As the global fight against racial injustice gains steam, meaningful change is beginning to materialise. From mayors pledging to defund police forces and racial justice organisations receiving an outpouring of support to a sharp rise in public discussions around issues of systemic racism—evidence of progress trails behind the swelling wave of protest and outrage. It is important to build on this historic momentum and keep the foot on the gas.
What can you do to support the movement for black rights and racial justice?
Taking to the streets to demonstrate remains one of the most effective ways to protest injustice and demand immediate change. Check the Black Lives Matter website, local community websites and social media for information about protests taking place in your area. If your circumstances don’t allow you to march in the streets, you may want to inquire about virtual protests happening, like the one recently arranged by Black Lives Matter London.
Protesters marching in the streets are in need of various supplies, including water, masks, food, and more. Visit the webpage of a protest happening near you to learn about its designated supply drop-off locations, or contact protest organisers for information on how to help.
As a growing number of protesters are being arrested by police forces, bail money is urgently needed for people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom. This Google Doc contains a list of bailout and legal funds categorised by city and state.
Systemic racism has robbed black communities of funds and resources and stilted progress among its residents. Contributing to initiatives designed to empower black communities is a crucial step in rectifying the ravages of centuries of racial discrimination. Black Visions Collective, National Bailout and Campaign Zero are three organisations that work in varying ways to achieve long term improvement for black communities, end their oppression and promote their rights and safety. You may want to research similar organisations operating in your city or state.
Make it a point to support black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops in your area. You should also research which companies are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and refrain from supporting them—L’Oréal, Reformation and Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.
Immigrants of colour are disproportionately targeted, terrorised, and abused by the government—at the border, in detention facilities, and in black and brown communities repeatedly raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the invitation of the NYPD, ICE agents have been infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, and have already detained one immigrant. Research and donate to organisations working to protect and advocate on behalf of immigrants of colour.
Queer people of colour are at an increased risk of experiencing violence, exclusion, police brutality and oppression. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of what is commonly referred to as ‘compounded minority stress’—being both queer and black or brown. The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective are two out of numerous organisations working to protect and uplift black queer people in the US. If you’re based in the UK, you may want to check out UK Black Pride, IMAAN and NAZ Project.
While the focus tends to revolve around national politics—it is local authorities that are often hotbeds of racial injustice. Inquire about your mayor, comptroller, chief of police, and district attorney, demand accountability for their actions, and be sure to vote in local elections and get involved in your community.
Across the US, and around the world, more and more people are demanding to defund the police and invest their budget in community projects and infrastructure and locally-run emergency-response teams. Minneapolis may be the first US city to completely disband its police force, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti had already pledged to slash the city’s police budget and invest the money in communities of colour. Join the growing demand to defund the police by supporting #8toAbolition, the Movement for Black Lives or other NGOs operating in your city or county.
Challenge yourself with daily and rigorous reflections on how the concept of Whiteness may affect your life; in what ways does it limit or impact your actions, your perceptions, your opinions, your circle of friends? Policies are important milestones in the fight against systemic racism, but they alone cannot herald real, long-lasting change on societal and institutional scales. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow laws had been eradicated, and yet here we are still battling the plague of racism. Ultimately, racial justice could only be achieved when we fundamentally change the ways we see ourselves and obliterate the institution and concept of Whiteness.
Across the US—and around the world—protesters are taking to the streets to demand an end to systemic racism and police brutality, after George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was murdered by a white officer in Minneapolis. Peeling loudly amidst the clamour for justice is a growing call to defund police forces across the US; some have even called to altogether abolish the police and replace it with alternative solutions to emergency response.
It is a well-documented fact that police forces throughout the US disproportionately target communities of colour, and particularly black Americans. A recent investigation by the New York Times reveals that in Minneapolis, 60 per cent of cases in which police use violent force involve black targets. Such trends hold true across the country.
But in order to understand the scope of the problem and consider potential solutions, it is necessary to educate ourselves about the origins of the police in the US and the function they served over the years.
Policing in the US finds its roots in slave patrols that were established to police runaway and defiant slaves, as well as in other forces that aimed at monitoring and controlling minorities across the country (Native Americans for instance) and protecting white property.
Over the centuries, many of these teams of vigilantes had morphed into today’s police departments, and although the official explanation behind their operations has changed, they largely serve the same purpose: maintaining a socio-economic status quo that disproportionately benefits white Americans.
Throughout the years, America’s police forces grew increasingly militant. This mainly resulted from a Pentagon programme called 1033, which funnels weaponry surplus from the military to local police departments. Such gear includes battery rams, explosives, grenade launchers, and bayonets. Initiated in the 1990s as part of the War on Drugs and accelerated following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the programme was temporarily restricted by former President Obama only to be reinstated by President Trump.
The militarisation of police has been linked to a swelling pattern of use of excessive force by police officers against unarmed people of colour, and particularly, but not exclusively, black men. The police response to the current protests further exhibit the consequences of a heavily militarised police force—as many officers have been firing tear gas, macing and violently dispersing peaceful protests, resulting in countless injuries and even death among demonstrators.
On top of that, in 1967 the Supreme Court forged the notion of ‘qualified immunity’ as a way to shield police officers using excessive force against demonstrators from being held accountable. This notion, which was subsequently adopted by lower courts as well, continues to grant immunity to cops brutalising and murdering people while on duty to this very day.
It is important to recognise that the ‘good cop bad cop’ narrative being floated around isn’t only inapplicable, but also diverts the conversation away from the core of the issue. While serving under this system, in these uniforms, equipped with this gear and endowed with enormous, virtually unrestrained power, even a decent human being can end up committing or abetting acts of aggression and harassment simply because of their job, their status, and the institution they’re embedded in.
The evolution of American police and the nature of their mandate all but guarantee that they too often threaten and terrorise the very communities they claim to protect; instead of safety, they frequently inspire violence and intimidation.
That’s why the task at hand isn’t to conduct a character assessment of each individual cop, but rather to address the dysfunctions of the police system as a whole.
Diversity, de-escalation training and awareness building among police forces don’t seem to help. As pointed out by Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris in the New York Times opinion piece No More Money for the Police, Minneapolis is an example of a city whose police department implemented numerous justice, mindfulness and de-escalation training, and was lauded as “a model of progressive police reform,” while continuing to use excessive force against minorities. George Floyd was still murdered in Minneapolis police custody.
A call to terminate the Department of Defense programme furnishing police departments with military-style gear is now gaining steam in Capitol Hill. “It is clear that many police departments are being outfitted as if they are going to war, and it is not working in terms of maintaining the peace,” said Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii in an interview for the New York Times. De-militarising the police with Trump in the White House has slim prospects for success and would only tackle one aspect of the problem and be insufficient in uprooting the systemic issues entrenched so deeply in the police.
It seems that the most effective solution would be to re-invest the bloated police budget (roughly $100 billion) in communities themselves: through education, infrastructure, healthcare, and various community projects. Such an act could significantly improve the quality of life in struggling neighbourhoods, promote equality, and eliminate many of the issues that require policing in the first place.
In addition, redirecting a portion of the current police budget toward community-led emergency response teams (as an alternative to policing) could guarantee the actual safety of residents. Teams such as the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (HAVI), which already operate across the country in various capacities, dispatch people with the appropriate skills to de-escalate situations or provide help and rescue in cases of emergency.
As the debate about how to tackle police brutality continues, it is important to recognise the police as an organ of a criminal justice system that through mass incarceration, criminalisation, intrusive surveillance, excessive force, and draconian immigration policies perpetuates the subjugation and oppression of people of colour in the US.
This article has been published as part of an ongoing content partnership with FAIRPLANET.