This week’s Extra! Extra! continues to look at police brutality, the protests and what’s been accomplished in their wake, as well as a brief update on the pandemic. There has been an overwhelming amount of news in the last week so this is by no means a comprehensive roundup of everything that’s going on. (We aren’t even able to touch on the global protests and some of the changes they’ve brought about abroad because there is just so much to cover.)
Fighting for All Black Lives
Natalie: Two black transwomen died this week — Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells of Philadelphia, PA and Riah Milton of Liberty Township, Ohio — and we’ve all been too damn quiet about it. We’ve been prioritizing cis black men in the Black Lives Matter movement even though the movements founders created it as an intersectional space. We’ve depended on transwomen to support our liberation, our Pride, but when the moment comes for us to stand up for them, we go silent. How many transwomen have to die before we confront this epidemic of violence? And if not now, when?
Taking A Deeper Look At Our Institutions
Himani: The first two articles in this section lay out in no uncertain terms how our current moment has a long, premeditated history. As Michelle Alexander writes, “In part, we find ourselves here for the same reasons a civil war tore our nation apart more than 100 years ago: Too many citizens prefer to cling to brutal and unjust systems than to give up political power, the perceived benefits of white supremacy and an exploitative economic system.” And as Justin Ellis writes, “This was all inevitable. The conditions that led to this moment didn’t spring up overnight; it’s been in the making for generations. No group of protesters could devastate south Minneapolis more than years of disinvestment and abandonment already have. Lake Street was hollowed out long before the flames came.”
Honestly, I wouldn’t even be able to do justice to trying to recapture what either of them says so powerfully and so clearly, so I just encourage you to read both articles. What struck me about Justin Ellis’s piece on Minneapolis, though, is how much of it applies to other places in the US, either based on my own lived experience or based on things I’ve read. The third article here about NOW serves as a reminder of how, unless is an explicit and active part of a movement’s mission, even organizations that aim to disrupt oppressive institutions end up reinforcing racist legacies. NOW is just one of many, many examples of this although this article is incredibly damning.
Natalie: NOW is one example but we’re seeing a lot of businesses — from non-profit organizations to the tech to publishing to show business — really have to grapple with how white supremacy has manifested itself. I’ve been watching the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag on social media and been aghast by how little great black writers are being paid (Roxane Gay! Kiese Laymon! Jesmyn Ward!!!). The reports from Vogue, Bon Appetit, the theater or even the set of Glee. I feels like we’re finally getting a look at how systemic the problem is…and exposing that fact is the best way to ensure that change finally does happen.
Police Violence Continues
Rachel: There’s so much happening in all of these links and the overlaps between them that you could write a book, or several — which many people undoubtedly will, and have written many on the contexts that have gotten us here. A few things I’m thinking about a lot lately are the threads of military overlap with police and federal law, and the unstable role of the military as a layer between the executive branch and the people right now; and also the way that peeling back the layers of police control and violence have revealed how much of the skeleton of that beast is made of money. I was struck by the observation in the National Guard piece about how National Guard leaders were trying, essentially, to manage upward and control Trump’s impulsiveness by convincing their troops to be *violent enough* that he would feel satisfied and not call in US army regiments to be even more violent, something which feels like a real clear data point on a sort of frog-in-boiling-water arc they’ve been on.
I’m also struck by, in calls to defund police, how much is being laid bare about how much money there really is in that space; the enormous amounts of funding police departments are already getting, and the enormous costs (in money, in addition to the obvious indefensible cost of human life and communal trauma) of police violence. I’d really, really recommend “How Cities Offload the Cost of Police Brutality” – it was so eye-opening to me to look at how much these investigations are costing individual citizens, from raised property taxes to cover the funds to bloating bank profits by buying bonds. Some departments are already starting to say they don’t have money or time for anything else now that they’re being forced to actually investigate (sort of) all the claims of violence and misconduct. In such a deeply capitalist nation, public discourse about the price tag of these things matters a lot, I think.
Natalie: I absolutely agree, Rachel. I think sunlight on some of these payouts would help a great deal. I also read a great piece a few years ago detailing the role that insurance companies could have in forcing police to adopt specific reforms by threatening to drop their coverage otherwise.
Unions and Police Violence
Himani: One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that, on the one hand, unions are critically important for securing workers’ rights, especially in a capitalist society, and, on the other hand, police unions bear a responsibility for police brutality. (The most recent episode of Last Week Tonight covered some of this.) The first article does a great job of providing some history and context (specific to Chicago) of how police unions came about in the first place and became so powerful. The end of that article and the second one provide some perspectives from other parts of the labor movement and how they are thinking about their role in what’s happening.
What’s Been Accomplished So Far
Rachel: It’s obvious, but wow, ever since the protests have started, it turns out cities are able to get a lot started on changes to policing that were seemingly out of reach before! It’s incredible not just how much has gotten done, although certainly some of these are more gestures than meaningful change (why only one year, Seattle?), but how much pressure has mounted for cities who haven’t provided a plan yet. I’m thinking of Lightfoot’s intensely choreographed presser from Chicago this week, which was under major rhetorical strain because Chicago hasn’t announced any major reforms yet. Again, it’s been said plenty (and should be), but this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime clinic in the power of protest. Thank you, protesters!
Himani: So much has happened in the last two week, and I know this list isn’t even close to covering it. (And does not even touch on some of the many things that have been accomplished around the world, as well.) And yet there is so much more to be done. As Justin Ellis wrote for The Atlantic (linked earlier):
“Although voting to ban chokeholds and signing a pledge to dismantle the police department are powerful statements, until they are backed by definitive action and funding, these moves will join a long line of fruitless symbolic gestures.”
The Politics Around Defunding Versus Police Reform
Natalie: As I mentioned on twitter earlier this week, a lot of what Biden has said in regards to this “defund the police” movement isn’t new. If you look at his proposals for addressing police brutality before George Floyd and after him, I’m not sure you would see much difference. Those proposals were always woefully insufficient but now, in the wake of protests, they seem awful. I’m a big believer in supporting candidates who — even if they disagree with me on particular issues — showed themselves to be someone capable of change and this week I wonder, how has Joe Biden not been changed by any of this? How is he so sure he’s right that he looks out at protests…a peaceful citizens getting shot with rubber bullets and tear gas, in the middle of a fuckin’ pandemic…and decided to offer them the same milquetoast proposal that he was offering in advance of the South Carolina primary? How Sway?!
His failure to evolve on this and his healthcare plan in the wake of Covid is far more damning to his candidacy than the lackluster policy itself.
Himani: I have to admit, I was shocked at how quickly “Defund the Police” went fairly mainstream in the last two weeks. Police and prison abolition isn’t something I’m very well versed in and the first article here is helpful in showing some of the political maneuvering that has happened in the last couple of weeks that has brought this particular tool of abolition into mainstream political discourse. I can’t say I’m particularly surprised by where Trump stands on this or the long conservative history that brought us Trump (no Romney does not get to rewrite himself just because he went to a Black Lives Matter protest last week). But I am a little tired of hearing about “reform.” Politicians talk at length about evidence-based policy when we’re talking about education or social services and, oftentimes, when programs don’t show strong enough “results” they get defunded. (There’s a whole other conversation to be had about what success of a program even means and how it’s measured, but I digress.) Why are police departments immune from having to demonstrate an evidence base? I’m tired of Biden touting the line about “police reform” because if there’s anything to be learned in all the news that has come out in the last couple of weeks, it’s that activists have been right all along and reform does not work and there is clear evidence which demonstrates that.
Himani: States all across America continue to reopen and yet we’re seeing again and again that the brunt of the pandemic has been born by some of the most marginalized communities. What I can’t let go of is what, exactly, has changed in the last three months regarding the pandemic that justifies reopening? There’s still no real treatment for severe cases of COVID-19, there’s no vaccine, and our testing capacity has gotten better but it’s still not great. Meanwhile, I’ve seen multiple reports of studies which find that social distancing measures helped save thousands of lives and prevent millions of infections. If anything, that is a case for keeping those measures in place while we continue to lack any way of responding to this disease. And it’s not just the social distancing that matters, but all the economic support that was implemented as well. The fact that unemployment benefit extensions and measures individual localities or states implemented to help people secure housing will run out soon (if they haven’t already) with no further discussion to extend benefits is galling. It feels like we’re setting ourselves up for a repeat of March probably sometime in September.
Natalie: To quote Tamika Mallory:
Don’t talk to us about looting. Y’all are the looters. America has looted Black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, so looting is what you do. We learned it from you.
Don’t talk to us about looting, y’all are the looters…and this is what your looting looks like.