I realize this blog has had a lack of love lately. Sometimes when you’re already juggling a full plate, life throws you a curveball. I might have mixed the metaphors too hard there. That is to say, two weeks ago a loved one of mine was arrested after a fight with a family member led to a 911 call, and it has been a very frightening and difficult time. It should come as no surprise that as a critical thinking person in 2017, I am weary of police and the incarceral state.
I think as a society we lack alternative community resources to intervening in a bad situation and that means that too often calling the police is the only option and that makes situations so much worse.
I’ve decided not to discuss too many details here for now—the situation is still very raw and this blog is still very new and I’m still learning where I draw lines—but since this is everything going on in my life right now and I miss writing, this post is about police and the prison industrial complex.
As an added bonus, I know many of you are watching the latest season of OITNB, so please challenge yourself to read one article about prison reform/abolition for each episode that you watch. See end of piece for reading/watching/listening list.
Police are racist. This isn’t a debate about an individuals’ beliefs (though, anecdotally, I know several police officers who hold neo-Nazi values and wear the blue proudly). It’s the statistic-backed and DOJ-researched claim that as organizations, police departments implement and execute racist policies.
Police defend property not people. Look at police response to any protest after the violent killings of Black individuals and you can see how the force and the media are up in arms about destruction of property but not mad about someone being murdered who had their arms up.
Lastly, police escalate situations. They just do. Guns are drawn very quickly, there’s a lot of shouting, they are rarely trauma-response trained, and this leads to really poor actions on their behalf in emergency situations that need to be DE-escalated (ie, “calmed down”). When people call the police because of interpersonal violence, such as domestic violence, the response should not be heightened escalation and automatic punishment. But because we have mandatory arrest laws and because officers are not properly trained on trauma intervention, blowing up the situation is the status quo. Hauling someone off to jail is often not something that is going to make a situation any better or facilitate healing for any party. It’s going to make court fees and fines and jail time add stress to an already tense situation. Also, victims and survivors are punished for trying to seek help by being arrested themselves and/or having their children taken away.
These three reasons are a few of many, many that make the case for the necessity of alternatives to police intervention such as community members who can be called for de-escalation and the creation of safety plans. Because once the police are involved, the incarceral state is involved, and that is a form of enacted trauma and violence in and of itself.
Jails + Prisons
One time someone said to me, “Jail is like a time out. It’s like, you did something wrong, so we’re just going to send you over here to do something about it. We’re not going to talk to you about why it was wrong, or try to give you tools so that you never do it again, we’re just gonna leave you in the corner. For five to ten years.”
And that is so accurate! Jail really is like an extended totally useless timeout. All you have to do is look at recidivism rates to know that time spent behind bars is not a form of rehabilitation.
Additionally, rarely does imprisonment lead to healed community or a forgiven criminal. Locking someone up doesn’t facilitate dialogue between those who harmed and those who were harmed. I think this is really complicated in cases of serial killing, rape, and child abuse—though certainly people are doing transformative justice work in those areas—but it can be very simple and possible in cases of juvenile mishaps, theft, drug charges, etc.
Jails and the incarceral state disrupt daily life. Like I’m just trying to start a blog and get my feet off the ground as an entrepreneur, and all of a sudden someone I love is unreachable and being treated inhumanely. I have a friend who was sitting at home with her 13-day old infant when the baby’s father was pulled over for a traffic violation and arrested for overdue tickets. He couldn’t afford bail so he spent the time until his hearing in jail when he could have—and should have—been at home bonding with and caring for his newborn child. The prison system in the United States is sci-fi come to life, a sudden disruption of normal daily happenings, but the most dystopian thing about it is that it’s treated as though it’s under our shoes—ignored and not to be bothered with. I think this is because people in power don’t have loved ones in prison.
It is common knowledge this system isn’t working. And as I work to validate the identities of femme people, and as I do the work to combat climate change, I must also make it my work to fight injustice in all forms. Trans femme people of color are disproportionately affected by the Prison Industrial Complex. As climate change deprives us of raw resources, prisons and private industries continue to be incentivized to hold cheap labor in prison—in the form of Black and Brown bodies. All issues are intimately connected, feeding off of each other, making the successful challenge of one dependent on the strategic takedown of all.
These personal thoughts are by no means a thorough breakdown of the present incarceral state so if you need to begin by equipping yourself with more knowledge, start with Black + Pink’s curriculum on Prison Abolition. And then commit to concrete action steps such as:
-Calling your local country jail and/or warren and citing their human rights violations and demanding to know how they’re addressing them. And/or showing up at their office to ask in person.
-Reading prisoners’ demands from prisons all over the country and calling in to ask how their demands are being addressed as a solidarity tactic from afar. (Oftentimes prisoners’ demands are not even heard until people on the outside are putting pressure on the jail/prison.)
-Not calling 911 on people in the neighborhood you’re gentrifying.
-Advocating your city or town become a sanctuary city so that undocumented immigrants--many of whom are fleeing environmental and economic disaster--cannot be held illegally and indefinitely in local jails.
-Challenge your loved ones to look under their shoes, confront what is broken, and recognize the humanity of imprisoned people, and fight for their rights they way we fight for our own.
By the virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I know that you care about this planet and its people. Just as we cannot continue to take people’s lands away, we cannot continue to disrupt communities with an ineffective intervention system. Prison Abolition is a feminist and environmental issue. Create the change we care about.