Should Your Organisation Address Police Brutality in Service of Equity?


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Should Your Organisation Address Police Brutality

Many may have seen the news of yet another black person murdered by police in the USA last week. Rest in Power George Floyd. A couple of days later, in Tallahassee, a trans black man was also killed by police and subsequently misgendered in reports. Rest in Power, Tony McDade. As Melz Owusu tells us, Black trans lives matter too. A couple of months before this, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police in her own apartment. Devastatingly, their names join the list of so many black people who have been and continue to experience lynchings. They should be alive. While these assassinations – for what else can we call such acts – are not new and exist within the context of a historical continuum of several hundred years, the exposure on social media is new. 

Social media is both a powerful organizing and accountability tool, as well as a means of creating conditions of relentless bombardment as videos and images of brutal events circulate continuously positing black people within certain frames. One thing is certain: please do not send unsolicited videos/posts of police brutality to your black colleagues. What’s more, as Zoé Samudzi tells us in this powerful article: ‘the belief that passive viewership can translate into structural justice is an idea as misguided as it is old’.  What’s more, she asks, ‘why are these videos being watched? Specifically, why do white people continue to make cases for watching them?’.

This is also a time to recognise that anti-black racism is a global phenomena, not the exclusive terrain of the USA. There is a serious danger to seeing police violence as exceptionally American. It conveniently removes responsibility for action from those of us – white people in particular – who are elsewhere: “oh, it’s not as bad here” we might say as we get on with our days and lives. Police brutality is alive in the UK. Edson da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, Shane Bryant and Rashan Charles were killed in police custody in 2017 alone, for example. No police officers have ever been prosecuted in the UK. 

There is no one thing that can be done to heal this. As Alicia Garza tells us in this thread: ‘there is not *one* easy thing you can do right now’. But to start, for those of us not directly impacted by anti-black racism, we can embark on the following: 

  1. HOLD SPACE for those living with this daily terror. Check in with your black colleagues, acknowledge what is happening. There is no one way to feel in response to the barrage of news like this. Let them know that you’re there to listen if they need it. Let them know they can take time to process as works for them. No words in this situation will be perfect, but being prepared to be with people in this, is nevertheless important.
  2. READ about police brutality and anti-black racism as an organising principle in your geography so you can get your analysis straight. Two book recommendations from us, situated in the US context, include: Stamped from the Beginning and The End of Policing. This Anti-Racism Resources for White People list has also recently been compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein. In the UK, the film 1500 and Counting sheds light on the 1500 deaths in police custody in the UK since 1991 to 2015 – why not contact the producers and organise a viewing for your team? There is so much to read and process. Do not let that stop you. Start somewhere and keep going! This endeavour requires your commitment to unlearning and relearning. 
  3. SPEAK up about the root causes of this designed violence and terror with other white people. Don’t shy away from hard conversations. You can use your analysis from point 2 here.   
  4. FUND organisers and groups agitating for justice. There are many groups doing deep, vital work on the ground. If you have resources to contribute, in the US, two examples of many are the Minnesota Freedom Fund or Black Lives Matter. 
  5. FEEL what needs to be felt. One of the ways that racism is maintained is by the numbness and dissociation white people are trained to respond with when confronted with the heinous pain black people experience under white supremacy – an outcome of the ways racism normalises the dehumanisation of black people. We must be prepared to connect with how we are implicated in this, one way or another. We must resist this by emphatically responding knowing that none of this is normal. It certainly must not be this way. And we can make another world possible. 

The headlines will fade but the problem of anti-black racism won’t. This requires your focus and attention to do the work even when it’s not in the news, even when no one is watching. This is a 400y+ emergency.

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