The Community Safety Act is Not Enough

This was originally read at the Black Lives Matter Day of Action in Providence, RI on July 21st 2016, which was organized by White Noise Collective RI and The STEP UP Coalition to Pass the Community Safety Act. Press coverage of the demonstration can be found on RIFuture, who also captured video of this commentary.

Freedom will never be achieved through legislation or gradual reform. We cannot keep appealing to the State through politicians, nonprofits, or the courts. The only way to combat police power is to organize forms of popular power and mass community self-defense. We need to move beyond momentary mobilizations of performative militancy and shift into ongoing organizing against the power of police within our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.

The ideas of “police accountability” and “police-community relations” are a myth.

Police cannot be held “accountable” because policing occurs beyond the bounds of the law. Although their legitimacy was first granted to them by the white supremacist capitalist State, they have become a self-governing power unto themselves. This means that regardless of the strength of internal affairs departments or external review agencies, police officers will be able to circumvent the law and undermine even the most well-written policies. The reason for this is because police officers, with the backing legitimacy of the the State through their department and the courts, have the power to record their own self-affirming truth that always posits them as the victim acting in self-defense. Their “truth,” then, automatically outweighs that of their victims. The problem shouldn’t be seen as one with the use of excessive force. The problem should be with the use of force altogether. Let’s not forget the lessons our movement-mother, Ida B Wells, taught us about lynch-law in the early 1900s – “Those who commit the murders write the reports.”

The phrase “police-community relations” is code-word for a sophisticated PR strategy. Hiring more Black cops won’t do anything to alleviate or eliminate the problem at hand. Implicit anti-black racism cuts across race – it doesn’t matter of the officer is White, Black, Latino, Asian, or Native. Half of the officers that killed Freddy Gray were Black – and they too were let off by the courts. If we reach back just about 16 years ago here in Rhode Island, the Providence Police Department killed a Black officer – Cornell Young Jr. – who was not in uniform. The badge won’t protect you nor will it protect any of us.

The longer we spend our energy trying to convince politicians to pass legislation and do things on our behalf, the less energy we spend building power on our own terms as poor and working-class racialized people. More often than not, reforms are weaponized against the populations they were initially intended to “help.” Let us remember: reform creates a deadlier machine.

Many people will say that we can do both and advocate for an inside/outside strategy with the State, but what this ignores is that the chambers of legislation and the courts are the terrain of the enemy. The State is not a neutral force – it has a class-bias that favors property owners, the rich, and whites by default. This means that even with the most well written laws, the interests of the property-owning class will always prevail and override the will of the racialized oppressed masses.

The police, the prison, and the State cannot be reformed or negotiated with- they must be abolished.

Beyond the CSA’s language of reform that legitimizes the power of police and the State, we propose that the movement against police violence adopt the goals of disempowering, disarming, and disbanding the police altogether through working-class solidarity and militant direct action. We must organize against police power in our daily lives and turn every school, neighborhood, and workplace into a harm-free no-cop-zone.

In future posts, we will be providing analysis and commentary about local developments pertaining to the broader movement against police violence.

For further reading

On the limits of reform

Understanding police power

Police abolition

Organizing against police power


* A note on nonprofits – pertaining to the environmental movement, yet still applicable: “WE MUST CREATE SPACE to critique the non-profit industrial complex as well as the neocolonial & green capitalist agendas of the Big Greens financing/organizing logistics for events like the Peoples Climate March WITHOUT EQUATING those critiques as invizibilizing or invalidating the work of frontline communities (especially indigenous [Black,] and POC) and grassroots organizations who organize/participate in those events.” — Kat Yang-Stevens

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