The Police State Has Come Home to Roost

As the massive uprisings have shocked a (white) nation, centering the injustices and abuses that black people face at the hands of the police, a disturbing trend is emerging from the Trump administration: bringing in federal agents to literally kidnap protestors off the streets and “arrest” them for protesting. 

Later announced as Operation LeGend, these squads of Gestapo militarized jocks have eschewed whatever Constitutional Oath they were probably sworn to take, have tear gassed peaceful protestors, Moms, Dads, and an army Vet who came to the streets of Portland to call them out on their hypocrisy—and are making their way to Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago. The (mostly white) American people are shocked by the fascist tactics of Trump and his last desperate re-election bid as a tough on crimes president. 

Where is the crime? I don’t rightfully know, honestly. Is destroying federal property and taking down racist monuments violence in the face of the constant murder of black and brown people? Is setting fire to police stations violence when those same police have beaten and tortured those protestors? Is destroying buildings violence when it was the ancestors of those black people, laboring as less-than-human and enslaved, that built those buildings to begin with? 

“Crime” aside, these tactics are not new, and they should not be surprising. Activists, organizers, black and brown communities have been raising this alarm for years. This is not simply the symptom of a Trump candidacy in a spiral as he desperately attempts to hold on to the last shred of power in the final months of a cataclysmic re-election campaign. This is not simply his desire to reallocate attention and energies away from the rising cases of Covid-19 and the preventable deaths that are on his hands (will he care? No. Probably not, but it might hurt his bottom line once he leaves office). This is not merely his want to push the story away from the millions of people laid off, unable to access unemployment benefits in a spiraling economic downturn the likes of which none of us have lived through. 

And this did not start with Trump. 

We are reckoning with the consequences of allowing Trump free reign of a terrorist organization that has been steadily developed and trained, militarized and weaponized during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. Yes, a bipartisan expansion of the police state that has diverted funds away from our education, our public transportation, our healthcare and so much more into the hands of the Pentagon and weapons contracts and military equipment. 

We’ve perfected a machine that a monster like Trump will use with absolute glee.  

For years, we’ve watched ICE and DHS officials sweep men, women and children into immigrant detention centers, deny them their rights and deport them back to countries they might not have lived in for decades; Trump’s deportation policies are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s own. We’ve listened to stories of constant monitoring of our Muslim brothers and sisters post-9/11 by the FBI and CIA, with the blessings of Democratic and Republican Representatives-the Patriot Act is supported in Congress with little blowback while it increases constant military surveillance of ourselves, our neighbors, and black and brown communities.

During the Obama Administration, police in military garb clashed with Indigenous protestors at Standing Rock, who were fighting against the contamination of their water source, resulting in indigenous people being pelted with tear-gas, rubber bullets, arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges. All protestors faced the same violence that Portland is facing now. Nearly four years later. 

We’ve watched the budget for our Defense Department balloon into a money guzzling force of chaos, and little remorse for whatever constitutional barometers it was meant to hold. Whatever the Pentagon couldn’t use anymore was bankrolled into the police; we’ve decked out our men and women in uniforms with tanks, machine guns, and weapons like long range acoustic devices that is capable of causing hearing loss. 

And if people weren’t affected by the violence faced at the hands of poor communities, of black communities, of undocumented communities, they didn’t care. What use was there? The police were still there to protect them! 

We were white! 

As more federal agents are deployed around the country, as more Moms and Dads speak out—and this is not negating the black mothers who have always been there, at the front of the protests—as veterans come out of retirement to put their bodies on the line, we must come to the conclusion that the full force of our ignorance, our purposeful blinders will lead the police to turn on us. 

To put it simply, it has come home to roost. Are we prepared to meet it? 

(Photo Credit 1: Noah Berger / AP / Star Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: AP / WUSA9) (Photo Credit 3: Reveal)

In New Jersey, Incarcerated Pregnant Women’s Lives Don’t Matter

In New Jersey, a liberal government is grappling with its own sense of cruelty against incarcerated women. A suit filed in the US District Court for New Jersey claims that officers shackled the ankle of a 30-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe to her hospital bed while she was in labor. She was forced to wear the shackles even while she experienced painful contractions, kept her from turning on her side or moving at all to relieve the pain and—when nurses questioned the need for the shackles—officers refused to remove them and remained in the room even while doctors performed invasive medical procedures. She continued to be restrained while recovering from an emergency C-section and was also not allowed to walk the hallways as part of the healing process. 

The use of shackles during childbirth was banned in the state as far back as 2017. Yet, as Jane Doe was sent to jail on a probation violation in 2018 after relapsing, she was shackled during childbirth, and afterwards. 

The process of shackling, not only de-humanizing, takes a mental toll on women. In a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma.” Women who are incarcerated tend to already have suffered more childhood traumas and shackling them during childbirth is likely to make conditions such as PTSD worse. 

New Jersey, in the wake of Christie, has worked to make progressive reform to address the growing number of women who are incarcerated, including the issues related to shackling pregnant women while receiving medical care, but these bills fall short on the issues that are created from the process of criminalization to begin with. Jane Doe would not have had to file a lawsuit to allege an illegal shackling had she not been arrested to begin with. She, along with many New Jersey women, are part of a vicious cycle of recidivism where they will constantly be in contact with the criminal justice system. 95 percent of people incarcerated in state prison will be released, but 76.6 percent of them will be rearrested within five years. And in New Jersey, it will cost more to keep these people in prison that it would to give them the help that they need, whether it be financial help, drug rehabilitation, mental health access, etc. (each person in incarceration costs the state $60,000 a year). 

Even the bills proposed by the state, while valiant in their efforts to address the crisis, only do so much as to alleviate the symptoms that are caused by incarceration. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen County, proposed legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people during labor and immediately after childbirth, only in cases where the woman (who is in active labor, mind you), presents a substantial flight risk or some other “extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that restraints are needed to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other prisoners, or the public”. Again, the extenuating circumstances are loopholes so that women, in active and painful labor, are still restrained during labor. I wonder at what point we’re going to acknowledge that women will not attempt to flee when they can barely stand. 

Other bills have attempted to show that same compassion to incarcerated women, the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, while reminding those women that they still are prisoners and are only given crumbs at the benevolence of the state at large. 

The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act, would ensure all incarcerated women in New Jersey receive free feminine hygiene products, expressly ban shackling and eliminate solitary confinement for expectant mothers. The bill would expand visiting hours and free phone calls for incarcerated mothers and would create a pilot program allowing overnight visits for mother who are able to meet certain requirements so that they can bond with their newborns.

While we should applause some compassion for incarcerated women, and incarcerated mothers, we need to keep fighting for a day where we meet a pregnant woman who has relapsed with compassion and public health solutions and not arrest or jail. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought to the surface a longstanding dehumanization of people at the hands of the criminal justice system; those officers didn’t care that Jane Doe was in active labor or recovering from a C-section. To the police, Jane Doe was another inmate that deserved to be handcuffed because she was outside of the prison walls, just like any other officer would do to an “inmate”. 

Defunding the police means defunding the prisons means abolishing the prisons that house these women. $60,000 per incarcerated persons can correspond trauma informed therapists and love and safety. 

Can we reimagine what $60,000 per incarcerated individual in the state of New Jersey (there are 39,000 people in various correctional facilities in the state alone)? Can we think about the various ways we can help those people instead of locking them up and subjecting them to a life of imprisonment and dehumanization? Can we literally comprehend how much help $2,340,000,000 (more than $2 billion!) can buy us? Can we imagine a day where there will be no more Jane Does? Where the lives of incarcerated pregnant women matter? 

(Image Credit 1: The Guardian / Molly Crabapple) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Stop Shackling Pregnant Women) (Image Credit 2: Prison Policy Initiative)

No, the Response to Police Violence is not “Hire More Women”

Source: CNN

Listen. Please, CNN. 

The concept that to reform an institution that has a history of systemic racism, sexism, and classism is to add in more “diversity hires” is not the answer. 

The answer is to dismantle the institution. Not reform, not more trainings, not more money—and no, not hire more women. 

I have one name that can counter your argument that women de-escalate: Botham Jean. Well I have one name and an explosion in cases of police brutality where women have entered the police force to counter arguments that an increase to women’s participation would decrease police violence. 

Botham Jean was murdered by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger, after Guyger entered the wrong apartment and shot Jean in his own home. Where was the de-escalation? Where was the communication? There was none. 

To argue that the gender disparity within the police force contributes to the rise in police brutality (or, maybe a gender equal police force would lower instances of police violence), is not valid given the current climate on the excess in militarization of the police. Let’s also look into the essentialist notion that women are more socialized towards gentleness, compassion, and de-escalation with more gendered understandings of why women are not counted in police killings, reported in police violence statistics, or even reprimanded by the police force when excessive use of force is being reported. 

For every police force that has worked to close the gender gap for police officers, there are stories circulating around the country of excessive use of force, violence, and pepper spraying of protestors who are fighting to end the killings of Black people. 

In New York, videos have surfaced of police cars driving into protestors, pepper spraying people and arresting people who are working during curfew without a second thought after protests erupting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. 

In Chicago, hailed for the second largest inclusion rate of women in the force, police were photographed spraying pepper spray on protestors on State Street, were accused of beating and slamming protestors to the ground after police began use of excessive force on peaceful protestors. Accusations also arose of them targeting darker skinned protestor, Malcolm London, chasing him and beating him with batons before charging him with aggravated battery. 

Detroit police officers are among the deadliest in the United States, leading the nation in the rate of fatal shootings by police. That rate Is 2 ½ times higher than New York’s rate and 1 ½ times Los Angeles’. An officer in Detroit was suspended for brutalizing a journalist during a Black Lives Matter protest. 

These are only a few instances where correlation does not imply causation. Just because women are being hired into police forces, it does not mean that instances of force will decrease. Los Angeles has been notorious for instigating violence against anyone on the street during protests, most notably by hitting an unhoused man in the eye with a rubber bullet as a protest passed him. 

Source: 7 News

How could women be represented in such low statistics of police violence? Maybe it has to do with a combination of factors, including the gendered aspect of policing as well as survivors and victims being unwilling to come forward regarding their brutalization. Maybe it’s from the unwillingness of the department to investigate women police officers, because as the article ascertained, “Women generally tend to be socialized to talk rather than shout, negotiate rather than bully and empathize rather than order”. When we think that women are still gentle and all around harmless, the idea that they have hurt someone might not even warrant an investigation. 

And let us not forget, that “every person is different”. Women are not a monolith that are socialized to behave kindly and only with love; that is a form of liberal feminist jargon that argues the world can change if every part of public institutions is 50% women. White women all over this country have taken it upon themselves to police the very behavior of Black people and limit their access to the public safely. In that instance, they are not the empathetic, gentle ear that can de-escalate a situation (especially one that they started).

No, women did not invent de-escalation. 

Nor should the police, in all their forms and all their genders, be an operation for community care and healing. The everyday policing should not be, “About social services: domestic violence cases, dealing with people’s mental health problems, getting victims to open up, negotiating”. That is because police were never meant to be these things. They were never meant to help people with mental illness, they were never trained for social services, if they were even trained properly at all. The history of the police force, again, is a history of violent repression of Black people and laborers attempting to fight for better working conditions. They are the arms of the state to control the masses, to suppress any insurrection against the brutality of society. We have continued to fund and militarize police and then act surprised when they commit the acts that they have been sanctioned to use.

As liberals continue their call for reform, the liberal feminist mindset will be “We’ll be safe with women police.” The ultimate co-option will be reform that puts women in the police force at 50% and then call it a success even as police continue brutalizing protestors. 

Defunding the police is the aim; abolition is the goal. There should not be the closing of the gender gap of police because there should not be police to begin with. They are vestiges of an old world that just will not die. 

We need to reimagine who will be taking over social services because it should not be police; should not be policemen, should not be policewomen, should not be gay police, should not be straight police, should not be trans police, should not be police. Abolitionists have already imagined this world for us, and it is about time we listened

We do not need to reform the police: we need to abolish them.