. The more we radicals understand and accept that, the easier it will be to start building cultures and structures of support that help us better share responsibilities and promote self/mutual care.

Activist guilt, that feeling that you constantly should be doing more for the movement, is real. Survivor/thriver guilt is real, but so is activist/organizer burnout and illness. If we embrace a model of funding what we love rather than doing what we love to death, we just might move our lives and efforts into balance, and begin modelling that new world we seek.

Gratitude: December 2017

A few things that have been making me happy recently.

The Improbable Dome Builders

charascover

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the brilliant thinker and architect R. Buckminster Fuller fell in with a ragtag group of Puerto Rican teenagers on the Lower East Side that came to be known by the name of CHARAS (a nonsense word combining the first initial of each member). Fuller would come down to the neighborhood and teach the young people geometry and how to build his geodesic domes.

They went on to revolutionize the neighborhood with a community-empowering eco-minded project of build renovation and self-education.  Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the soft release gathering for the re-release of this magical project here in Brooklyn at Pioneer Works where many of the original members spoke about this magical experience. You can read more about and buy the book here.

Build An Ark – “Dawn” (2007)


I’m revisiting the beautiful Build An Ark 2007 album “Dawn”. Good 70s jazz vibe. Highly recommended! Just click play above.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer 

Laugh if you want, but this old white man is saving my life daily. I heard about this book I think from Russell Brand, and I got it on audiobook. It first felt like a gut punch, but then I woman’d up and felt such relief. I’ve been recommending it to people left and right.

Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to make a serious run for president. She was underfunded and underappreciated but courageous and brilliant. Watch this document to learn your history and be reminded of the long history of liberal and Democratic “lesser evil”-ism that continues to lead people nowhere.

Gratitude: September 2017

A few things I was grateful for this month:

1) Sydette Harry’s AffectConf Talk


Finally! A talk at a tech conference by a black woman about *us* and how *we* survive and what *we* need.

2) Orphan Black

Orphan_Black_S5_Poster (1)

I realized I was a season behind so I raced through season 4 and am just rounding the corner on the final season. This show is amazing and its star Tatiana Maslany is the shit. No spoilers please!

3) The CoLET website

This summer I co-founded CoLET: The Collective for Liberation, Ecology, and Technology. It’s a much-needed space for politically radical technologists. We finally got our website to a good place. I am excited to make a radical intervention in tech spaces and a tech intervention in radical spaces. Our time is SO now. Check it out when you get a moment!

4) Bookchin on Streetfighting with Nazis back in the day

I’m still on a Bookchin kick and someone in the social ecology community sent along this timely clip. Know your history, people!

5) Jazmine Sullivan’s piece on The Outline about chat as a lifeline for black women.

outline

The piece is beautifully written and I love all the fancy animations and interactive Javascript they did.

6) In Flames radio show on NTS Live

These two women have gotten me through many a tough day and given me my whole life with their groovy, funky, punky selections on this monthly independent radio show brought to us live from the streets of London. I love you, Ruby and Josephine!!

Reportback from the 2017 ISE Annual Gathering

ISE2017
Good times with a gaggle of eco-revolutionaries

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going up to beautiful Vermont to take part in the annual gathering of the Institute for Social Ecology. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been delving into the work of activist-scholar Murray Bookchin, and the Institute for Social Ecology is an institution that he helped to found over 40 years ago. The annual event is a chance for eco-anarchists, ecofeminists, Green Marxists, libertarian communalists, and every other persuasion of social ecologist (who can afford to) to make the trek and gather in the dual spirit of conflict and collaboration.

Despite my objection (that were clearly voiced over the weekend) to the glaring whiteness of the gathering and the lack of focus on female voices, the three days were still so packed full of useful information and brilliant quotables that my hand started to cramp up from how feverishly I was taking notes.

While I won’t attempt to summarize everything that occurred, I will share a few of my favorite quotes, as well as links to interesting groups/gatherings I want to research and potentially useful further reading.

My Favorite Quotes from ISE 2017

  • “When someone accuses you of essentialism, reject the argument but then go on to refute the category.” – Ynestra King
  • “We’ve all learned that if you take control of the state, the state eventually takes control of you.” – Lincoln Van Sluytman
  • “The crisis of our time is that we haven’t really explored what it means to be political.” – Eleanor Finley
  • “Don’t just share the ‘conscience experience’; share the capital.” – Cora Roelofs

Further Reading

Groups/Events to Look Up