Do police in the United States keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do history and global context explain recent police killings of young Black people in the US? And what alternative ways might there be to keep communities safe? These are the questions explored in Truthout’s first print collection, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States. Click here to order the book already hailed as “an invaluable resource” and “an indispensable primer” on the movement against police impunity.
The authors in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? comprise a wide range of reporters, organizers, writers and thinkers. Below, we introduce you to just some the book’s contributors, and ask them to answer the question: What is the future of resistance against racist police violence in the United States?
Alicia Garza is an organizer, writer, and freedom dreamer living and working in Oakland, California. She is the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. In the foreword for Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, she discusses “the evolution of modern day policing, the upsurge that has emerged to fight back against police violence and its corresponding ills of poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement,” and offers “some ideas towards a vision of a society without police.”
What’s next? Resistance to police violence will continue to increase, particularly as we can expect a correlating increase in not just use of force, but the use of military grade weapons and other containment and suppression strategies. As economic insecurity and racial tensions increase (as demonstrated by the rise of white supremacist hate groups and white militias), we will also likely see an increase in extrajudicial violence — violence carried out by vigilantes in the name of the state. Though this paints a bleak picture, the future has a possibility of being bright if there is a global movement that emerges that connects the epidemic of police violence to economic inequality, mass incarceration, corporate greed and privatization, and the crisis in the environment.
William C. Anderson is a freelance writer who has been published extensively at Truthout as well as by the Guardian, MTV and Pitchfork among others. He is a contributing editor covering race, class, and immigration at the Praxis Center for Kalamazoo College. His essay in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? talks about the symbolism of the killing of Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang by the LAPD in March 2015, and in Anderson’s words “raises the need for a cohesive Black international movement against state violence.”
What’s next? When raising the question of future resistance to police violence, we should recognize that many answers lie in the rigorous histories of struggle against oppression throughout this nation. Though technology advances and institutions adapt to changes in time, the past has much to teach us about now. Those who can should call upon their understanding of their location in proximity to the oppressive hands of the state and work efficaciously to disrupt it as much as possible. The police are not a solution, they are a problem. Any and every belief that contributes to idea that the police state is acceptable effectively makes normal its abhorrent violence.
Candice Bernd is an editor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her chapter in the book explores the obstacles that traditional emergency medical workers face when they are dispatched in conjunction with police, and looks at the ways in which community organizations are working to provide emergency medical alternatives that are not married to a policing apparatus. “For example,” as she tells us, “organizers in Oakland, California and Eugene, Oregon are working both within and outside of the system to minimize vulnerable populations’ contact with the police in tense and volatile situations.”
What’s next? The future of resistance against racist police violence will be one that emphasizes principles of decentralization, horizontalism and autonomy, and one that recognizes the limitations of trying to imitate the same centralized power structures within the state that we are fighting to dismantle. Centralized organizing structures are not only susceptible to co-option and defeat, they also tend to consolidate power, monopolize legitimacy and recreate hierarchies that produce power and oppression, and that reduce organizations (and the individuals that comprise them) to their lowest common political denominators. Just as biodiversity in nature strengthens ecosystems, our movements’ strength hinges on a diversity of strategies, ideologies and identities.
Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, CA, a staff writer for Daily Kos, the co-host of a weekly news show on the Pacifica Radio network and the author of No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant and Reparations… Not Yet: A Case for Reparations and Why We Must Wait. For her chapter “Heeding the Call: Black Women Fighting for Black Lives That Matter,” she spoke with a cross-section of Black women involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. “I wanted to know how and why they became involved,” she says, “and what motivates them to continue.”
What’s next? The future will show us continuing to make the connections between policy and budgetary priorities and how redirecting those priorities are what will make our communities safe; while simultaneously holding accountable those political leaders who fail to assist us in keeping our communities safe (#ByeAnita, #ByeTim, #ByeKen, #ByeJackie). The future of resistance against racist police violence looks like continued confrontation against those who murder with impunity and those who employ them at their places of work, worship and play, giving life to the protest chant, “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.” Business as usual shall no longer continue when people are murdered extra-judicially, with no accountability. The future will ultimately show marginalized and oppressed communities, racialized and economically terrorized communities, protecting themselves from the state.
Ejeris Dixon is an organizer and grassroots political strategist with 15 years of experience, and an expert on issues of police violence, hate violence, sexual violence and intimate partner violence as they impact LGBTQ communities and communities of color. In her words, her chapter in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? “seeks to be a bridge between our current political moment and the world we’re building toward… I reflect upon my lessons learned and the challenges and questions that remain based on my experience with building community based safety systems.”
What’s next? My dream for the movement against racist police violence is coordination and cohesion. For too long we’ve talked about the need for alternative ways to address violence within and against our communities and our desire to end racist state violence. However our ability to coordinate across issue, ideology and identity hasn’t always been as strong our ideals. Transformative justice organizers and anti-state violence organizers need to continue to be in conversation and coordination to address violent systems now and to create safety for the future. We must recognize the painful and deep divides that “call out” culture has created and push ourselves to hold each other accountable without throwing people away. As a black queer woman I don’t believe we have the luxury to wait for the perfect moment to align our strategies and movements. I crave the messy hard conversations that we need about our politics, visions, and goals so that we can ultimately win.
Alison Flowers is an investigative journalist and the author of Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence and Identity. Flowers works at the award-winning Invisible Institute and is a fellow with the Social Justice News Nexus, an investigative journalism project supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Her chapter is an investigation, co-authored with Sarah Macaraeg, into the first wave of publicly available police misconduct complaint data released in Chicago in 2014, which revealed that even when a high number of misconduct and abuse complaints have been filed by citizens, often the only change in a police officer’s status is a promotion or commendation.
What’s next? Racist police violence does not exist apart from us. Citizens must assume their co-responsibility in holding law enforcement agencies, and the cities that support them, accountable. One means by which citizens can achieve a measure of transparency, is through pushing for open records and data. The majority of states do not have policies that make police misconduct data public. For those that do, citizens should leverage the power of technology to make these records viewable, searchable and available to communities, lawyers, journalists and others. Before rushing to a prescription for police violence — though we need those, too — we need an accurate diagnosis of the problem, one that confronts public officials with hard facts and undeniable truths.
Sarah Macaraeg is an investigative journalist whose Chicago police investigations have appeared in The Guardian, Truthout and Vice. Her work has been cited by Al Jazeera, ColorLines and Fusion, and she has been awarded fellowships from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, International Center for Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She and Alison Flowers describe their collaboration in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? as “a biopsy of a larger system where the majority of misconduct complaints — as well as shootings — go undisciplined.”
What’s next? After Michael Brown’s killing, mainstream media made a beat of police shootings. And after the scandal surrounding the video of Laquan McDonald’s death, the Chicago Police Department became a focus of news outlets across the country. Some of this coverage has been impactful and I hope there’s sustained attention on oversight of the police in Chicago by the media. But I think that reporting that has soul — that respects the humanity of victims and survivors of police violence; that seeks to incorporate a sense of solutions and not only problems; that does not sensationalize a single act of egregious violence, but aims to uncover the various forms of systemic violence that criminalized communities face every day — will continue to be produced largely by independent media.
Kelly Hayes is a direct action trainer and a co-founder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is community engagement associate and a contributing writer at Truthout, and blogs at Transformative Spaces. Her contribution to the anthology, “Our History, Our Dreams: Building Black and Native Solidarity,” stems from her work as an organizer against state violence. “Examining Brown and Black solidarity from both a historical and contemporary perspective,” she says, “the piece is an exploration of the harms that have driven Black and Native people apart, and the hope that can bring our peoples together in struggle.”
What’s next? While we see the repetition of historical patterns in some areas of resistance, those cycles have brought new voices, innovations and ideas to the current historical moment. This era of resistance is marked by ideas about prison abolition, trans- and queer-inclusive ideologies and transformative vision. In the world of movements, change requires the simultaneous development of culture, community and action. While campaigns and political performance can fall within the scope of movements, they are not, in of themselves, the substance of movements. We are living in a culture of white supremacy that has set its victims against one another and disarmed the imaginations of those who feel its injustice, but see no way forward. Today, people aren’t simply taking to the streets and running campaigns. They are challenging the assumptions of an oppressive society, and they are learning to dream again. For the first time in many of our lives, we can imagine what freedom looks like, and envision a world with emptied cages, where solutions are built rather than inflicted. Instead of fashioning the police — the violent arm of the state — into a hero class, our communities are embracing their own heroism. They are transforming the harms we all experience, and the harms we all perpetuate. The change we seek won’t come without interconnection, and it won’t come without love, solidarity and a willingness to fight as we never have before. But it will come. I am sure of that, because I’ve seen a chapter of this history being written in real time, and I can see a freer world foreshadowed in the streets.
In Oakland, California, Rachel Herzing fights the violence of policing and imprisonment as co-founder of Critical Resistance (a national grassroots organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex), and as co-director of the StoryTelling & Organizing Project, a community resource sharing stories of interventions to interpersonal harm that do not rely on policing, imprisonment or traditional social services. In a period of calls for police reform, her chapter “Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future” asks: Is now the time to move toward the abolition of policing?
What’s next? The future of resisting the violence of policing must extend beyond its most exceptional instances to really get at disrupting the day-to-day hold it has on our lives and reducing our contact with it. Our ability to build the stable, healthy communities we need depends on it.
Adam Hudson is a journalist and musician based in the San Francisco Bay Area, who has covered US foreign policy and national security, Guantanamo, police brutality and gentrification for Truthout, AlterNet, Al Akhbar English, teleSUR English and The Nation. His chapter in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is about Homan Square, a domestic “black site” (secretive detention facility) in Chicago where police take people for off-the-books interrogation, often including torture. “I argue that Homan Square reflects a norm — rather than a deviation — from US national security and legal policy.”
What’s next? This fight is far from over. Here in the Bay Area, we just witnessed five brave souls endure a 17-day hunger strike to fire San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr and push for more reforms within the police department. And they won! Partially, at least: That hunger strike led to the resignation of Greg Suhr, which is a significant victory. This is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the country, in terms of challenging police brutality. Things will continue to heat up.
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. Her first book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, examines organizing in women’s jails and prisons across the country. Her next book, co-written with Maya Schenwar, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative and far-reaching solutions to truly end mass incarceration. She says her essay in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? asks: “What forms of violence do police enact against pregnancy and pregnant women’s bodily autonomy? How do both the criminalization of pregnancy and the arrests and incarceration of pregnant women constitute their own forms of police violence?”
What’s next? The movement is currently expanding definitions of police violence to include other forms of law enforcement and state violence. #SayHerName is one example of organizers drawing attention to the fact that police violence isn’t limited to (cisgender) men. We’re also seeing the recognition of how #WalkingWhileTrans often results in police violence and, more recently, the policing of gender through bills that criminalize everyday actions like using public restrooms. The future of resistance to racist police violence needs to recognize all of these disparate forms of violence and to connect organizing to them all.
Mike Ludwig is an investigative reporter at Truthout. His chapter in the anthology, originally written as a suggested new year’s resolution, is “about how resolving not to call the police is more than a boycott or a political protest.” Mike says: “It’s the beginning of a thought process and a dialogue, both internal and external, that challenges us to build new relationships and dream about a free world.”
What’s next? Louisiana recently added police officers to the classes of people covered by the state’s hate crime law, allowing judges to tack on five years to a prison sentence for anyone convicted of committing a “hate crime” against them. This “Blue Lives Matter” law is an insult to people who actually experience hate, and the law will extend sentences for activists and marginalized people in a state that already has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Cops are backed by a criminal legal system set up to acquit them of even the most serious crimes — they need no extra “protection” from the public. In fact, it’s the other way around. Nowhere is this more evident than in Louisiana, where jails have become debtors’ prisons and queer and transgender youth of color have called out the police for profiling and abusing them. Indeed, the Black Youth Project 100 organized some of the most vocal opposition to the hate crime law, and we should all be listening. Youth of color and queer and gender-nonconforming youth are the future of police resistance not just because they are young, but also because they are often the ones most harmed by police. They know what’s up. Their lived experiences and leadership should not just inspire us to resist police, but also to guide us towards new systems of accountability that can ultimately replace the police state.
Nicholas Powers is the author of The Ground Below Zero: 9/11 to Burning Man, New Orleans to Darfur, Haiti to Occupy Wall Street and an associate professor of English at SUNY Old Westbury. He authored the first chapter of our collection: “Killing the Future: The Theft of Black Life,” which he says coalesces his years of reporting on police brutality. “I wrote about the deep, grief of parents whose children were killed by police. And the long history of violence against the Black body.”
What’s next? The future of resistance against racist policing must build on street protests and “copwatching” squads with electoral strategies. We need progressive politicians to end for-profit prisons, legalize drugs, enable community oversight of law enforcement, establish special prosecutors for cases of police brutality and demilitarize the police. Overall, we need a cultural push to change our narrative of crime so that the hyper-visibility of working class crime is reduced when seen in its proper proportion to the nearly invisible corporate and ruling class-perpetrated, institutional crime.
Roberto Rodriguez, PhD (Dr. Cintli) is an associate professor at the Mexican American & Raza Studies Department at the University of Arizona. He is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including Justice: A Question of Race, which chronicles his two police brutality trials. Says Dr Rodriguez of his chapter in the Truthout anthology, which addresses state violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, “After researching this topic for some 40 years, I have little doubts that this violence is not new. I believe that on this continent, it is the same violence brought over by the Conquistadors since 1492, and it affects the very same peoples: the red-black-brown peoples of this nation.”
What’s next? The future of resistance will be multifaceted. One critical area of importance is to compile and put together a case to be taken before the international criminal courts of the Organization of American States and the United Nations. That’s why these courts were designed; for when the courts at home do not function. And if there is something that virtually everyone agrees with it is that on the issue of law enforcement violence, the courts do not work at home. As a survivor of that violence, I certainly do not believe in the US judicial system.
Eisa Nefertari Ulen is the author of the novel Crystelle Mourning, the recipient of a National Association of Black Journalists Award, and a contributor to publications including Essence, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Ebony, Huffington Post and The Root. She has taught at Hunter College and The Pratt Institute and is a founding member of RingShout: A Place for Black Literature. Her chapter is a very personal essay. “Black Parenting Matters: Raising Children in a World of Police Terror,” in which she says “I place my son on a historical continuum of Black protest and struggle in my very personal essay… I describe the intentional work that is necessary to keep my son alive, and the ways my husband and I encourage our son’s participation in his own liberation. To free him from the shackles of police violence is a revolutionary act of righteous love.”
What’s next? I pray that the future of resistance against police violence is that there is no resistance – because there is no police violence. I like to imagine a world, one perhaps my great-grandchildren occupy, where policing is an antiquated idea, an item studied in history class, a cultural memory of the bad old days. I would love to see the implementation of restorative justice in institutions like schools and shelters as a way to get to this police-free way of being. I’d like to see restorative justice normalized in other institutions, too, like corporations and agencies and even internal review boards within police districts. Perhaps this transformational cooperative process could, over generations, liberate society from billy clubs and cuffs. I think that, to save Black and Brown bodies from police terror right now, a mandate must be explicit: Excessive force against marginalized people will result in termination and trial. I know many of my colleagues believe that to police the police is counter-intuitive to the notion that we should be free of policing altogether; however, I am trying to save lives right now, and fear of reprisal is one way to curb aggressive, violent cops. A cultural shift is needed, one where Black and Brown people are to be treated with the deference that middle- and upper-income white women experience. I am talking about an insistence that Black and Brown people be given privilege — the privilege to be in the world (and in their homes) without fear of sudden, arbitrary, vicious attacks against them. I want the police to get this: Hands off my people. Black lives do, in fact, matter.