An advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do
Well, friends, I didn’t get a question for this week in the usual way, but I am wrestling with a question, and so that’s what we’re going to talk about today, or walk about, as the case may be.
My city, in response to a directive by the governor’s office following the murder of George Floyd, embarked on a process of reenvisioning policing in our community. We are required to submit an approved plan to New York State one week from today. A draft of the proposed plan was distributed to the public about a month ago, and it has upset a lot of people. Some folks have argued that the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect black and brown people. Some folks, who benefit from the system as it exists, are calling the plan “radical” and have gone so far as to burn BLM and Antifa flags in public spaces in theoretical support of Ithaca police officers and in opposition to the plan.
There’s a city council meeting tonight at which I hope to speak. Here’s what I plan to say:
Greetings to you, members of Common Council, and Mayor Myrick. I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight and to continue to participate in this community process, which I have actively engaged in from the beginning. Let me say first that I am a resident of the City of Ithaca, along with my partner and my four children, two of whom attend Ithaca City School District. I moved to the City of Ithaca in 2001, which means I have lived in Ithaca longer than anywhere else in the entirety of my life. Ithaca is my home, and I feel deeply committed to and responsible for its future as a safe, welcoming, creative, and inclusive community.
On Tuesday, March 16th, eight people, including six people of color, were killed by a mass shooter in Atlanta, Georgia. In the week following there were seven more mass shootings around the country, culminating in the massacre of 10 people in Boulder, CO. Why do I bring this up in the midst of a discussion about Reenvisioning Public Safety here in Ithaca? Because as evidenced by the false rhetoric at a “Back the Blue” rally recently on the Ithaca Commons about a “crime epidemic” in Ithaca and the burning of BLM and Antifa flags, we are not immune here from the sort of reactionary fear and violent behavior that serves to isolate us from each other, cements the status quo, and makes all of us patently unsafe.
It is no surprise that mass shooters in this country are white men, that the people who gathered on the Commons to stoke fear and oppose this plan by burning symbols of social justice movements were predominately white men, or that police officers in Ithaca and across this country are, in the majority, white men, while a disproportionate number of people killed by police officers are black and brown. All of these facts are a symptom of the system of white supremacy, which is fueled by fear of loss of power and will use violence at any point to maintain itself.
Let me be clear. I am not here to discuss or accuse anyone of individual bias. I am here to discuss systems. Police departments are systems in and of themselves, and they are part of the larger social system as well and must be treated as such. The challenge before us now, as a society, is to confront and dismantle the system of white supremacy. Modern policing was born out of that system, and so must be completely and drastically reenvisioned if we want to detach it from its historic, and current, role in maintaining white supremacy. That is the only way to ensure that our whole community is safe and protected.
This plan will not eliminate white supremacy, not by a long shot. The proposed Community Solutions and Public Safety Department will still be enforcing laws that are, in many instances, racist. The proposed department will be offering crisis services in the context of poverty, addiction, and mental health crises that are fueled by racism. But we must begin somewhere, yes?
The interlocking systems of policing and crisis services touch the lives of every member of our community in one way or another. Beginning with these aspects of our local systems will have the most immediate transformative effect on people’s lives and on the essential character of our community, which makes them the right place to begin.
I am of the opinion that the proposed plan does not go far enough to ensure the safety of our community, but I also believe it is a strong beginning. By committing to the plan you, as leaders of our community, will be opening the door to the possibility of real transformation. You will be signaling the end of bowing to fear — fear of change, fear of the reapportioning of power, fear of each other — and instead calling all the people of our community to take ownership of each other’s safety and wellness. You will be saying no to white supremacy as the operating system for our community, and yes to equity and justice as our goal and our guide.
Please support this plan so that we may begin this important and necessary work together. Thank you.
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