The senseless killings around the nation of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Andres Guardado, Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal and countless other Black people and people of color have sparked conversations beyond police brutality. These acts of state violence have made our communities more conscious of the underlying condition on which our economic, social, and political systems are founded – namely, white supremacy.
History shows that police institutions and racism are connected at the hip. The police are the instrument by which the state carries out its enforcement of the law. The legal system, at its core, is meant to protect property and property owners. Extrajudicial violence against Black people by police is expected in a system that once considered Black people property and allowed their “owners” to enforce laws that prevented owners from losing said property. The function of the police today is the same, to protect the property of property owners. After all, George Floyd was murdered over the alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill.
Being unable to separate the deeply rooted white supremacy from our police and legal institutions, true justice can only be possible when policing as we know it vanishes.
While we do not have all the answers today, we do have a place to start. Rather than spending in excess to sustain current police structures, we can begin by diverting these funds into different social programs proven to determine one’s exposure to the criminal legal system. That means funding for mental health programs, housing, employment, and education. Building more equitable foundations for these and other social services will improve the material conditions in our communities. We can shift our communal efforts towards nurturing rather than criminalizing.
Of course, those who commit horrid acts such as murder or sexual assault must also be dealt with. A new criminal justice system will focus on addressing the individualized needs of both the victim and the perpetrator. Individualized justice will ensure that the victim is made whole, and the perpetrator has the support to not act in such a manner again. Shifting our efforts into these more restorative practices, over the current violent responses, will make our communities safer for everyone. Most importantly, the less police we have on the streets will allow Black people and people of color to worry less about their own lives when jogging in their own neighborhoods, commuting to and from work, or sleeping in their beds.
All our communities can get involved in the movement by continuing to learn and educate others about the racist and oppressive institutions that exist today. You can support organizations, both with your time and money, that are working to halt the disproportionate impact of these systems, such as the Opportunity Fund, the East Bay Community Law Center, People’s Breakfast Oakland, the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP), and Black Out Collective. You can find an organization to make your “political home” – a place to grow, learn, and be held accountable. If you are able to vote, you can vote for candidates that reflect these views. You can also attend your community’s next direct action.
Regardless of how you choose to get involved, maintaining the momentum in this movement is what matters. Above all, we need to learn about the reasons why police and prisons exist today and acknowledge that justice and policing cannot coexist – the police as we know is built on racism, and racism can never be just.
Ariel Flores Mena is a law student at UC Berkeley School of Law and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.