Against State CaptureRoundup
tags: radicalism, Protest, policing, abolition democracy
Austin McCoy is an Assistant Professor of History at Auburn University. He is also an organizer, participating in anti-police brutality campaigns and working for racial justice.
“There’s a great disparity between what’s being articulated by this radical feminist queer trans Black movement and the language of party politics, and the electoral choices, which are so incredibly impoverished they’re not choices at all. The demand to defund the police was taken up because there’s been a movement unfolding for decades, an analysis that has been in place […] It’s not a surprise that so many of the people in the street are young. They’re in the streets with these powerful critical and conceptual tools, and they’re not satisfied with reform. They understand reform to be a modality of reproducing the machine, reproducing the order—sustaining it.”
Saidiya Hartman’s description of the latest iteration of the Black Lives Matter rebellion captures how millions of activists, led by Black queer and transwomen, have stepped into the breach caused by a multilayered crisis of legitimacy of state institutions.
This crisis was brought on by the police and vigilante murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, a neglectful COVID-19 response, and economic pain throughout the US. The ongoing responses from people in the streets invoke what Frances Fox Piven calls “disruptive power.”
The disruptive power of this summer’s rebellions has unleashed political and cultural creativity, and expanded our horizons of what participatory democracy and public safety might look like.
Protesters have leveraged this moment to retake privatized and militarized spaces, including the memorial to victims of police murder and brutality in Washington, D.C., the shrine for Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville, and anti-law enforcement murals and graffiti stating “fuck 12” and encouraging people to “warn a brother” upon the sight of police painted on boarded up businesses in cities like Columbus, Ohio.
There has been much debate in the media and among scholars amid the provocative call to defund police. Critics say defunding the police will lead to “lawless anarchy,” or that it would lead to further harm. Others argue for a “reimagining” of how police operate in society, which could entail advocating for police to strictly handle investigating criminalized activities and soliciting more community input on police performance.
What these critics miss is that the call to defund the police is an expansive demand that underscores the limits of reforms: it exposes law enforcement’s power and the political establishment’s preference for state violence over community care and economic justice.
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