content note: cops, mentions of racism, classism, state and carceral violence.
the other night in a white, wealthy town in marin county, i had just parked my car to go out to dinner. one parking spot over were two cops harassing a latino man sitting in his parked car. he had been pulled over because he had a garbage bag taped to the inside of his rear view mirror, and one of the cops wondered “what was going on.” the man’s license was suspended for driving without insurance, and his car wasn’t registered. the cops cited him and called a towtruck, insisting they were doing the merciful thing by having his car towed instead of having him arrested. the man quietly pleaded with them, saying he really needed his car. the cops kept repeating how they are good guys and they hate doing this kind of thing. soon enough it came out that he was living out of his car, which the cops gave him a hard time for — as if houselessness is a measure of character or a matter of choice. i called out to the man and offered to take his stuff since his car was being towed and he didn’t know when he would get it back. we moved a laundry basket of clothes, a backpack, and his bible to my car. he said, “i don’t have anywhere for this stuff to go.” i said, “i’m so sorry this is happening.” with tears in his eyes he shook his head and said, “for nothing.”
i am certain these men consider themselves good guys, “good cops.” the exclusively white passerbys seemed to trust that as well, as several of them nodded and smiled at the cops, and narrowed their eyes at the man who didn’t know where he would sleep that night. aside from some quietly infuriating tsk-tsk-type comments and value judgements about the man, the cops were well-mannered in their words and body language. aware of my presence and intent to observe their behavior, one went so far as to thank me, saying i was so kind to offer the man a ride. he shrugged, saying, “it is what it is.”
i don’t believe there is any such thing as a good cop. i am not saying all cops are mean or all cops are card-carrying members of the KKK. i even believe cops sometimes offer certain forms of support to some people. however. i bear witness to the fact that the norm of police culture, not the anomaly, is using physical and systemic violence to enforce oppression. yes, all cops break up families, depriving parents of their children and children of their parents. yes, all cops enforce racist, sexist, and classist laws. yes, all cops protect “private property” on stolen land, patrolling the streets for people who they don’t feel have the right to exist in public space. it doesn’t matter how polite or nice a cop acts, who a cop voted for, and what kind of person they are when they’re not wearing the badge. no cops are good cops because all cops accept the state-sanctioned power to lock humans in cages based on interpretations of already racist, classist laws.
often when the idea of abolishing police and/or prisons comes up, people who feel resistant to the idea point to the small percentage of people in prisons who are chronically violent and unremorseful. in the long-term, let’s-vision-collective-liberation scope, i strongly believe that all people with lifelong access to stable housing, comprehensive healthcare, education, cultural resources, and community support are capable of thriving in a way that doesn’t hurt others or compete with others’ right to live and thrive. that may sound far out, since so many people in the US don’t have stability in terms of housing, healthcare, and other basic resources. but as i continue to learn from adrienne maree brown and other visionary black women, envisioning a better world requires imagination. walidah imarisha writes in the introduction of octavia’s brood:
… the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is: for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born. Once the imagination is unshackled, liberation is limitless.
For those of us from communities with historic collective trauma, we must understand that each of us is already science fiction walking around on two legs. Our ancestors dreamed us up and then bent reality to create us. For adrienne maree brown and myself, as two Black women, we think of our ancestors in chains dreaming about a day when their children’s children’s children would be free. They had no reason to believe this was likely, but together they dreamed of freedom, and they brought us into being.
i have been thinking a lot about the man and wondering how he’s doing, where he’s staying, if he got his car back. i won’t forget the look in his eyes. we owe it to ourselves and to our communities to look out for each other, even when we don’t feel we can do anything to help.
if you are interested in learning more about abolition for police and prisons, black & pink has a collection of resources compiled here — i really appreciate captive genders for a queer perspective. if you are interested in learning more about observing police in action, i think the berkeley copwatch handbook is a good place to start, as well as the other resources here.
til next time.