Stop Defending and Start Defunding the Police
To truly be anti-racist, white folks need to take a stand against the institution of policing.
White people: before you go defending cops and criticizing Black protest, remember the protest slogan, “No justice, no peace.”
As Ijeoma Oluo argues, it’s not enough to be non-racist; white people need to be actively anti-racist. Refusing to hold space for Black anger and making excuses for police officers is a failure to be anti-racist.
Multiple cities around the United States are alight with righteous rage about the murder of George Floyd. Solidarity protests are happening all over the world. Here in Toronto, we are protesting the suspicious death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in the presence of four police officers. As I watch police meet protests about their violence with more violence, I feel a rage towards the police so overwhelming that I can only call it “hate.”
Many white leftists are uncomfortable with anger, and the forms of blunt language and protest that it motivates. I think they would rather experience social change as an episode of some 80's kid’s cartoon, like Rainbow Brite or the Care Bears. We all come together like the colours in the rainbow. We beam positive energy out into the world. There must be good guys and bad guys, and police officers are the good guys (except for some anomalous few). Bad guys can become good guys with the power of a hug. Change must be comfortable, cute. It must not disrupt your morning commute.
Martin Luther King warned that the “white moderate, who is more devoted to order than justice,” is more dangerous than the KKK.
Because of white privilege, white Canadian moderates benefit from the “order” that police officers are paid $100 000 a year to maintain. I would think that any person watching the news over the past few years would realize that it’s not the same for Black and Indigenous people. Yet despite the relentless stories about police violence, some white folks still argue that it’s best to be “neutral,” and to support the “good cops.” They believe the “bad apples” narrative, or think the problem is about training or body cams. At the same time, they criticize pretty much any form of protest, especially riots. Their memes call for patience, love, compassion, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation — the word “justice” pointedly missing. They share the images of black folks giving away free hugs at protests, interracial children holding hands, or police officers dancing. “Hate doesn’t solve anything,” they say.
The thing is: my hate is not a tactic. I just experience it. My hate is about anger, disgust, distrust, fear and righteous indignation. A word that contains that much emotion is not “too strong.” And let’s be clear — I have white privilege! My life is not in danger. My people have not endured injustice for 400 years. My rage must not even touch the justified rage of Black and Indigenous folks, who are still speaking to this issue with such grace.
Stories of police brutality and corruption are not just links to click on my Facebook news feed. As a youth worker who has worked in the homeless sector for over a decade, I’ve heard story after horrible story from youth about how cops treat them. I have heard about them rolling up on a group of diverse youth smoking weed in the park, and only chasing the black youth as they dispersed. I have seen them deal brutally with mentally ill youth who needed care and deescalation. I have seen 15 police officers show up to a shelter to deal with a 115-pound teenager in crisis.
Once, I supported a young woman after a night in jail on a prostitution charge. Before arresting her, the police officer had first manipulated her into giving him a blowjob (a sexual assault). It is common for police to hit a young person with a few extra body shots in the chaos of arresting them, leaving the youth injured and without recourse. (It’s so easy for the cop to just say, “He resisted arrest.”) I’ve helped young men warm up after arriving to the shelter past curfew because cops drove them to the outskirts of town and left them there. They would even take all their ID, phone and money, forcing them to walk back into the city in the kind of cold weather that can kill a person.
I have witnessed police belittle youth, making judgmental comments about their substance use or gender presentation. Hearing racist, transphobic, homophobic or sexist comments and slurs from police officers is just normal to these young people. Being followed or stopped by police for no reason is common. When asked if they would call the police in an emergency, many of the youth I work with have replied “NO” and laughed at the idea. When they say that, I am keenly aware that I would, and that this is a privilege I enjoy as a white woman.
When I see police officers all lined up at protests, I think of those youth and their stories, wondering which of them would do these sorts of things.
We also hear too many stories of incompetence, callousness, bias, corruption, and hypocrisy. I find the hypocrisy to be particularly enraging. When regular citizens don’t immediately comply to an order, police officers often escalate. (A police officer once threatened to arrest me because I accidentally walked on the wrong side of police tape.) They don’t seem to care that it’s easy to misunderstand an order, or that when you’re scared, it can be really hard to follow directions. However, all they have to do to get out of an accusation of undue force is to claim that they feared for their lives. They want your perfect compliance to their directions and your forgiveness for their noncompliance to their own directives.
With all that I have seen and heard, it is impossible for me to believe the “bad apples” narrative. More than that, it’s past time for white people to acknowledge that policing is inherently problematic. Carding and “stop and frisk” policies (basically racial profiling) are unethical. Enforcing laws that protect property or corporate interests over public interests is unethical. Kettling, intimidating, arresting, and provoking peaceful protesters is unethical. Infiltrating perfectly legal activist groups is unethical. Arresting people for drugs possession is unethical. Arresting or fining panhandlers or people who don’t pay transit fares is unethical. (If they had the money to pay it, they would, and they certainly can’t and will never pay the fine.) It’s unethical to have specific laws to protect police officers as if their lives are more important than other human beings’ lives. It’s highly questionable to dismiss 1 of every 5 sexual assault cases. Even solving crimes is not something I would do since it leads to people being locked into the hellholes that are North American prisons.
Unfortunately, when I tell these stories, I find people derail by giving some nice story of a police officer doing their job. (Like I never heard of a cop doing their job.) When folks criticize expressions of righteous anger — which includes riots — then they’re taking the side of oppression. They deny the experiences of oppressed folks and demand their patience, even while insisting they’re concerned about police brutality.
I am not saying calls for patience — or peace, or compassion, or love, or reconciliation — are illegitimate; I am arguing (like many Black leaders have done) that there is no peace without justice. There is no end to anger until there is an end to police brutality. There is no reconciliation without healing from trauma. There is no compassion without holding space for grief and anger. People need love and compassion, not institutions.
I may not have much “love” left for police officers, but I hope that the love I have for my Black clients, neighbours, friends and relatives is infinite. Indeed, my “hate” is the flip side of the love that I have for other human beings. My hate gives me a reason to fight (not hug) for justice.
Here are some things white people can do to be anti-racists:
Write to decision-makers to demand that they redistribute funding from police to social programs and new emergency response models. (see links with message written out already, and work by BLM organizer Sandy Hudson)
Work to address poverty and social inequity, since that will do much more to prevent crime.
Amplify the work of folks who work to dismantle the prison industrial complex.
Donate to causes that support Black liberation.
Vote for the politicians who best seem to understand these issues.
Read Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole and more. (There are a number of reading lists online.)
Check your privilege and hold space for anger.
Get out and protest rather than criticizing how people protest.
Enough is enough. It’s revolution time, and it’s not going to look like an episode of the Care Bears.
(This piece is a rewrite of something I wrote on my personal blog in 2016. I’d written it after I made a Facebook post about hating police. It was quite controversial for my relatives. I am really sad about how little progress we’ve made on this issue.)