Three Communities Practicing Public Safety that Don’t Involve Police
In June, Black Lives Matter co-founder and Special Projects Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance, Alicia Garza sat down with NoVo Foundation Program Officer Jesenia Santana for a conversation about what is needed to end violence against girls and women. From discussing the practice of intersectionality to uplifting examples of successful community-based models, Alicia Garza provided tremendous insight into what she believes creates powerful and inclusive social movements. Through this 5-part blog series, we will be sharing with you the movement building lessons we’ve learned from our conversation. For the complete audio of our interview with Alicia Garza, click here.
Have you ever had a conversation about systems of oppression and got to the part where you ask yourself, “well, if we removed that system, what would we have in its place?” How many times have you left that conversation with everyone scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders in the “huh, beats me” way? How many times has someone proposed a solution, and you left, thinking in your head, “psh, that’ll never work”?
We are often clear about what we are fighting against and the values we are fighting for, but are then at a loss to envision new systems, especially when dealing with violence and safety. Alicia Garza understands this well and believes that we should be bold in our vision for new models.
“We don’t want to tinker with or reform things that we know aren’t working, we actually need to birth new things that meet the highest expectation of what we’re capable of, that help us reach our highest potential and that also show us more of what’s possible,” says Alicia.
What’s possible. Often that is one of the hardest parts, believing that a new model is possible. For inspiration, here are three examples of communities that Alicia shared with us who have been bold in their vision for new models of public safety and are doing the work to make those visions a reality.
- Swipe It Forward, Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), New York City, NY: [Listen here] With fare beating being the largest contributor to arrests in New York City in 2015, one group, PROP, saw an opportunity to bring attention to a harmful police practice while also supporting its community with free subway fare. According to PROP, in 2015 alone, NYPD arrested 29,000 people and ticketed another 70,000 for fare beating, with 92% of these arrests being of people of color. Arrests for fare beating can have incredible impacts including losing one’s job, facing an eviction and even deportation. Recognizing that the policing of public transportation systems was causing more harm than good in their community, PROP created the Swipe It Forward campaign where PROP members swiped in commuters who needed fare while conversing with community members in the city’s subway system about changing public transportation policing practices.
2. Civilian Oversight Commission, Dignity and Power Now (DPN), Los Angeles, CA: [Listen here] Due to the hard work of DPN and LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the LA Sheriff’s office now has a civilian oversight commission, an initiative that was over two years in the making. DPN is a grassroots organization in LA that advocates for incarcerated people, their families and community. The commission will have nine civilians selected by the board of supervisors to serve three year teams. Currently DPN and the LA community are fighting to secure subpoena power for the commission and to bar former law enforcement officers from sitting on the board. This is an on-going effort by DPN and other community organizers to structure a new civilian oversight model that lives up to its promise of being an effective agent of change.
3. Harm Free Zones, SpiritHouse, Durham, North Carolina. [Listen here]SpiritHouse is a home for cultural arts and organizing that works closely with low-income families and community members “to uncover and uproot the systemic barriers that prevent [their community] from gaining the resources, leverage and capacity for long-term self-sufficiency.” One of their community-based models is the Harm Free Zone Project which is aimed at creating true accountability for community members while reducing reliance on law enforcement. Based on the belief that genuine security derives from strong relationships between community members, the project offers tools and trainings to develop people’s capacity to confront and defuse harm. Click here to watch a video about the project.
These are just three examples of communities taking ownership of what they want their community to look like and how they want public safety to be practiced. Although the models that these communities have developed are very different from each other, one thing that they have in common is that they are a work in progress, a practice. They are social experiments. And the beautiful thing about experiments is that you don’t need all the answers to get started.
“Good alternatives unlock doors to other opportunities and so that’s really what we’re working on. We don’t have a lot of those answers but that’s what it means to govern, to take in all power in a different way,” says Alicia.
But in addition to new models being a practice that needs constant tweaking and modification, transforming systems inevitably means transforming the people involved: ourselves. For Swipe It Forward, it means changing our perception that public transportation is a right. For Dignity and Power Now, it means transforming our community’s relationship with law enforcement. For Spirit House, it means assuming responsibility for our own community’s public safety.