“Defund the police.” Whatever that has come to mean to you, whatever you think or fear it could mean to someone else – just set that aside. There is a bigger history, decades in the making, that preceded our current moment.
That history is about the modern abolitionist movement. I learned about it in a chapter in Mia Birdsong’s inspiring just-published book, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, Community.
“Defunding” can sound like it is all about taking things away. And to the abolitionists, it is not just the police, but also prisons and other surveillance systems that should lose their place of prominence. The modern abolitionist movement, though, is not just about subtracting bad things, but adding good ones. It is about fostering “systems and cultures of support that actually create well-being.”
The Modern Abolitionist Movement
Birdsong opens her chapter on abolition with a quote from the activist and scholar Ruthie Wilson Gilmore:
“Real security is not locking up more and more people. Real security is knowing that you will have shelter, that you will have food, that you will have beauty in your life. That you have a future, that your family has a future.”
The short version of contemporary abolition, again from Birdsong, is this:
“The modern abolitionist movement challenges us to interrogate our beliefs about what safety is, how it is achieved or preserved, and what it costs us and others. It challenges us to recognize that prisons, policing, surveillance, and other structures that make up the prison industrial complex (PIC) are ineffective solutions to social problems. It asks us to understand that PIC causes tremendous harm, not just to people cast as “criminals” or “wrongdoers,” but to families and communities, and ultimately all of us.”
What are the pathways to a good and safe life that would be emphasized as systems of punishment are de-emphasized?
“We know what those things are — physical and mental health care, housing, well-paying jobs, well-funded schools, time to spend with loved ones and do things that bring us joy and purpose, maybe even things like a guaranteed income.”
“Abandoning our communities to violence” or “less need for police in the first place”?
“Defund the police” is a slogan that scares people. It is manipulated by some to scare them even more.
There are legitimate concerns fueling the fear, though, and they need to be addressed. Top among them is the question of what happens when someone needs the kind of help that police are now tasked with providing.
“We are not abandoning our communities to violence…
“We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.
“We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.”
How We Show Up includes some wonderful examples of restorative justice projects and other ways that community members can be there for each other when they need help and even when they don’t. In the many and varied stories of ordinary people inventing systems of caring and accountability, Birdsong shows us that it truly is possible to create “less need for police in the first place.”
What Does This Have to Do with Being Single?
So far, this might sound like one of my articles that is off the topic of this “Single at Heart” blog. In a narrow sense, it is. But in other ways, it is not. Single men, more often than married men, are suspected of being criminals. Especially if they are black. They are probably more often treated like criminals, too, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. When it comes to issues of policing and imprisonment, marital status matters.
In the big picture, too, it is relevant to single people. Mia Birdsong’s How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, Community, in its broadest strokes, is a book that deeply honors an impressive array of people and relationships, without putting couples on pedestals. “Let’s dismantle the primacy of the conventional romantic couple for the benefit of all of us,” Birdsong proclaims. That value system is evident in every chapter. I’ll have more to say about this important new book in future writings.