In the past few weeks, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and George Floyd at the hands of police have sparked international outrage. Many folks have rightly been organizing, protesting, donating money, and initiating difficult conversations about anti-racism and police accountability. This work is crucial, and I hope will continue long after the current media spotlight has waned — not least because the inclination to call the police to address even the most mundane and non-illegal circumstances seems to be hardwired into certain portions of the US population. (I’m looking at you, Amy Coopers of the world.)
If you’ve been on social media this week, you’ve likely seen growing calls to defund the police. Such calls stem not from wishful, utopian thinking but from a very urgent need to fundamentally shift understandings of the role police have played and should play in our society. As both Olivia B. Waxman and William C. Anderson have astutely pointed out, police forces are a relatively modern invention and were originally invented to protect property (or in the case of runaway enslaved people, those deemed property). Police forces are not a founding element of any democratic society and yet many folks rarely stop and think about the efficacy or logic behind their outsized role in US society. As sociologist Alex S. Vitale, who has written extensively on the limits and problems of policing, discussed with NPR’s Code Switch
Part of our misunderstanding about the nature of policing is we keep imagining that we can turn police into social workers … police are violence workers. That’s what distinguishes them from all other government functions, is that they have the legal capacity to use violence in situations where the average citizen would be arrested.
As many of us continue to protest, provide care, and organize in the wake of these latest instances of police brutality, it’s equally crucial to spend some time reading and learning. This week the Brooklyn Movement Center, a Black-led community organizing group based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is leading a teach-in on defunding the NYPD and repealing 50-A, a New York State statute that shields police from necessary oversight as it pertains to misconduct.
Verso Books is likewise offering free access to ebook copies of Vitale’s illuminating text The End of Policing, which advocates for a “systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake” and attempts to develop evidence-based alternatives. Verso is also offering free ebook downloads of David Correia and Tyler Wall’s Police, A Field Guide, an illustrated handbook that is meant to serve as a “survival manual for encounters with cops and police logic.”
Last but not least, the digital art and culture platform Rhizome has published “Digital Resources for a Movement Against Police Violence,” a guide which includes strategies, readings, security app recommendations, and other resources.
Where: online, via Brooklyn Movement Center
When: June 4, 6–7:30pm EDT
See Brooklyn Movement Center’s event page for more details.