Derecka Purnell, The Guardian, May 27, 2020
White police officer Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the concrete as he hollered that he could not breathe. George screamed. Screamed for his mother. Screamed for his breath. For his life.
For many watching the footage, George’s cries echoed Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe.” New York police department officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Garner a couple of weeks before a Ferguson police officer killed Michael Brown. George’s plea reminds me of another black man shot by police: Eric Harris. In 2015, Tulsa reserve deputy Robert Bates told Harris “fuck your breath”. That same year, Fairfax county law enforcement tased Natasha McKenna four times while she sought help during a mental health crisis. As they were brutalizing her, she said, “You promised you wouldn’t kill me.” For me, the image of the white officer kneeling into George’s back reminds me most of Freddie Gray. Baltimore police severed Gray’s spine through an intentional rough ride in the back of a police van.
George, like Dreasjon Reed, Breonna Taylor and other black people killed by police this year, should be alive and breathing. This cycle – murder, protest, calls for justice, non-indictments – is revelatory. We must join others to reduce police power before, during and after these viral killings. Police reform is not enough. We need abolition.
In recent years, news stories broke about how Immigrations and Customs Enforcement use raids, detentions and deportations to threaten immigrants in the US. Calls to “Abolish Ice” could be heard from the streets to the halls of Congress. Ironically, there were no calls to have more Latino and black Ice agents. Mayors did not call for community-driven deportation or raids, like we see for community policing. Non-profits did not call to strengthen relationships between border patrol and immigrants; cities did not fund Ice and ice-cream trucks to pass out treats to immigrant children. Liberals did not point out that there were good apples and bad apples in border patrol enforcement. These programs cannot reform Ice, nor can they reform police.
If we can understand that the calls to abolish Ice actually means that this country needs a new, transformational immigration system, then why dismiss police abolition as a viable option for a transformative society?
One major difference is the mainstream narrative around dreamers: immigrants hoping for a better life and fleeing persecution and violence in their homeland. To be clear, the fight for immigrant justice is crucial and inseparable from the fight against racial police violence. Immigrants, especially undocumented black immigrants, are vulnerable to police violence and face the risk of prison, deportation and death. Yet black Americans, like indigenous and First Nations people, represent particular reminders that white settlers looted land, committed genocide and enslaved people to build a democracy. As a result, black and indigenous bodies remain a public nuisance to be disappeared, exploited, imprisoned and killed by white people and police alike. They want us to live in constant fear of those possibilities for a reason. Thus, black resistance matters, against police and white supremacy alike.
Abolitionist organizers in Minnesota are informed by a history of resistance that dates back to 1867 when the Minneapolis police department was first formed to surveil black people and Native Americans. Since then, MPD has murdered or beaten black people “savagely” for acts ranging from inviting white women to a dance to refusing to “move on”. Per a report by MPD150, the Minneapolis police department has garnered several accolades over time, including the nation’s most homophobic police department at one point. In recent memory, officers in the city arrested black people at rates 10 times higher than white people for the same offenses.
After a Minneapolis police department officer shot and killed Jamar Clark in 2015, activists occupied their local police department for more than two weeks. This activism spurred organizing that continued after the cameras went away. Through struggle, organizations like MPD150 and Reclaim the Block pushed the mayor and city council to shift more than $1m from police departments to communities. Unquestionably, this organizing since 2015 influenced the mayor’s unprecedented decision to ensure that the police chief fired all four officers responsible for George Floyd’s killing, almost immediately after it happened.
The story is not over. On Tuesday night, MPD teargassed and shot rubber bullets at protesters who took to the streets to decry the murder. The fact that residents were willing to risk their lives during a global pandemic to protest against this injustice demonstrates that the race is not given to the swift nor the strong, but to the organizers who resist until the end.