Resources that will help you imagine a world without police.
Author: Jessica Murdoch
There are a lot of people asking us to imagine a different world right now. It may seem kind of scary. Or confusing. And I bet you’re seeing a lot of words that are new to you, with a lot of conflicting definitions and explanations.
I have seen so many different explanations about what “defund” and “abolish” and “disband” mean. Out in the wild (and by that, I mean on social media) they seem to be used interchangeably, or with a lack of understanding about what they really refer to – particularly when they are being criticised.
Even people in good faith may have differing ideas.
That’s why it helps to read widely and broadly. Yes, this includes source material – not just interpretations of this material written into an easily digestible graphic (even though they can be a helpful starting point).
If I’m honest, trying to explain these issues is not what this piece is about. I’m not going to unpack the issues underscoring this topic, such as the history of police, police violence or transformative justice. Nor am I going to clarify how these narratives apply to the current #BlackLivesMatter movements around the world. That is being done regularly and much more effectively by many knowledgeable folks all over the internet (like the examples throughout this piece).
I am not an expert. I am just a person who is listening to so many people saying the system is broken, that it has been broken for a very long time.
This piece is for those of you who see that there is something not right with the current system, but at this stage, may not see how there can be any other options. Or perhaps, for those who can’t see how alternative options could possibly be implemented.
Honestly, that’s mostly where I am.
I can see that we have a problem, but I’m not sure that I understand how we’re going to go about fixing it.
If you are already vehemently opposed to the idea of defunding the police, this piece may not persuade you that we should be doing otherwise. I still encourage you to check out some of these resources, to make sure that you really understand what people are fighting for. This is simply a collection of resources I amworking through, in order to get my head around these ideas. If you are somewhere along the same path as me, this collection might be of use to you too.
I must note that as a white person, it’s really important for me to be careful and considered in the way I post about this type of political action. Bumbling into a conversation that we might be brand new to, and assuming we automatically have something original or useful to share is a trap. I certainly don’t want to place my voice at the centre of this conversation.
— Ashley (@ashley_quan) June 11, 2020
Many of us already lead a life largely free of police presence. This is due to the privilege of being white and having no previous offences to our names.
For many others, the world is very strikingly different.
Defunding the police would mean money would be directed to community services that could get to the root of numerous problems.
Many people are harmed by the current system. Black people and other people of colour, members of the LGBTQI+ community, refugees, people who are homeless or experiencing mental illness, sex workers, disabled people, and women in general can all be members of groups that experience unequal treatment. The system functions to give many of us the illusion of safety. But at what cost?
It is actively harming and killing many people and simply not working for many more – instead, it is upholding harmful systems of oppression.
Police may provide me with the perception that I’m safer, but is that truly more important than the active harm others are subjected to? Additionally, do the current systems actually keep us safe in the way we perceive? One of the most common arguments against police defunding is what about the murderers and rapists?
Professor Alex Vitale has spoken about how policing has become so integrated into the rest of our lives, and why he believes reforming the police systems are not enough to make change.
In an interview, when asked about serial rapists and murderers, his response is pretty straight-forward. “Of course I’m worried [about serial rapists and murderers]. That’s the whole point of this movement. We’re worried that we’re not doing a good job of catching murderers and rapists now. We need something that’s better.”
Vitale acknowledges that we may not know exactly what these strategies will look like. But looking at the root of the causes of this behaviour and committing to early intervention would a be much more effective way of with dealing with issues – especially those that stem from mental health crises and domestic violence cases. “Using guns and tasers is not the only way to deal with someone who is acting out. Often when we introduce someone with a badge and gun, we further destabilise the situation.”
In the same interview, Kimberly Foster points out that in domestic violence situations, victims often try to follow the correct procedures, but cannot be kept safe. “Police don’t prevent violence. It might postpone violence. It might postpone harm, but it is not really meaningfully intervening in the cycle that causes people to be killed.”
I don’t have all the answers for a better way. But I do believe they are out there. The fact is, the current system is actively harming and killing too many, and that’s reason enough for us to be actively looking for a better alternative. I want people to reach a place where they can acknowledge the current system is not working, and accept that not only is something better possible, but that people have already started to formulate these alternative ideas.
Just-cos-this-is-how-its-always-been isn’t a valid reason to uphold oppressive, harmful systems. Once, not so long ago, slaveholders believed the status quo was right. Lawmakers wouldn’t allow women or people of colour to vote. Different sexual and gender identities were, and largely still are, marginalised. All of these systems were created as ideas and they can, and have been, dismantled.
Many of us hear “abolish the police” and seem to think this is a new idea. The truth is, this is not a new concept. People have been researching and theorising alternatives to these current systems for a long time.
What it could look like:
“Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack.” —Ruth Wilson Gilmore. / via @mpd_150
I don’t think we should dismiss something because we don’t understand it, if we haven’t actually engaged with it on a deeper level.
We should be asking questions – not in search of disingenuous gotchas, but due to a genuine willingness to engage with, think about, and consider other possibilities.
Charlene Carruthers, in conversation with Kimberly Foster, talks about how important conversations are for those who are genuinely curious and interested, rather than asking questions to just be adversarial. She says, “we have a duty to come at it in a way that’s not condescending.”
In the same conversation, Derecka Purnell acknowledges the huge shift many of us will need to make. She says recognising and affirming people’s entry points to this conversation is essential – that a lot of what we believe about what is ‘natural’ has been socialised into us. “Everything we’ve been sold on, being interwoven into this American project, we have to start calling into question.” She recognises the need to push ourselves to think differently, pointing to her own experience of feeling overwhelmed by the politics around climate change, until she did the research. “When people hear police abolition and they think ‘oh my god it’s so overwhelming’, I have felt like that about climate change. Until I read a book.“
Reading through the comments on this video, there’s a fair amount of “…they’re not answering the questions!”; “I still don’t see what the alternative is supposed to be!”; “There’s no clear steps to what we have to do!” But I think they are all missing the point. I think this conversation is an example of these women talking through their ideas. They are demonstrating that there are no easy solutions, that this is an ongoing discovery of new ideas.
In another video in this series, Dr Brittney Cooper demonstrates that she is still working her way towards understanding abolition, and explicitly says, “I don’t like claiming positions that I haven’t worked my way through yet.”
As Kimberly identifies, the question of whether any of this is possible, is a big road block for many. Derecka points out that there are risks that will need to be taken and that it will take imagination and will.
I believe that if you’re looking for a simple answer, you’re not engaging effectively. People are talking about a complete change of a system here – there are no simple answers. We’re trying to shift entire mindsets as to how our whole world functions. This takes openness, and a willingness to work towards a different way of being – one that is unfamiliar for many of us.
The whole point of this conversation is to recognise there IS a problem and to be open to imagining alternatives. We’re so used to expecting a quick fix. A sound bite. An easy to digest idea. But these are not easy concepts. These are century old issues. They are complex and nuanced. We need to seek out the people who have been having these conversations, put our ego to the side and listen for a while.
If you’re not willing to go out and do the work of researching and deep learning? You probably aren’t ready to have this conversation.
We need to be willing to actively do the work.
Bookmark these links and resources.
Today, maybe start by checking out these introductions. Seek out and follow some of these people on social media. Listen. Read.
When you want to learn more, check out some of the longer articles and video resources.
If you still have more questions? Great! Check out the some of the books listed in these resources.
Changing the world is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.
I want to reiterate that it is vital to be centering Black voices (especially Black women), within my research on these topics. Most of the work and resources I’ve collected here reflect that.
If this is something that you believe is important, if you really do believe that Black lives matter, the very least we can do is read, watch and listen to what has been put out into the world for us already. Many people have put in the work to create these resources, but we can’t expect to be spoon-fed everything.
Kimberly Foster (whose voice on a whole range of concepts and ideas are worth listening to) has been doing an excellent series of videos where she is exploring a range of these ideas. Within these videos, she brings in a range of people who have been doing the work around this area for a long time – some more than 35 years!)
Writers, activists, academics who featured in the videos I quoted:
Further reading and resources:
A comprehensive collection of local resources:
The header image for this article was photographed by our regular contributor Rachel Lloyd-Owens, and taken at Melbourne’s June Black Lives Matter rally.