CR Members Share Powerful Thoughts Against Policing

What would a transformative response be to the trooper who sent 50,000 volts into Macadam Mason’s undefended chest? How does a prison abolitionist think about the six Baltimore officers who allegedly fractured Freddie Gray’s spine and threw him in a paddy wagon, which resulted in his death?

I called a few activists — all in California, where TJ got its start — who have been thinking about such questions for a long time. Each one kept bringing the conversation back to that bigger movement and the structural injustices it is fighting. But I also wanted to know: What do we do about these guys, today?

“Yeah, ‘jail killer cops’ — it’s a demand for some sort of accountability or some end to the horrendous violence,” said Isaac Ontiveros, a former staffer of Critical Resistance. One of the pioneers of transformative justice, that organization opposes expansion of what it calls the “prison industrial complex.”

“It’s totally understandable,” Ontiveros added, “particularly in black communities, where the entire history of policing has been a history of murder, since the first police forces were constituted to catch and kill runaway slaves.”

No prison abolitionist is going to tell grieving families not to want what they want. They must be embraced, and the community’s rage validated, Ontiveros stressed. But the desire for retribution does not have to be embraced — and the call for prosecution need not be the end of the conversation. “The emotions are valid, but emotions are not the same as politics,” he told me. “Policing is a political problem. It has to be engaged politically.”

What is to be said or done? First, let’s stop talking about killer cops as bad actors in a good system — or even a “broken” system. “The system is flawed by design, politically, economically, socially,” said Hamid Khan, coordinator of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition in Los Angeles. “The police are doing their job, and their job is to manage and control — to enforce — economic and social relationships. To enforce, they have to use force. Within that force are several layers of force — justifiable, questionably justifiable, not justifiable,” he said. “But the authority of force is unquestioned.”