Policing: Past Time for a New Way

Defund the police reflection

This reflection comes to us from Ashley Bair, who is working for Presbyterian Peace Fellowship during PPF’s deep focus on defunding the police.

Ashley Bair

It’s past time for a new way. 

That was the message my neighbors and I carried when we met on a lawn in late May. We were there out of necessity. George Floyd had been murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department. And while Black organizers in our city gained national attention by leading an incredible, historic, powerful uprising against the violence of the MPD, our streets and alleys had been taken over by white nationalists looking to co-opt the movement.

They swarmed the Twin Cities. We felt terrorized because they came into our alley at night to shoot guns and fireworks. They destroyed small businesses on my street. They threw firebombs on my neighbor’s front porch. Our governor, Tim Walz, called in the National Guard, and the next thing I knew, 60 tanks were lined up in front of my apartment building.

My neighborhood Facebook chat group kept growing, and we decided to meet on a park lawn to talk about how we could get through the coming days. We started listing things we had in our storage units and in our garages. We named the skills we had to share and signed up for shifts during the night to watch over the streets and alleys. It turns out that many neighborhoods in the Cities were doing the same. Police officers were not responding to our calls. When the gas station on the corner was set on fire, the Fire Department didn’t show up for almost two hours. We needed to take our care into our own hands.

When tension between people on the ground and government officials reached an ultimate high, organizers with Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block led the way for a similar lawn meeting to take place with the Minneapolis City Council. They urged the Council (and all of us) to listen and respond to the call to defund the violent police department. The council said “yes” to this call. It was an historic moment of incredible achievement. Then, with national pressure growing, the officers who killed George Floyd were arrested. The path to justice was looking clearer than it had before.

Two months later, the City Charter commission decided we needed more time to study possible outcomes before voting to defund the police. Last Thursday, MPS Officer Derek Chauvin was the last of the four officers to be released from prison.

Now, we are carrying both the realities: that it is POSSIBLE to create a collective vision for safety and care in our community AND that white supremacy continues to be as dangerous as ever as it plagues our institutions.

Uprisings I witnessed in Minneapolis have been happening in cities all over the U.S. – maybe you’ve followed Black organizers in your city, too.

Maybe you’ve witnessed that with Black leadership at the forefront and collective people power, we can build something great – something beautiful, something shared, something that gives life rather than take it away. Your neighborhood knows its own needs best. Think about what your community would look like if it took proactive care of EVERYONE. What do you see? Health care needs being met; education that is accessible to all; energy that doesn’t harm or consume our natural resources; housing for everyone; people having the money they need to live. The call to defund the police is a call to reinvest our city money into these things that take care of us. I am in this work because I have witnessed first hand a neighborhood caring for itself by participating in mutual aid and collective visioning. It’s something that we can do!

And while we do this, we have to remember that white supremacy culture is active and dominant in so many of our systems and it keeps hindering the work. Attributes of white supremacy culture that show up in our systems and organizations include: perfectionism, defensiveness, worship of the written word, only one right way, either/or thinking, power hoarding, a fear of conflict, and the right to comfort. The Minneapolis Police Department (like all police departments) is a manifestation of white supremacy culture and the entities like the City Charter commission act as white gatekeepers. A white gatekeeper is someone who stands at the gate of whiteness, hearing people trying to get in, but protecting those on the inside so they themselves can still reap the benefits.

We need to build a vision for community care that simultaneously dismantles the white supremacy that’s rooted in policing.

As a community of faith, we have to admit that one of the systems that acts as a gatekeeper to white supremacy and policing is the white church. And the whiteness that we protect is blocking the true liberation for all that Jesus called upon us to ensure. Healing for the sick, sharing what we learn, caring for creation, sheltering the unhoused, eliminating poverty. In order to do this, we have to take each other by the hand, unlock the gate, and throw away the key forever. Investing in each other is a spiritual practice. Defunding the police is a spiritual practice.

It is critical for us to begin co-creating a system that brings care and safety to everyone. As a network of peacemakers, we have helped lead the PC(USA) to take bold stances in the face of violence. And now is an opportunity to do so again. If we are committed to the work of antiracism then the safety, care, and thriving of Black people must be at the center of our work.

PPF can use our strength as a risk-taking community to risk making changes within our organization that will deepen our commitment to a world without violence.  

PPF can learn the practices of abolition to build a vision of abundance that reminds us that we already have everything we need to start and stay in the work. 

It’s time for a bold stance in the face of violence. It’s past time for a new way. I’m with you in the hard stuff. Love, Ashley