Inspired by the structure of the Combahee River Collective Statement, the Movement Statement assignment asked students to compose a statement that educates readers on an issue of their choice and to discuss how a multi-dimensional queer politics might engage that issue. This student writes about the issue of community policing reform in her Movement Statement. Taking a utopian approach, her piece introduces a newly established grassroots community organization called Community
Policing Safety. The organization draws from queer theory and Black feminist theory to encourage community members to participate in an abolition education and to collectively establish alternative modes of safety in resistance to police violence and oppression.
AN INTRODUCTION: WHO ARE WE?
I am writing on behalf of a newly formed group, Community
Policing Safety. We are dedicated to raising political consciousness among the people who have expressed support for community policing and to undoing our deeply rooted reliance on the state. The state does not, and never will, protect all of us. And by “us,” we encompass anyone who is marginalized in this country along the axes of race, gender, sexuality, class, and citizenship. Founded in October 2020, our collective provides an abolition education, particularly through workshops on re-imagining modalities of community safety. Although our group was founded recently, we acknowledge that Black activists have long critically engaged with the topic of abolition. They stand at the forefront of the writings, texts, and thought that are foundational to our project. With profound gratitude, excitement, and inspiration, we invite you to join Community Policing Safety.
First, I want to acknowledge my positionality and how it shapes my proximity to policing. The first element is my academic background: as part of my undergraduate studies, I have been conducting research about the Chicago Police Board. The second element is my intersectional sexual, gender, and racial identity. I present as East Asian, cis and heterosexual – and I identify as such. I cannot fully understand the lived experiences of residents who live in Chicago (having grown up in Queens, New York), and I have never experienced interactions with the police that have endangered my life. The issue of police brutality disproportionately affects Black and queer folk. As such, our theorization arises from Black feminist thought and a critical queer politics. We strive to push a paradigm shift about safety away from community policing and towards framing abolition as the only mode because, for the Black community, this bears life-or-death consequences.
THE GENESIS: THE CPB AND BEYOND
On the website of the city of Chicago, transcripts of public meetings with the Chicago Police Board (CPB) are readily accessible to the public. For my sociology research project this past summer, I read through the transcripts from 2008 to the present. Residents of Chicago attended these meetings conveying concerns for their safety, sharing experiences with police misconduct, and demanding police accountability. Some residents have advocated for community policing. Here are a few examples of how they were expressed:
- In order to reduce cases of police misconduct, the police must actively work to improve their relationship with residents. Residents do not trust the police, so it is the police officer’s responsibility to gain that trust back. This might take the form of participating in day-to-day activities, hanging out with community members, or volunteering with the youth.
- The police must make efforts to better understand the particular needs of the neighborhoods that they are assigned to.
- Police officers must respond more quickly and fully attend to residents’ 911 calls.
However, these comments are not unique to the specific individuals at the CPB meetings. We hear them everywhere. They fit neatly into a community policing paradigm that we believe is worthy of analyzing.
The space, both within the CPB itself and the city of Chicago, in which these comments were made have also inspired our project. The Police Board may state that community input will inform their decisions on disciplinary cases. However, the Chicago Police Board is not independent from the police. The power and responsibilities of the Board are still set by the government of Chicago, the same system in charge of overseeing the Chicago Police Department. Moreover, we anticipate that the government might exploit the meeting structure, using the comments that advocate for community policing to justify the expansion of and increased funding for the CPD. They might say, in other words, “In response to the community members who have expressed concerns about their safety and toincorporate their recommendations, we will improve the police system from within.” One of our goals is to prevent further comments expressing support for community policing before the city puts this into action.
Chicago is a city known for its high unemployment rates, poverty, and police surveillance that disproportionately impacts the Black community. At the same time, the same city has always been at the epicenter of Black resistance, holding a long legacy of anti-policing organizing and community building in Chicago. Black activists in Chicago have inspired movements across the nation, calling attention to deep investment in communities and demanding an end to state-sanctioned violence.
For these reasons, we believe that Chicago serves as a key location that is part of the national conversation about abolition. Our targeted audience begins with residents of Chicago, but we hope to expand over time and gauge folks from states throughout the United States.
Why do we reject community policing?
Improving the relationship between police officers and residents is only a short-term solution. Community policing neither solves the underlying roots of what is deemed “criminal” activity, nor protects all people from police violence. Moreover, community policing reinforces the legitimacy and authority of police, a system that historically and still continues to rely on exploitation and racial oppression to gain power.
Okay, what now? Towards a Queer Politics and Black Feminist Approach
Queer politics and Black Feminist Theory have deeply informed our understandings about abolition. Abolition is inherently queer in that it is non-normative and reimagines an alternative to the status quo. Moving away from focusing on the short-term, we seek systemic changes to improve the material conditions of the Black community.
Community policing communicates that we need these systems of power – we just have to make fixes. As the text Queer (In)Justice discusses, particularly in the context of prison abolition, maintenance of these systems only exacerbates harm and increases violence, particularly against Black and queer folk of color. They are upheld by the processes of racialization and gendering, justified through patriarchy, ableism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy. Organizations such as Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, and Critical Resistance have provided the embodied knowledge and articulated that while harm reduction is important to address, we must always remind ourselves to commit to making deeper fundamental changes and transformations.
Put in practical terms, abolition calls for government investment in jobs, education, housing, and health care, all of which are necessary for a violent-free life. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore, one of the key leaders in the abolition movement, gracefully puts, “Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when… they ‘mess up.’” And moving beyond the practical, abolitionist Dr. Angela Davis explains, “We support the trans community precisely because the community has taught us how to challenge that which is totally accepted as normal. If it is possible to challenge the gender binary, then we can certainly effectively resist prisons and police.” Abolition, then, is a futurity of imagining a world that has not existed.
Applying Black Feminist Theory
A significant number of CPB attendees have raised concerns about their safety. Black women in particular have experienced violence in a variety of forms, attending the meetings with a sense of helplessness and fear. We believe addressing these needs is crucial, especially when residents are – understandably so – put in moments where they have to resort to 911. We center Black Feminist Theory in responding to these concerns. Black feminism locates the production of power through reproductive violence, gender violence, and exploitation of their socially reproductive labor. It also applies an intersectional analysis, arguing that multiple points of marginalization have produced distinctive vulnerabilities to male violence. Centering their experiences as valid and important, they provide alternative modes of accountability for gendered violence.
ISSUES AND PROJECTS
First, our group will delve deeper into the community policing paradigm. While reading our beliefs about community policing, you might have been prompted to ask, why? We invite you to attend our virtual education workshops, covering topics on the history of community policing and its relation to state power. We invite everyone to attend, including those who live outside of Chicago.
Another component of our workshops is to build a network of community members constituting women from the neighborhoods of Chicago. The workshops will be a mini conference, modeled after the Color of Violence Conference in Santa Cruz, California. The conference united 1,000 women of color activists, providing a space for them to talk about intimate partner violence and analyze abuses against Black women from the police, prison industrial complex, and the health care system, which sparked expansion to a larger organization called Incite! We hope to eventually collaborate with Critical Resistance and Incite!, alongside other city-based local anti-violence organizations. Influenced by the Combahee River Collective’s pamphlet and Black Feminist theory more broadly, we will brainstorm and collectively generate a list of ways to protect ourselves and one another.
Second, to address an organizational issue about the physical and mental costs of organizing, we are interested in creating a mutual aid fund. We will collect money and redistribute them to compensate organizers for their labor, provide food and water, provide physical living spaces for each other, to cover rent – the list goes on. In short, we want to materially support one another.
We anticipate a structural problem in building alternatives that meet the material and emotional needs of the most vulnerable. Chicago organizers have built communities and organized, but at great costs. This includes consuming time, energy, and physical and financial resources. It can become quite costly to pay for labor, print materials, provide meeting spaces, feed folks, maintain websites, cover for travel, and distribute art material. Black activists have also experienced immense emotional, physical, and spiritual costs of putting their bodies and livelihoods on the line in the name of liberation. Through our workshops and mutual aid fund, we hope to materially and emotionally support organizers.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant organizing challenges. While ensuring that we are taking appropriate safety precautions, we anticipate that not being able to physically share a space together might hinder mobilization efforts. We will utilize digital platforms as an online resource, but not everyone will have access to stable Internet connections and technologies for digital communication. Beyond issues of outreach, we have witnessed a disproportionate number of Black communities – particularly those incarcerated – impacted by COVID-19, all of which are worsened by the existing inequalities related to accessing health care. Our movement might face challenges from the physical costs that COVID-19 has impacted on us. But for those of us who are able to, we must continue to extend our efforts.
Policing Safety invites you to dive deep into a future, a world that embraces our differences and that values collectivity. Abolition must start now. After all, as Dean Spade writes, “Our demands for redistribution, access, and participation must be reflected in our resistance work every day – they can’t be something we come back for later.”
 “Department of Chicago Police Board,” https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cpb.html.
 Charlene Carruthers, “Chapter 6: “The Chicago Model”,” in Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2018).
 Eric Stanley and Dean Spade, “Queering Prison Abolition, Now?,” American Quarterly 64 (2012): 121,https://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2012.0003.
 Stanley and Spade, “Queering Prison Abolition, Now?,” 122.
 Stanley and Spade, “Queering Prison Abolition, Now?,” 123.
 Rachel Kushner, “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind,” The New York Times (New York) 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/magazine/prison-abolition-ruth-wilson-gilmore.html.
 Gem Nwanne, “Op-Ed: There Is No Queer Liberation Without Prison Abolition,” them., June 2020 2020.
 Beth E. Richie, “The Matrix: A Black Feminist Response to Male Violence and the State,” in Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation (NYU Press, 2012), 131-32.
 Richie, “The Matrix: A Black Feminist Response to Male Violence and the State,” 155.
 The Combahee River Collective, “Six Black Women: Why Did They Die? A Document of Black Feminism,” (1979).
 Carruthers, “Chapter 6: “The Chicago Model”.”
 Dean Spade, “Chapter 1: Trans Law and Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape,” in Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (Brooklyn, NY: South End Press, 2015), 69.
Carruthers, Charlene. “Chapter 6: “The Chicago Model”.” Chap. 6 In Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements 162. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2018.
The Combahee River Collective. “Six Black Women: Why Did They Die? A Document of Black Feminism.” (1979).
“Department of Chicago Police Board.” https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cpb.html.
Kushner, Rachel. “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind.” The New York Times (New York), 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/magazine/prison-abolition-ruth-wilson-gilmore.html.
Nwanne, Gem. “Op-Ed: There Is No Queer Liberation without Prison Abolition.” them., June 2020 2020.
Richie, Beth E. “The Matrix: A Black Feminist Response to Male Violence and the State.” Chap. 5 In Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation, 244: NYU Press, 2012.
Spade, Dean. “Chapter 1: Trans Law and Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape.” In Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, 49-78. Brooklyn, NY: South End Press, 2015.
Stanley, Eric, and Dean Spade. “Queering Prison Abolition, Now?”. American Quarterly 64 (2012): 115-27. https://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2012.0003.