Building a World Beyond Policing | Sojourners

Building a World Beyond Policing

Our nation is in profound distress. Cities across the U.S. are literally on fire, sparked by the inhuman action of four Minneapolis police officers. For the suspected offense of using a counterfeit $20 bill, these officers publicly executed George Floyd in broad daylight. Public consciousness has been rightfully shocked by the callous action of Derek Chauvin and the complicit acquiescence of three additional officers. Far from a deviation, though, the actions of these officers and subsequent heavy-handed response of police to protests across the country are a logical extension of their intended purpose.

Police are on the front lines of preserving and defending the original sin and founding myth of this nation: racial hierarchy. The United States project was crafted to be a beacon of whiteness, and its self-preservation is its ultimate concern. One of the protest chants that has characterized the Black Lives Matter movement confronts this reality by asking: Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” Directed toward police forces, who are often shielded in full riot armor, this cry rising up from the streets bears witness to an ugly truth many dare not acknowledge: the police exist to serve and protect whiteness.

As such, the identify of any given officer is irrelevant because each is entangled in a system vested in maintaining this norm. This woefully misguided project, however, does not reflect the people of this nation, and is therefore inherently unsustainable. So-called white supremacy, in forms that are either unapologetic or insidious, is morally bankrupt, failing, and a force of evil in our present age that must be rejected. The transformation of white supremacy, as theologian Kelly Brown Douglas has suggested, is insufficient; All systems preserving this toxic myth must be dismantled. 

As has been demonstrated in cities across the nation in recent days, any challenge to the false peace provided by this myth summons the full force of its merciless power. Anyone that dares expose and defy this social contract — including white protestors, senior citizens, children, and homeowners standing on their own front porches — will be brutalized. This brutality is a rational action of a police state founded on the lie that only “white” people are entitled to full humanity. But, far from reasonable, this is entirely non-sensical. It is imperative that we consider a world beyond policing.

Abolition begins with a practice of imagination. We must first ask: What might a world where there is no need for police forces actually look like? A potential answer might include some of the following: crime-free cities, safe neighborhoods without the threat of violence, mutual aid networks that encourage community care and support structures that ensure the wellbeing of all citizens, systems for holding people accountable when harm is done and processes for ensuring the rehabilitation of those that cause harm, and social rituals for grief and healing following tragedies. Considering this vision for thriving community, do our current systems facilitate this possibility? If not, how do we move towards a future that ensures common flourishing?

The complexities in answering this question have been long wrestled with by critical visionaries like Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Ora Schub and many practitioners in the realm of transformative and restorative justice. Indeed, eradicating our reliance on policing is an intimidating task, but here’s a few steps to make that desired future an actual reality:

1) Divest from policing: Before deciding to call the police, first ask yourself, “Is this disturbance worth ending someone’s life?” If there is no immediate threat to life, do not call the police.

2) Defund the police: The militarization of police departments is inexcusable, but the police fundamentally serve as a de facto military force and it is not enough to merely take away tanks and military-grade weapons. Rather than rewarding failing police departments with multi-million dollar increases in spending, we should reappropriate tax-payer funding to institutions genuinely committed to advancing the well-being of the people.

3) Invest in community-based alternatives. Community-based restorative justice organizations like RJOY in Oakland, Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation in Chicago, and Roca in Boston and Baltimore are working to disrupt the patterns of violence and incarceration by building community, addressing trauma, and providing opportunities out of poverty. Non-punitive, transformative alternatives already exist. Support them.

4) Support officers in exiting the police-industrial complex. Like all of us, police officers depend on their occupation for their livelihood and are incentivized to not confront the injustices they witness. Considering the toll it must take on the souls of those who willingly relinquish their humanity to dehumanize others, what might it look like to create support systems that encourage officers to themselves divest from policing?

A biblical mandate for abolition exists. The public ministry of Jesus Christ began with a bold public proclamation of liberation and liberty for captives and the oppressed. While U.S. policing wreaks havoc with impunity, state-sanctioned violence is snuffing out life after life, senseless provocation is destroying the immense good that exists in our communities. A different reality, though — one rooted in mutual flourishing — is possible. As the seams of our social fabric come undone, it is our duty to build a world beyond policing.

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