Police officer wearing body camera

This stops today: Seeking strategies to end discriminatory policing

Yesterday I once again stared in rage at my phone as the texts began streaming in: another white cop walks after the extrajudicial killing of a black man. Soon, people would be pouring into the streets, and after that, national conversations about how to prevent this from happening again and again will once again catch fire. But what are our real options for justice?

There can be no justice for Eric Garner. The option for justice for him, and all those who have been murdered by the police, expired the day that they were killed. The system in place to find “justice” for their murders is so immensely inadequate, so violent in itself, that it is difficult for me to capture it in words. But today I want to talk about what justice could look like going forward. What can be put in place now with the goal of ending discriminatory policing?

And let’s make it very clear: discriminatory policing is a feminist issue. It is a feminist issue because women, girls, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people too are targets of violence at the hands of the police: of sexual assault, of discriminatory targeting and profiling, of murder. It is a matter of reproductive justice because people deserve to be able to raise the children that they have in environments that are safe, without fear that the state will unjustly and extrajudicially kill them. Discriminatory policing and police violence are prominent issues in the lives of women even if the patriarchy renders those stories not nearly as prominent, even while women and queer folks are at the forefront of resisting them.

But back to solutions. In the wake of Ferguson and the ensuing resistance, there’s been a lot of talk about body-worn cameras for police, and the President recently announced a proposal to spend big bucks on them. They’re being hailed as somewhat of a magic bullet, but I’m here to tell you to be very, very skeptical.

First, I want to question pouring money into police departments. Investing in a system that has shown us over and over again that it serves to harm bodies of color, and black bodies in particular, is misguided at its very best. Second, I want us to think for a second about Taser International, the private company manufacturing the bulk of the body-worn cameras being used in American policing today. They are a company who stand to materially benefit — quite handsomely, at taxpayer’s expense — from the expansion of the police state. I don’t know about you, but all these white dudes in charge over there don’t exactly inspire feelings of justice for me, and I’m not quite inclined to believe that buying what they’re selling is gonna solve our problems.

What good did camera footage do in the Eric Garner case, other than garner public attention? A police officer killed an unarmed man with his bare hands, was caught on video doing so, and the person punished in this scenario was the man who took the video. There is video footage, too, of the police shootings of Tamir Rice and Levar Jones. The footage gives us a better sense of what happened, sure. But on a systems level what really changes? I am by no means suggesting that copwatch efforts should cease or are invalid; watching the police is important, and copwatch is an extremely valuable tool in communities seeking to find safety in the face of the systems that are literally working to kill them. But the people watching the cops and the cops watching themselves are very different, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that these will yield similar results. But even copwatch is merely a harm-reduction strategy that does not get near the root of the problem.

Like dash cams, body-worn cameras will not significantly alter the course of American policing.

Look, I’m gonna come clean here: like Mychal, I don’t think that this system can be reformed. Policing is not broken — it is functioning exactly has it has been designed. The police system is, by design, meant to uphold the status quo. It is meant, by design, to uphold capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and classism. It’s been designed to make it impossible to indict a cop, it’s been designed control black and brown bodies. These are not accidents, nor the result of a few “bad apples.” They are the result of careful and purposeful policies designed to create a system to protect those in power. Whether individual cops are good or bad is actually kind of irrelevant; individual officers — personally racist or not — are part of an entire system which was literally built to control people of color in the service of property and capital. This cannot simply be trained away. Pouring resources into fixing a system whose very foundation is rooted in colonialism and racism — via body cameras or otherwise — will not lead to justice. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing beneficial short of abolishing the police that we can do right now.

Mariame Kaba recently published what I thought was an extremely useful guide to evaluating police reforms, from an abolitionist standpoint. I suggest reading it in its entirety, but the short version is a principle that I’ve been using to guide my own work and thinking on policing reforms: support those that take power and money away from the cops, and those that give power to the people. This means things like banning the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution, or requiring cops to identify themselves and limiting their ability to conduct unlawful searches.

The police as we know it has not existed forever, and it does not have to continue to exist. The options for the world are as open as we are able to imagine. Let’s dream big.



New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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