Like countless others around the country, I have been wrapped up in pain, anger, and concern over the killing of Michael Brown, the police cover up, the protests, and violent police response to those protests. It’s been concerning (though perhaps not surprising) to see the state-sanctioned displays of White supremacy and utter contempt for the constitutional rights of poor Black people (especially with recent restraint used by institutional power when White protestors were pointing weapons at federal agents).
Perhaps what’s most concerning, though, is how this situation is described by White acquaintances, friends, and family who are not actively engaged in anti-racist action.
Some responses blame the victim: “Michael Brown was a criminal.” “If the protestors would just be civil, the police wouldn’t react the way they have.”
Other responses express naive shock and outrage: “How could this happen in America?” “Clearly the police in Ferguson are corrupt.”
But what seems to be missed in many of these reactions is that this is not a problem of Ferguson, MO. This is a problem of every single city and municipality in the United States of America.
As a result, there is a need to take action. If you are able and are called to do so, consider joining the Black Lives Matter Ride to Ferguson on Labor Day weekend. If you can’t head to Ferguson, consider financially supporting those who are taking part in this historic ride (link takes you to Darnell Moore‘s fundraiser, but there are others linked below his to support as well).
However, those of us who cannot travel to Ferguson might feel like there’s nothing more we can do. Yet when we understand this as an interconnected problem of power and oppression, we immediately open up a world of action locally.
After all, when we as White people see Ferguson as an isolated problem, we actually contribute to the wider problem of White supremacy in our systems because we forever treat the problem as “over there” rather than right here on our home cities.
As a result, there is a need for us as White people (particularly since we often easily move from issue to issue and cause to cause) to see protests in Ferguson as part of a wider movement against the state-sanctioned extra-judicial murder and brutalization of people of Color by police and their proxies.
And when we realize that Ferguson is part of a history and a movement against police brutality that disproportionately affects communities of Color, we empower ourselves to act locally for justice.
5 Ways to Act Locally Against Racist Police Violence
1. Know Their Names, Say Their Names
Every 28 hours, a Black person is killed by police or those protected by police in the United States. That doesn’t even account for the Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander, Indigenous, or (most often low-income) White victims of police extra-judicial killing. Nor does this number account for all of those victims of police brutality who survive but must live with the trauma and injuries from this violence.
Thus, no matter where you live, people locally are being impacted by police (and proxy) violence.
An important place for you to start, then, is to do the research to find the names and stories of those locally impacted by police violence.
When I lived in Denver, activists were organizing to hold police accountable for the murder of Alonzo Ashley.
In Minneapolis, activists are working to hold the police accountable for the murder of
By knowing the names and stories of those locally impacted by police violence, you ground this movement in your community and you open the door to local action.
2. Raise Awareness Locally
Once you’re aware of the police violence affecting local communities, you can help raise the consciousness of those around you. Local awareness and engagement is vital for changing policy, police training, and civic practice in your community.
More often than not, White folks are totally oblivious to this violence and/or blame the victims for the violence taking place. Thus, there is a particular need for us to call other White folks into the conversation about police brutality.
Whether through social media or over a dinner with a friend, look for ways that you can help those who are unaware understand the problem of police (and proxy) violence in our cities and towns.
3. Pressure Local Power Holders
Once we are aware of the problem, we have to do more than bemoan the issue within the comfort of our homes. We have to hold local power holders accountable to creating change.
Particularly for those of us with access (as a result of wealth or connections), there is a need to press mayors, city council members, alderman, police chiefs, public prosecutors, and other local power holders for change. When they ignore you (and they likely will), keep contacting them. Set up meetings, and email them regularly.
When you reach out, here are a few specific, measurable things you can call for:
- Demand Police Body Cameras – We live in an age that allows incredible surveillance of police behavior for accountability purposes, but only a small minority of police forces prioritize the technology for this accountability. Body cameras, a simple and inexpensive addition to the police uniform, have been found to reduce incidents of excessive police force by as much as 50% where used. Costing as little as $199 per officer (plus hosting and transmission costs), this not only can reduce the violence committed and protect citizens from violence, but it can protect police who are doing their jobs legitimately. Plus, limiting police brutality also ensures that cities don’t need to pay out millions in settlements in civil suits, so if you’re talking to someone who values tax savings over considerations of human life (yes, they exist), you can show how cameras actually save tax payers money.
- Demand Accountable Civilian Review - Having cameras and accountability procedures is ineffective unless there is a legitimate and empowered civilian review authority with actual teeth to hold police accountable. After all, when footage from body cameras or dash cameras is held and stored by police, it’s far too easy for footage to conveniently disappear (“Oh, that camera was malfunctioning that day”) when there’s an incident of police violence. Thus, if your city doesn’t have a civilian review authority with actual teeth, demand one. The local police union will fight to ensure it is ineffective, but civilian review from members of the community most affected is a powerful tool for change.
- Demand Independent Police Liability Insurance – Currently city governments are on the hook financially when their police officers brutalize citizens, yet police unions are powerful enough that local politicians rarely hold police accountable. However, insurance companies that care about their bottom line would have no problem holding police accountable when they abuse their authority. Thus, a simple thing to demand in your municipality is for police to be required to pay for their own liability insurance as a condition of employment in the police department. If they brutalize citizens and end up losing a suit, the insurance companies will make it quite expensive to hold insurance or will drop the officer completely, thus ensuring that the person can no longer be employed as a police officer in your city. Simply put, hit them in the pocket book to hold police accountable. Learn about the movement in Minneapolis to require police to purchase their own insurance.
4. Join The Movement Against Police Brutality Locally
Everywhere that police are brutalizing citizens, people are organizing to hold police accountable. If you live in even a medium-sized city, there’s a good chance that your city has an organized group working against police brutality. Connect with the local organizers and organizations that are demanding change. Not sure who those folks are? Show up to local protests against police brutality and ask about who the organizers were, or connect with local activists via social media and ask how you can help. Then work to build trust and volunteer your time and energy to help!
Keep in mind, though, that as White folks, it’s not our job to be in charge. Offer your support, but recognize that you don’t need to be in the limelight or in a leadership role. There are powerful activists in every community with the lived experience and history in activism to lead. If we’re just coming to the movement, it’s our job to listen, learn, and support.
5. Connect and Collaborate with Nearby Movements
Knowing that this is a problem in pretty much every community in the country and knowing that there are seasoned activists who’ve been standing up to this problem for generations, connecting with multiple organizations in an area can help build a wider movement. Maybe they are already connected and learning from one another, but if they’re not, a simple way to help is to network and learn from others nearby who are doing the work to hold police forces accountable. The more we connect our efforts in the age of digital media and communication, the more effective we can be in ensuring that violent, racist police forces (and the powers above them) cannot act with impunity.
Regardless of how we engage, we have to engage. As we are far less likely to be impacted by police violence directly, but police violence hurts everyone as it tears apart any hope for true democracy.
Sure, there are White people who are beaten or killed by cops, and they are more likely to be low-wealth White folks. We need to understand, though, that while fearing state-sanctioned violence is a daily reality for most people of Color in the United States (but particularly for Black, Indigenous, and Brown people), it’s just not something most White folks ever consider.
And finally, to those who immediately jump into the #NotAllCops defense upon hearing criticisms like those in this piece, stop. No, not all cops are actively participating in the murder and brutalization of citizens, but this is about more than the racism of individual cops. That’s why there are plenty of police of Color who contribute to the problem.
This is about a system of oppression that since its inception has used the implied or active violence of police forces for everything from slave patrols to re-enslaving escaped slaves to beating civil rights marchers to brutalizing people of Color in order to crush the hopes and dreams of those for whom this country was not made.
Simply put, “America is not for Black people,” and one of the most foundational roles of the police is to protect and maintain the status quo in a system of oppression.
Donate to Lost Voices, activists on the ground in Ferguson
Donate to Millennial Activists United through PayPal using the email address millennialAU@gmail.com
Donate to those providing legal support on the ground in Ferguson and STL.
12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson – By Janee Woods
12 Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet – By Kate Hardin