Addressing white supremacist violence means dismantling the systems that permit it – police and prisons.
The history of policing in America is as riddled with violence as the birth of the nation itself. No institution so deeply rooted in racism, homophobia and worse, can ever be reformed. Policing does what it was designed to do – embolden and empower the white power structure, while brutalizing, destroying and murdering poor people of color. The nature of today’s police practices are filled with corruption and violence, and can hardly be separated from its predecessor – slave catching.
The recent Capitol riots painted a clear picture for those in denial, while it simply confirmed what Black, Indigenous and Latinx voices have said all along – police disproportionately brutalize Black and brown bodies in their encounters, and offer significantly more flex
ibility, patience and warning when interacting with white bodies. The riots confirmed another truth that the Black Lives Matter movement has always stated – Blue Lives Matter was always about diminishing Black voices, and justifying public lynchings, it was never about protecting police. The treatment of Capitol police by white terrorists during the riots clearly demonstrated that white rage and white fragility have always meant more in the United States than Black life. The sooner we swallow that large and uncomfortable pill, the more swiftly we can move toward solutions that truly keep us safe, something that a large majority of police have proven themselves incapable of doing.
Let’s be clear: The riots at the Capitol happened because the insurrectionists knew that police and security would not harm them in the same ways we’ve seen Black people brutalized by police while marching for racial equity. How did they know this? Because many of the people in the mob that stormed the Capitol were themselves off-duty and former police officers, national guard members, and other types of law enforcement officials. They knew the police would not harm them because many of them were the police.
We cannot as a country claim to denounce white supremacy and the violence it brings while supporting the systems that allow it to thrive. Several calls from politicians and national leaders have been made to “denounce” bigotry and racist violence, but those calls are meaningless without action. If we want to address white supremacist violence we must actually take action by dismantling every system that promotes anti-Black violence under the guise of public safety.
Abolishing police and prisons is how we address white supremacy.
How is that possible? The answer lies in understanding this country’s history and culture of racial inequality disguised as “law and order.” Our current system of public safety is founded on punishing people through mass incarceration. That “safety” is doled out inequitably in Black and Brown communities that are over-policed and under-resourced. And when those actors commit acts of violence against Black and Brown people in those communities, even in cases of death, there is no accountability. The needs of survivors or their families are disregarded, and the system moves without getting the justice for those harmed.
The white people who attacked the Capitol knew this all too well. Many of them have participated in that inequity and knew that their fellow police officers would be either complicit or unprepared to respond to the apparent threat they posed. They likely knew that harm would not come to them because state violence, in their minds, only happens to Black and Brown bodies. Police and prisons give a pass to the violence of white supremacists because they are violent systems of white supremacy.
The history of policing in this country can be traced back to the days of slave patrols, making the prisons of today, are institutions of modern day slavery. With the ratification of the 13th Amendment allowing slave labor for incarcerated persons, the long history of racial inequality was melded into our system of “public safety”, making it inherently violent against Black and Brown people, while showing deference to white people.
For Black and Brown people, the U.S. system of public safety is not based on safety at all. If it was, there would be accountability for violence not passive punishment that is administered without the needs of those harmed considered. People who commit acts of harm can be held accountable for that harm without more violence being done in the name of the survivor or their family. In order to do so, we must first address the racial inequities that exist in our current criminal justice system, acknowledge the harm that it has caused communities of color, and rethink policing as a means to acquire safety. Safety must be our top priority and it should be equitable and survivor-centered. We will never achieve that as long as our systems continue to uphold, and defend white supremacy.