Yesterday, around 7pm as the sun was beginning to set, I was exiting the beach near my house with my dog on leash as I, and many residents of my Rogers Park neighborhood, do on a daily basis. I’ve lived here for over 8 years and being able to walk to the waters edge with my dog is one of the reasons why I like living where I live. As I was trying to walk home, I saw a bike cop looking at me as I reached the sidewalk. Bike cops are a new addition to our north-side neighborhood that our Alderman and Police Superintendent have recently heralded at a community forum on violence as a great new safety addition to our lakefront. The bike cop started saying “Hey, come over here I wanna talk to you.”
I had my headphones on and didn’t realize at first that he was talking to me. Also, it felt like a creepy pick up line so I kept walking. Then, he said it again, this time more loudly. He then proceeded to interrogate my presence at the beach asking me questions about where I was from and where my ID was. I was wearing a Bull hat and ironically a t-shirt from Shining Soul that said “Hip Hop is Resistance”. Maybe I didn’t look like I belonged to the new vision of the lakefront that Joe Moore and the super-intendant envision for our community. When I failed to produce and ID he told me that it was illegal to walk my dog on the beach and to consider this a warning.
photo taken minutes before interaction with bike cop.
I tried to post about this interaction on facebook but my status got deleted when it was interrupted by a phone call. So, after the call I simply wrote “F*&$ the Police” as my status as a means of venting. Almost instantly, some people who are cops themselves started to take offense to my status. One asked me if I would say the same thing to the families of cops who were killed in the line of duty. I posted a link to the Chicago Tribune’s recent report of 5 people (two in my neighborhood) being shot over the weekend by the Chicago Police Department. Then she and some of her friends resorted to name calling and throwing down the gauntlet which is so often used in these debates by cops and other pro-police communities—“Who you going to call when bad stuff happens?”
The following is the response I wrote, but decided not to post on facebook and instead share it here.
To answer your question of who do we call when bad stuff happens if not the police, I turn to a question that a mentor of mine who does anti prison-to-pipeline work often poses when asked the same question repeatedly by people who can’t envision that there can be alternatives to calling the police. This response is often times cited by mainstream society and media as the ONLY thing we can do. I have to admit, I used to be one of those people who couldn’t envision an alternative to dialing 9-1-1 when things went down. Although, this mentality leaves us with one option that is slow and sometimes alleviates the situation for a few hours or days— but never seeks to attend to the roots of the violence which sparked the call in the first place. Yes, for some people, calling the police yields the desired effect. Generally these people are from a certain neighborhood, or class, education, lifestyle, etc. Yet, depending on where people live they will tell you all the reasons why they don’t call the police. For example, the cops don’t show up fast enough or at all in certain neighborhoods, when/if the police to do come the survivor is re-victimized by the officers (slut shaming, excessive use of force, etc.), unintended consequences accrue afterwards like evictions from housing, their families are torn apart due to integration with DCFS, loss of benefits, criminal records that then prevent people from attaining jobs, ICE getting called, and as we see this weekend and most weekends in cities where a police force is inserted amongst low income communities of color—you may even end up a widow or a parent to a dead relative when the police get involved.
How does this strengthen our communities? Who do the police serve and protect? Who have they historically negated to serve and who have they historically attacked? How does this racist, classist, and sexist legacy show up today amongst cops in our kids’ schools and in our neighborhoods? There are linkages in these histories and I trace them back and forth along the pathways of blood that spill from (almost always) black and brown children’s limp bodies who lay on the streets (and sometimes the floors of their own homes) in places like Chicago, New York, Detroit, Miami, Oakland & Los Angeles. So to your point that the color of the 5 people’s skin who were shot this weekend alone by CPD doesn’t matter is a null point because as a feminist and anti-racist member of my community—I have been trained by those who I look up to like bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Grace Lee Boggs, Mariame Kaba, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Kimberly Crenshaw, Cherie Moraga, Beth Ritchie etc. that you can never tease out ones race from other intersecting factors such as their race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. One’s race and class is always already intertwined and on full display.
The Young Women’s Empowerment Project compiled years of youth led participatory action research by administering forms to fill out about their experiences with institutions in Chicago to marginalized young folks across the city. What their research found was that the institutions and social service agencies in the city meant to help people like them often had the opposite effect. The Chicago Police Department ranked highest as the #1 institution to cause these young folks harm. Hospitals being #2.
Your question of who do you call when bad stuff happens also reminds me of the introduction to the Dr. Beth Ritchie’s book Arrested Justice which details how white and black women’s disappearances are treated disproportionately different by the media and the police. It also details the story of a woman from Cabrini Green who after most of the buildings were torn down and her neighbors and community had been dispersed across the city and suburbs was repeatedly sexually assaulted by CPD police officers. There are personal narratives from young people that mirror this as well in YWEP’s above mentioned report. So when you ask the question of who do you call when bad stuff happens I respond how Mariame Kaba would who asks back—how would you respond if you caught your sister or brother robbing you? You don’t call the police, you work things out. You have compassion for their situation and try to understand where they are coming from. You don’t call the police and hope they are thrown away in Cook County because you know they have friends and family that care about them and sometimes even rely on them. I also respond to your question with a question of my own: Who do you call when the police are doing the bad stuff? Who do the parents of the 5 people shot this weekend by CPD call? It’s time for restorative and transformative approaches to violence; approaches that don’t utilize locking and throwing away bad people because a community is only as strong as its most marginalized member. If we throw away the people who a community most, we are losing out on opportunities to learn and grow together about what it means to be alive and well in this racist, classist, queerphobic and ableist society.
Thanks Sarah-Ji for reminding about this resource for alternatives to calling the police by Chain Reaction: http://alternativestopolicing.com/
Also, if you’re in rogers park tonight (or in Chicago) there is a roundtable discussion about police brutality happening as apart of a new monthly series of talks
~written by Brown & Proud Press collective member Pidgeon.
for folks who made a collective zine w/ @moonrootzine & us: meet us at 12:45 in mcgregor (by food table) to see the zine!!!!