Welcome to Issue 12.3 of Digestable, your daily mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
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Today’s news, fermented:
Yesterday, I called 311, Boston’s hotline for city questions, problems, and comments.
The person I was speaking to had that drawl of someone who automatically assumes everyone else is dumb. I said, “I want to recommend that Mayor Walsh defund the Boston Police and redistribute that funding to community-led health and safety programs.”
The response: “You want there to be no police in Boston.”
I said yes, and then was asked if I wanted to leave my name or not. I thought about it for a moment, picturing what it’d be like to deliver hundreds, thousands, of anonymous recommendations that the Boston police be defunded. I said, anonymous is fine.
The response: “I thought so.” And then the line went dead.
Although I am wary of comparing this 311 operator, who I know nothing about, to other folks in conversation about abolishing police, I think there is a common thread here—that for most Americans, it’s hard to picture a police-less society, even if we recognize the problems of policing.
Yes—it is complicated and multi-faceted to remove a piece of our society that is old and ingrained, and that people in power rely on to protect their positions (which they probably got into because of a long history of white supremacy!). I imagine there are a lot of discussions going on about if these protests will ‘calm down’ or ‘fizzle out’ and white people will go back to unapologetically looking the other way when Black people are killed by police.
But this is different. Now, there is a clear demand, and a clear potential, to effect genuine change in the role police play. One of the Movement for Black Lives’ core demands is Invest/Divest, which lays out what it could look like to invest in Black people, communities, and the planet, and divest from police, from military equipment, from fossil fuels. Non-Black people would also benefit tremendously from this kind of reallocation of funds. This is a perfect example of how the specific liberation of some people supports the general liberation of all people. We cannot have justice until we all have it.
I saw a tweet the other day that said something like, ‘if you can’t imagine a world without police, try being a middle class white person in a suburb,’ implying that some of the people who are most ideologically unopposed to police get to live free of interference from them.
So what would it look like? Can we all start having conversations about implementing this vision in the places where we live?
Last night, as my partner and I were eating dinner, we made a list of the first 10 scenarios in which we could imagine someone calling the police. Then we went through each one and figured out what kind of person or equipment was needed to actually respond to the situation. None of them required cops.
In “What a World Without Cops Would Look Like,” Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, talks about just that. Often (surprise!) reducing and abolishing policing goes hand in hand with other systemic changes, like decriminalizing low-level offenses. There’s no magic single alternative to policing—the same way that policing is not the magic single response to the tremendous range of things that lead people to call the police.
The potential for this systemic change is ripe, and this is making folks who live and thrive off of the destruction of Black lives—whether it’s profiting off of prison labor, getting a fat pension from a police union, owning real estate that was built by underpaid (or enslaved) workers—really nervous.
I’ve already written about this this week, but I will again. All that fake stuff on Twitter about knocking down the Washington Monument, media focus on looting rather than injustice and protesting—and most importantly, the astonishing PR stunt pulled off by our ‘president’—is in the interest of portraying protestors, and specifically Black people, as violent. These efforts serve to shore up the ‘need’ for police to ‘keep people under control’.
“They’re Trying to Gaslight Us to Death” lays out how far the people and institutions fighting tooth and nail to maintain white supremacy as the law of this land will go. It’s far.
Angry? Me too. Don’t forget to participate in the Movement for Black Lives’ week of action; today is Day 3. And really, the action steps outlined here aren’t just for today. They build us toward the big long fight that cannot wait any longer.
Some good news: Ella Johnson was elected yesterday to be the first Black woman mayor of Ferguson, Missouri. As we know, elected officials are only as effective as their constituents’ needs and demands (ahem, Jacob Frey? Bill deBlasio? Two white men but still Democrats), but still a good sign.
Back tomorrow from the superb Latifah Azlan.