Neighborhoods across the nation are in midst of major changes. As they occur, conversations at the local, state and national levels are shining light on countless examples of ongoing brutality from police in already vulnerable communities. In the Bay area for example, where gentrification is on the rise, 311 (nonviolent) calls have gone up almost 300% in neighborhoods like the Mission District, which has been home predominantly to people of color and low income inhabitants.
Finding alternatives to calling 311 or 911 are vital for communities impacted by surges in police reports that disproportionately impact certain populations.
So, what do you do when an emergency happens? Who, besides the police, do you call if someone is shot or has an argument? How do you address a neighborhood situation without calling the police?
Truthout published a great article in 2015 on two projects that supported alternatives to calling police during an emergency. More recently TESA came across a resource called: What to do Instead of Calling the Police; A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A Process. The resource is intended to be an educational tool for those who seek alternatives to the surmountable issues caused by racial, economic and cis-gender favoritisms enforced by our current police system. It has some powerful resources, like Alternatives to Policing Projects, Apps for Coordinating Community, and Resources on Racism & Policing.
Educator, curriculum developer, and activist Aaron Rose created the document, and recognizes that nothing new is being done here. The clear difference however, is that it’s been created not only from Aaron’s resources, but also from contributors across the country vis-a-vis live online contributions.
Other activists, organizers, and educators have been logging on live to collectivize in real time too. Previously, organizers, librarians, educators and activists across the country came together in light of the recent shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and created the #PulseOrlandoSyllabus.
Aaron took some time from his busy schedule last week to talk more with us about reasons this resource was created, and how it can be put into action in your community.
TESA: What prompted this project, on a personal level?
Aaron: What I felt was missing in mainstream white progressive spaces – really, what I was hearing others say was missing – was a truly abolitionist critique of the police state and practical resources for shifting power away from the police and toward alternatives. White people in my life were saying – ok I get it, the police are racist, but what do I do when I’m mugged, what do I do when I see someone hit their child, what do I do when my neighbor is blasting music at 3am for the third night in a row? Obviously the movement for the abolition of the police has a long important history, and there are many great case studies of communities taking back control over their emergency response and conflict resolution procedures. However, these resources weren’t showing up in the mainstream white progressive conversation about police brutality, and I’m eager to change that.
I’m an educator and curriculum writer by trade, so I’m always very inclined to curate resources and synthesize findings around a specific, timely question like this. I like to ask hard questions and then provide the space for people to explore them and find solutions together.
TESA: What prompted the creation of this resource on a greater movement level?
Aaron: Many mainstream “progressive” white people in the U.S. have a fairly good analysis of racial justice – they understand that they live in a society that privileges whiteness, call out every day acts of racism in the workplaces and homes, they show up to protests.
But there’s a gap. A gap between understanding that we live in a racist police state and beginning to take steps to dismantle it.
A gap between feeling a deep sadness at the murder of people of color and feeling a true willingness to take on the discomfort of confronting our complicity in this system and our responsibility to push back against the safety and security that whiteness affords us.
A gap between understanding that the police do not keep everyone safe and actively working to stop seeking the protection and intervention of the police in situations where we have been told that they are our only option.
Many white people imagine (and want to fight for) a world in which innocent people are not murdered by our government, but we haven’t yet done the collective work to undo our conditioning around calling the police, to articulate what community safety and security looks like without them, and to do the hard work of building those alternatives.
TESA: What do you hope to come out of people viewing and utilizing this resource?
Aaron: I hope that this document will provide people with the tools they need to start conversations in their communities about shifting power away from the police. I hope that white people in particular will use this as a starting point for educating themselves so they can feel more prepared to answer the question, Ok, but what do you suggest we do if we get rid of the police?
I’m hopeful that people will see opportunities to take an initial harm reduction approach to policing – When can we decide not to call 911? How can we build relationships with our neighbors so the next time there’s a crisis, we can work together rather than summoning police intervention? How can we take small steps in the right direction?
We’re not going to accomplish this overnight, but the first step is acknowledging that it must be done. I think there is a lot of power in collectively asserting that abolition is essential and that we are actively engaged in bringing it about.
TESA: How can people contribute to this document – or view it?
Aaron: Folks can view it here, and email alternativestopolice at gmail dot com to contribute resources or suggest edits to the content or tone of the doc. I want to remain an accountable steward of this resource and will gladly make space for others to guide its development. I am carefully curating this document but it would not exist without the hard work of all of the people whose articles and case studies are included.
Featured image via Chris Wieland on Flickr, used via Creative Commons