Alternatives to Calling Police

on July 25, 2016

On July 2, the Hive monthly gathering and potluck included a workshop facilitated by Mel and Calvin on non-coercive community-based responses to tough situations. The goal was to explore the harm done by interaction with oppressive systems; personal experiences/stories of interaction with police and other coercive systems such as DCF or crisis teams; creative, community-based options for tough situations; and our capacity, our limits, how to stretch them, and where we can go from here.

About 45 participants engaged in brainstorming, self-reflection, discussion, and visioning. We started by generating a list of damages, losses, or negative impacts of interaction with police and related emergency/crisis agencies. Participants paired up to discuss their own experiences, and then listed the impacts as a large group. We quickly filled a page.

Damages/Losses/Impacts resulting from police interaction

Transcript: DAMAGES/LOSSES

  • trauma
  • [loss of] family trust
  • [loss of] housing
  • deportation
  • [loss of] agency/autonomy/privacy
  • [loss of] benefits
  • lying –> maintenance of power
  • sexual assault/violence
  • let down/no satisfaction
  • [loss of] humanity
  • incarceration
  • [loss of] property
  • [loss of] non/less punitive support structures
  • [loss of] chance for abuser to rehabilitate
  • med attention = whole state!?
  • almost died
  • [loss of] honesty about status
  • [loss of] public space
  • institutionalization
  • [loss of] sense of safety, justice
  • [loss of] communication
  • belief of being dangerous
  • extreme mis/gendering
  • increased white supremacy
  • [loss of] decision-making power
  • [loss of] physical control
  • defunding services
  • [loss of] accountability/skillfulness
  • ostracized for calling
  • [loss of] pets
  • [loss of] time
  • [loss of] child custody

We then took some time to reflect on our own and together about instances when we have chosen not to or don’t imagine ourselves calling police, and what we did or would do instead. We also thought about times we have called or think we would call, and what it would take to shift that response away from relying on law enforcement. The reflection questions were inspired by the blog Imagine Alternatives (which also lists many additional resources.)

(Here is the worksheet we used for both self-reflection and group discussion.)

For the majority of the time remaining, we split into small groups to share alternatives we know about and to imagine the supports we wish we had. Small groups reported back about their conversations, which touched on the importance of relationship building, existing community-based emergency response alternatives like street medics, transformative justice practices to support sexual assault survivors and work with perpetrators, and pages and pages of other ideas which we hope to compile and share at some point.

In closing, everyone was given some sticky notes and invited to share one or more answers to the question “What’s your alternative?” and add them to the wall. Participants were prompted to think as big or small as they liked, as immediate or as far-reaching. Answers included “Talk to my housemates” “Providing witness, escort, or other support to those at risk of violence,” “Decolonization,” and “DIY crisis teams.”

What's your alternative?

“What’s your alternative?” across the top of a sheet of butcher paper with dozens of different-colored sticky notes on it

A slightly shorter version of this workshop was included as part of Creative Maladjustment Day a week later. About 20 participants added to the list of damages/losses resulting from police encounters, including loss of employment, voting status, and human rights. Reflecting on the recent murders of two more black people by police in the US, we added loss of life to the list.

A few people shared their stories of calling 911, describing their use of harm reduction to mitigate the potential damages caused by police presence in mental health crisis situations. We answered the question “Why do we call police?” in order to recognize that existing systems fill a need that can’t always be met another way. Answers included “Personal/property safety,” “Lack of knowledge/training,” and “Lack of authority.”

In our discussion of alternatives, we agreed it was important to replace the need for law enforcement in our communities without becoming cops ourselves. We talked about ways to draw on the existing resources and skills in our neighborhoods and social circles.

A few relevant resources were shared on the Facebook event page. If you have additional resources, send them to info@hivemutualsupport.net to be added to this list!

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