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On the Day of Mehserle’s Sentencing: A Feminist Vow

November 5, 2010

[Today, former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to 2 years in prison, with 146 days already served, for the involuntary manslaughter of Oscar Grant. The Grant case marked the first time in California’s history that a peace officer was tried for murder.]

 

Whereas

We as women, transgender people, two-spirit people, queers, gender-oppressed people, and allies of the Bay Area mourn the loss of Oscar Grant;

Whereas we recognize that this young man was just one of countless victims of police violence;

Whereas we understand and experience police repression, particularly in poor, queer, and working-class communities of color;

Whereas we know that police violence both enables and enacts rape, brutalization, and degradation;

Whereas police violence compounds the dangers we face in domestic violence, sex trafficking, and homophobic and transphobic hate crimes;

Whereas police enforce the criminalization of our disabilities, addictions, and mental illnesses;

Whereas police enforce the criminalization of our skin color, sexualities, style of dress and speech, gender identities, religious practices, and nations of origin;

Whereas police violently enforce our subservience to an economy that enriches elites, while slaughtering, starving, sickening, and stealing from us as workers, child-rearers, and culture creators;

Whereas the rich and influential deploy police to violently crush our efforts toward self-determination, from queer social spaces to workplace strikes;

Whereas the rich and influential deploy police to kill or capture our leaders and heroes, like the recently deceased political prisoner Marilyn Buck;

Whereas police are employed to do as they are ordered;

Whereas police violence comes 10% from individual bigotry and improper training, and 90% from a capitalist state system designed to protect property, not people;

Whereas such a property-focused police system, controlled by the rich and influential, enacts and supports gender-based and sexual violence;

And Whereas such a system can never be adequately reformed, based as it is in the fundamental inequality borne of a patriarchal capitalist system:

We maintain compassion for individual police officers who both experience and inflict suffering; who face and enforce mortal danger.

We vow, in the effort to end sexist violence throughout the world, to eradicate the police system of the United States as we know it; and to transcend the misogynist capitalist system that demands this type of policing.

We undertake this mission with no hatred in our hearts toward individual police officers or those who support the police system.

We accept this responsibility out of love for all people, and the unquenchable desire for universal freedom and equality.

In the service of this calling, we will sing, strike, fuck, fight, rest, write, rebel, and rebuild until we achieve liberation for all beings.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2010 1:28 pm

    I’m going to work on aspiring to not have hatred in my heart, but I’m not there yet.

  2. John permalink
    November 5, 2010 1:36 pm

    While I agree that the Mehserle verdict/sentencing was absurd (a less sympathetic jury would have known he was full of crap about the whole “I thought it was my tazer” line and probably convicted him of manslaughter, as opposed to involuntary), I have to question what your proposed solution for enforcement of laws in an ideal world would be. Nobody likes the police, but if laws don’t get enforced, society pretty much falls apart and (more pressingly) I’d be out of a job. I’ve only had to dial 911 once, and it was when someone was trying to break into my house while I was home. It was super scary, and I was pretty glad that cops showed up, with (at least I would posit) the intention of protecting both my property and person.

    I’m incredibly sympathetic to victims of state violence and those who’ve had their civil rights infringed upon, but I think it behooves us to look not just at problems, but also at solutions. Keep up the fine work, I enjoy reading.

  3. November 5, 2010 1:44 pm

    @John: You’re not really questioning a “solution” proposed in the post–you’re questioning a solution of removing police from the equation without addressing patriarchy and capitalism, which the OP also talks about. I’m glad that you were able to call the police and have your self and your stuff protected–not everybody who calls the police during a break in is so lucky: http://abcnews.go.com/US/phoenix-family-lawsuit-cops-shot-homeowner-intruder/story?id=8756441.

  4. John permalink
    November 5, 2010 1:51 pm

    I’m not really questioning any solutions, per se, I’m more asking for them. On a broader level, any society, even one without capitalism/patriarchy/what have you is going to have to be governed by rules, and those rules are going to need to be enforced somehow. Given the immediacy of the problem of police violence, something like a public education campaign informing citizens of their rights and their ability to file actions under 42 U.S.C. §1983 seems a lot more likely to effect positive change in poor communities and communities of color than ending capitalism, if nothing else because the latter is substantially unlikely to happen.

    I’m all for standing on principle, but given that we all agree there is a serious problem here it seems like the best thing to do is discuss viable solutions which could actually be implemented on the ground.

  5. November 5, 2010 2:03 pm

    @John: Sorry that I misunderstood you–in rereading, I see that I did!

    You know, with social justice, seems to me that we always need to be coming up with “viable” solutions and, at the same time talking about the deep structural changes that may have to happen for any of those solutions to take root. Public education campaigns, please, yes. And also: Changes in basic social, political and economic structures that make those right that we’re educated about mean something more than “I hope that cop remembers which is his tazer and which is his gun.”

  6. November 5, 2010 2:30 pm

    @jeffliveshere: thanks for the point on aspiring to not have hatred. Feelin that.

    @John, I think you’re right that every community/society/relationship needs to have mechanisms for upholding rules and enforcing boundaries. And I think we can do a whole lot better at it than our current police system. Especially because, as jeffliveshere points out, that system works extremely differently for different communities, and the net result is less safety in poor communities of color.

    I recently came across this piece about exploring our own relationships to broken policing systems. I think it’s really good; and it has a bunch of resource links at the end (example: the Audre Lorde Project) exploring some of the difficult questions on policing, prison, pragmatism, and transformational safety and healing alternatives.

    Sometimes when I think about police, I imagine taking medicine to quickly relieve a migraine, and it ends up giving me leukemia. Or costs dozens of human lives to produce. Even though it might appear to be of some benefit to me (and might even be the only solution recommended/marketed to me), on the whole it’s tremendously damaging. There may be other, better ways to treat my migraine, you know?

  7. November 5, 2010 9:56 pm

    like jeff, i appreciate the expansive vision of justice. and i yell yes to resolution. you wrote this, katie? was it written collectively?

  8. Case permalink
    November 5, 2010 10:46 pm

    To John and all those who want a suggestion for a solution. I have a knee-jerk thought! My first association with community-based alternatives to policing that I’ve heard of is called Reintegrative Shaming. A little googling to see what my memory is talking about shows me that this theory/model is discussed in all of the trappings of academia, mostly by a guy named Braithwaite. He wrote a book called, *Crime, shame, and reintegration. There are lots of issues to take up with it even as I read the few pages that Google books lets me preview, so it’s certainly no “perfect solution”. However, it’s definitely intriguing to me, with quotes like,

    “To the extent that the community genuinely comes to believe that the ‘experts’ can scientifically prescribe solutions to the crime problem, there is a risk that citizens cease to look to the preventive obligations which are fundamentally in their own hands. Thus, if I observe an offense, or if I come to know that my next-door neighbor is breaking the law, I should mind my own business, because there are professionals called police officers to deal with this problem. If a child toward whom I bear some responsible relationship by virtue of kinship or community has problems of delinquency, I might assume that it is best to leave it to the school counselor, who, unlike me, is an expert.”

    Also, I realize that the use of the word “shaming” might be a turn off if shame is understood to be differentiated from guilt in that guilt is a negative response to an event or action, while shame is a negative self-concept, basically adding up to a view of the self as unlovable. However, I might be wrong, but it seems to me that that reintegrative shaming is focused on shaming the action, not the actor, and then offering a path for the guilty party to make amends and reenter the society. Hate the sin, not the sinner, kinda thing, to borrow a Christian phrase.

    Anyways, all this is to say, “Here’s something I’ve heard of that relates to community-based responses to crime and harm.” There’s no way I would have thought of reintegrative shaming today if not for this conversation and I plan to do some exploring to see more of what it’s about. I hope you get a chance to also, John. It may prove to not be that great, or maybe it can lead somewhere useful.

    best.

    Also, I really enjoy the link that you included, Katie, because of its call to imagination! The policing system that we have right now is only one approach (with a long and flawed history) to social control. As a general rule I think state-violence, or the threat of its, is born from a deficit of imagination. But then again, a deficit of imagination makes things so much more manageable, “you know?”

    * (I don’t know teh htmls so here’s the link to the google book preview) http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=UutOv-VP0NwC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=japanese+reintegrative+shaming&ots=DON3s7a2VU&sig=ilJHLzF5u41Ctd66HgXswPdOm2w#v=onepage&q=japanese%20reintegrative%20shaming&f=false

  9. November 7, 2010 3:26 pm

    @Case, Hello! :) Good to see/hear you. Hope things are splendid in Ohio.

    Part of what I take from the example quote you give is that real community safety probably means a shift away from the isolation and atomization that leads people to expect certain ‘expert’ enforcers to provide safety. (Whether or not those enforcers are the official police.) To me, maintaining safety and accountability in healthy ways feels more like a group process that builds community, even as it resolves conflict by protecting and re-integrating individual members. Almost like barn-raisings, in that they involve many people and it’s normal that everyone might get a turn helping and being helped.

    I’m curious why you think that state violence comes from a lack of imagination. Or who is lacking that necessary imagination. I think that state violence is very effective in doing what it is designed to do: protect the interests of the ruling class, which is bound up with state government. So the ruling class doesn’t need much more imagination, the way I see it. But maybe I’m misunderstanding?

    Love and hugs and a nice hot mug of tea.

    @kim, I hear you yellin! I did write this alone, but it has been much informed by the ideas of Communities United Against Violence (CUAV), the Combahee River Collective, and conversations with my Marxist-Feminist class, and other folks. I was just feeling that with all the focus on Oscar Grant, all the posters and flyers and murals bearing his image, that there was a weird, overly-narrow discourse crystallizing around young Black (presumably straight) men as THE victims/martyrs of police brutality; and I was wishing for a slightly different angle, so I just kinda started writing this.

    And of course, the Internet is a great collective editing space, so if you feel moved to add or amend or revise, that would be most welcome. As always, a work in progress.

    So much love, respect, and big hugs to you.

  10. Heelbiter permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:31 pm

    This post is awesome. Predictably, the focus was derailed by a patriarchy apologist two comments in. John, you are part of the problem.

  11. John permalink
    November 8, 2010 5:04 pm

    Yes, “Heelbiter,” how dare I bring up *slightly* differing viewpoints or suggest that we focus on solutions to the problem which can actually be timely implemented. You’ve clearly showed in your blindingly insightful post the ways in which I’ve apologized for the patriarchy and established myself as part of the problem. And here I thought I was making a contribution to a respectful and interesting dialogue.

    Pro-tip: If you’re going to make wild assertions or cast aspersions towards someone’s character, it’s more rhetorically potent if you back up your statement even a small amount.

  12. November 8, 2010 5:38 pm

    Friends, while disagreements and sharp criticisms are welcome here, please avoid sarcasm, snark, and condescension.

    John, what I’m reading in your response is: I feel attacked; I don’t think I’m an apologist for patriarchy; Why is this person calling me that?

    If you really want to know why, please ask. And be genuinely prepared to listen, and also for the person to say that they don’t have the energy or interest to explain it to you, since they get asked similar things a lot and it’s emotionally draining to always answer.

    Heelbiter, thanks for the love, I’m glad you’re feelin the post. In my blogging I’m trying to do things in a certain form, in the sense that when offering comments on my posts, I ask that folks reflect on whether their words are (1) kind, (2) timely, (3) helpful, and (4) true. I’m not saying one way or another whether your comment fit all those things (it may very well!); just to raise that up as an offering for consideration.

    Much thanks, y’all.

  13. John permalink
    November 8, 2010 5:57 pm

    Apologies for the sarcasm. Old arguing-on-the-internet habits die hard, but this does indeed seem to be a kinder, more decorous place than most of the internet and I shall be more mindful of the guidelines henceforth.

    I think your reading of my comment is pretty fair and accurate, and I would add to that, free of all snark and cynicism, the following: The world is big enough to accommodate a number of viewpoints. Dividing people into “part of the problem” and “part of the solution” might be a convenient binary worldview, but it’s likely to be neither accurate nor terribly informative. I’m more than happy to consider the ways in which I’m part of the problem (I’m probably part of a number of problems, much as I might try not to be), but such accusations do seem to warrant a bit more explanation than was provided in the instant case.

    Anyhow, off to dinner. Sounds like you’ve had a pretty crazy few days. I hope you’re holding up well. Cheers!

  14. November 10, 2010 9:44 am

    I love this post, and I think that it’s a great antidote to the myopic focus in the OG movement on the experience of state violence by young Black men. I thought this part was especially true and moving:

    “Whereas we understand and experience police repression, particularly in poor, queer, and working-class communities of color;

    Whereas we know that police violence both enables and enacts rape, brutalization, and degradation;

    Whereas police violence compounds the dangers we face in domestic violence, sex trafficking, and homophobic and transphobic hate crimes;”

    I appreciate John’s response to Kloncke’s intervention, and interestingly I also appreciate Heelbiter noticing the derail, and patriarchy apologia. Since John you say you’re happy to consider the ways that you’re part of the problem, I thought I’d expand on why I agree with Heelbiter’s characterization. Don’t mean to attack you personally John, but your openness seems like a good opportunity for honesty.

    The focus of the original post was on the experience of state violence by gender-oppressed people “women, transgender people, two-spirit people, queers, gender-oppressed people, and allies” as well as a critique of state violence as being an integral part of a patriarchal, capitalist system.

    I get that in response, you’re questioning the phrase “eradicate the police system”, specifically wondering what will take its place. I see it as a derail because it’s asking for policy-making rather than really responding to or exploring the questions being dealt with in the post…..like your response to the post seemed to be “well what kind of police system are YOU gonna build?” which obviously is impossible to get substantially into in blog comments.

    And yeah, I think there was some apology for patriarchy there.

    “Nobody likes the police, but if laws don’t get enforced, society pretty much falls apart and (more pressingly) I’d be out of a job.”

    How does your statement that police are necessary for a cohesive society relate to Kloncke’s list of ways that state violence impacts women, queer people, working-class people? You’re right that a central police role is to protect the property of middle-class people like you and (kinda) me, and I’ll take you at your word that you’re sympathetic to victims of state violence……but there’s an implicit thing happening where the property in your house that was gonna get burglarized (and I guess the violence that would have happened to you? although I’m not sure that’s a reasonable fear) are clearly more important than the many deaths and other harms caused by the police that Kloncke is drawing attention to. Like, it seems that you’re assuming that a breakdown in property protection is clearly less desireable than status quo police violence.

    Ends up that it’s pretty ironic when an attempt to bring in the experience of gender-oppressed people starts to center around the experience of middle-class white males (like me and John.) John, I don’t think that people like you and me have to just STFU and GTFO with our bourgey experiences, but I think we fo sho need to try to participate in the process of figuring out how these systems impact poor people, queer people, women….rather than immediately articulating our different and more positive experience with police and asking for solutions that allow us to continue that experience.

  15. John permalink
    November 10, 2010 3:22 pm

    Valid points all, especially the one about how I’m speaking from my experience. I’m aware that my experience as a white male placing a service call from a middle-class neighborhood are going to be different than someone else placing a call from another neighborhood, and that awareness should have been reflected in my post (but wasn’t, really). I’m still honestly unclear as to how anything I’ve said can be reasonably construed as an apologetic for patriarchy; I’m happy to let the point drop, though I would like to clarify that that really wasn’t my intention.

    I didn’t intend my comments as any sort of a derail, more of just a “Hey, I read this, and it made me think, and here’s what I’m thinking” sort of thing. My intention was to say “OK, we’ve identified a problem which we all agree exists, what’s the best thing to do about it?” not because I’m demanding an answer, but because that’s just kind of where my mind goes at that point. And I realize that, coming from the different places from which we come ideologically/professionally/etc., the contours of the solutions to which we arrive are going to vary from person to person. All I’m suggesting is that we’ll be more effective at effecting some sort of positive outcome if we focus on what we’ve got in common, rather than focusing on the differences in an attempt to figure out who’s “part of the problem.”

  16. November 11, 2010 11:50 am

    Word, I don’t think figuring out who’s “part of the problem” is a priority…..I think figuring out what the problem is IS a priority though, and that as part of figuring that out we’ll probably come across ways that ourselves, or others, are contributing to, or at least failing to fight against, oppressive systems.

    There’s a whole crew of people who say “police excesses are deplorable, but we need the police so we’re safe”, which is classic apologetics….apologetics means acknowledging that something is not an ideal outcome, but then taking care to explain how it is necessary. i.e. “it sucks for the palestinians that Israel bulldozes their houses, but Jews have the right to live in a secure country after what they’ve been through” or “no one should be raped, but men have little control over their testosterone-riddled minds and she was dressed like a hooker.” I think Heelbiter and I reasonably construed you to be downplaying the patriarchal effects of the 5-0, and up-playing their necessary role. ergo apologia. Anyway not that central of a point, but probably a good one to make explicit.

    I’m not sure we actually have identified a problem that we all agree exists, J. From the original post:

    “Whereas we know that police violence both enables and enacts rape, brutalization, and degradation;

    Whereas police violently enforce our subservience to an economy that enriches elites, while slaughtering, starving, sickening, and stealing from us as workers, child-rearers, and culture creators;

    Whereas the rich and influential deploy police to violently crush our efforts toward self-determination, from queer social spaces to workplace strikes;

    Whereas the rich and influential deploy police to kill or capture our leaders and heroes, like the recently deceased political prisoner Marilyn Buck;”

    Those are pretty controversial statements (that I totally agree with)…..do you agree that the police have these effects? I’m actually kind of against jumping to solutions/policy with low levels of agreement about what’s going on, because there’s no way to get to the root of things using that methodology. Personally, I don’t agree that without police, society will pretty much fall apart. For me, that question is directly tied to whatever process is going on that will lead to the absence of police……like the warlordism in Somalia was not created by lack of police, but rather by famine, lack of industry combined with a world system where life is generally worth what it can produce. Lack of police was part of that process, but not a driving force.

    This is not intended to be smashology……more supposed to be support for a project of not focusing on what we’ve got in common, OR what our differences are exactly, but more like what are the systems and structures we’re enmeshed in, how do they work, and how do they affect different people. Thanks to Kloncke for always being a part of that process!

  17. November 11, 2010 11:56 am

    Sort of an aside: I really appreciate Ryan’s words here. I also want to acknowledge that I think I feel aspects of what John is talking about–some social justice stuff is still very new to me, and ideas like a world without prisons (an example from some new awakenings in my own consciousness) sound totally impossible on the face of it, from a certain (privileged?) perspective. “A world without prisons? What? How would that work?” Thing is, lots of people have already thought about this, and have come up with ways that it could/would/will work!

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