If Justice Is The Destination, Abolition Is The Only Path
(graphic violence is referenced)
Vigilant Love is outraged by the countless murders of Black people in the United States and beyond. Recently, protests and uprisings across the US are responding to the murders of George Floyd, a Black man who was suffocated by the State, and Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot to death by police in her own home. This wave has erupted on a global level, with Black communities all around the world rising up and rejecting police brutality and state violence against their community. Floyd’s dying words were the same as Oscar Grant’s and Eric Garner’s: “I Can’t Breathe.” We at VL recognize that the murders of Floyd and Taylor are not a fluke of the system or the actions of a few bad police officers. We reject the phrase “excessive force” as it relates to state violence and policing because, as Critical Resistance founding member Dylan Rodriguez says, “It’s not police brutality if the state sanctions the violence. At that point, you move from calling it ‘police brutality’ to calling it ‘policing.’ It’s ‘police practice.’”
As a community organization, we see many ask “Why does this keep happening?” We, too, find ourselves lamenting the horror, wondering when –if–this will ever end…
In order to envision the end of police violence, we have to first understand that these brutal deaths are tragedies we can expect to recur so long as a government built on genocide, slavery, and war is in power. This country is founded on principles and ideologies fundamentally incompatible with justice and community. In this context, we can understand police to be the protectors of the interest of the state. Thus, while police departments like the LAPD boast the motto of “to protect and to serve,” the creation of the police was a state tactic used to monitor, punish, and kill Black people. According to African Diaspora studies scholar Simone Browne, policing and surveillance are tools geared toward the preservation of capitalism — specifically slavery. Browne and many others, including Ruha Benjamin, have argued that there is a definitive relationship between race, surveillance technology, and surveillance practices.
Police violence is not the only way a white supremacist state murders Black people — we must highlight that vigilante violence is deeply linked to the same system, especially as it relates to Black trans people. Using intersectional analyses informed by the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, we recognize the influential role gender maintains in the material experiences of Black communities and vigilante violence. For centuries in this country, Black men have been marked as hyper-violent and their masculinity as inherently threatening. The ghosts of tens of thousands of those lynched by vigilantes and police alike come to mind through the work of Ida B. Wells and we continue to see war against Black men to this day — recently, Ahmaud Abery tragically became another Black man murdered by white supremacist vigilantes only a few months before Floyd’s murder by police. Black women are paradoxically hyper-visible to police yet invisible to the world; consequently, their murders are vast yet unnamed on mainstream airwaves. Trans Black bodies are buried deep in the back of police cars, jail cells, and unmarked graves housing missing people never named. Tony McDade was killed the week of May 29 in Tallahassee.
We also recognize the white supremacist logics behind the criminalization of protestors, many of who demonstrated on the streets after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. White supremacist analysis of protests and uprisings have include the intentional emphasis on looting paired with the omission of police provocation, harassment, and arrest of protestors en masse. There has also been a glaring silence around the US government’s culpability in the death of Floyd and Black people all over the world. While the police officers who killed Floyd and the vigilantes who killed Abery are are violent murderers, it is important to name that any “punishment” that comes from within the system is not designed to meaningfully enact changes that will improve the lives of those most impacted by police brutality or systems violence. The charges these police officers incur is not a condemnation of racism but the US doing its PR to save face. These men, like soldiers of Abu Ghraib, My Lai, Japan, are all products of the US military industrial complex, people who enact violence as US representatives then become scapegoats for the crimes sanctioned by the US government.
Criminalizing protestors goes hand-in-hand with the mainstream celebration of police officers who have appear to have joined protestors either by temporarily removing protective gear and marching or kneeling on the ground. These actions of “solidarity” are photo-ops, mere moments between the pepper-spraying, beating, and arresting that happens when protestors “fall out of line.” News outlets across the US are celebrating the increased charges against the officers responsible for Floyd’s murder as justice. However, as Rodriguez and many others remind us, momentary charges are problematic for two reasons. First, they normalize the existence of police which is violent, racist, and deadly for most marginalized communities. Secondly, legal charges do not bring legal change. They cannot and will never secure systematic community safety, and instead become tools used to calm community outrage and fragment people power.
In the cases of Emmett Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Miriam Carey, Tamir Rice, Michelle Cusseaux, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and so many more who were killed without legal charges brought against their murderers, there is a bleak rage that consumes our souls and rightfully enrages us all invested in social justice and community wellness. However, the charging of these officers would not signify a change in the United State’s investment in white supremacy, anti-Black racism, brutality, and murder. So, when police officers are charged, it is important to call into question what it means for a select few to be found guilty when the system at large still encourages and depends on the violence of these officers and continues to imprison millions of Black men, women, and transgender people. Ultimately, it becomes essential to name that this violence will not end if police and the prison industrial complex still exist. Abolition is our only path to justice.
At Vigilant Love, we understand the relationship between racism, surveillance, and incarceration. Our most recent work has primarily centered researching, critiquing, and organizing our communities against policing-surveillance structures Targeted Violence and Terrorist Prevention (TVTP/ formerly Countering Violent Extremism or CVE). The TVTP program is an intricate web of social services, policing, and surveillance that uses anti-Black and Islamophobic ideologies to criminalize and punish Black and Brown Muslim communities. In fact, Minneapolis is home to one of the most thoroughly developed CVE/ TVTP programs in the country– due to its large Somali population–and was originally a pilot city. Thus, we at VL find it imperative to highlight that there are overlapping logics at play between police practice, surveillance, the War on Terror, and death. The infrastructures are widespread and utilize multiple agencies and tactics to repress, monitor, target, and sometimes kill the people it seeks to regulate.
As the government continues to criminalize political dissent and label protesters fighting for liberation “terrorists” we understand that, historically, anyone who has ever challenged the police state has been given this title by state leaders. From Malcolm X to Assata Shakur, from Angela Davis to BLM founder Patrisse Cullors (who wrote a book titled “When They Call You a Terrorist”) — the criminalization of Black liberation has been an intentional strategy by the state to stifle political movement. This history is linked to a number of programs housed in various State Departments that pathologize and criminalize anyone who does not agree with the status quo of capitalist heterosexist white supremacy.
Vigilant Love believes in healing justice, total abolition, self-determination, and the right to defend and resist until our healing, our justice, and our safety of our communities are secured.
Yazan Za3za3 holds an MA in Women’s/Gender Studies and their research focuses on the rhetorical analysis of surveillance and counterinsurgency programs like Countering Violent Extremism. Yazan a longtime community organizer. They are an organizer with Vigilant Love.