A Future Without Police? Andrea Ritchie on Crime and Abolition

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. It was just over eight years ago that I found myself in the middle of an uprising I absolutely saw coming. Michael Brown Jr.’s killing by a Ferguson police officer was the spark, but the match was ready to be lit. My hometown is St. Louis, full of creative, beautiful people was besieged by economic stratification, educational, inequity, and severe racial discrimination.

One street, Delmar still stands as the divide between a Black St. Louis to the north and a white one to the south. Everything from median income to life expectancy are starkly different on each side of the line. And frankly, folks were sick of that shit. Those days and nights were filled with police terror and tear gas, but always, always we fought back. A determined people are an unbeatable people.

And what emerged were organizations like Action St. Louis and elected leaders like Cori Bush and mayor Tishaura Jones, an unbridled determination to set a model for what can and must be different about how we are governed and the voice we deserve to have in building in. But that was to come in the later years, in 2014 I was just there to play my part alongside so, so many others. 

Sometimes that meant bailing folks outta jail. Sometimes I would help facilitate organizing meetings. Sometimes it meant being a translator, taking the demands of the streets to the Ferguson commission and President Obama’s policing task force, both of which I was a member.

And I told those in charge that I could only occupy those seats if they understood that I would still and always be a protestor and some of what I made sure got done on paper I’m immensely proud of. And yet, despite all I saw around me, my deep knowledge of history, I still thought for years that the police were always just gonna exist, that their presence could be minimized. It could be monitored. It could even be accounted for, but in this country they were just always gonna be part of the deal. 

And at some points I let that limit my own imagination. Thank God for evolution. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, I’ll be talking to author Andrea Ritchie about how we move past our policing system to create a more just world. 

Andrea Ritchie: If you believe that everybody should have access to every kind of care that they need, that their bodies need, that their hearts, their souls, their spirits need everywhere all the time, then join us. That is an abolitionist struggle. 

Brittany: That’s coming up. But first it’s the news.

Okay, let’s talk about crime for a second. Is it up? Is it down? If you’re confused it’s not just you. According to a report released this summer by the Council on Criminal Justice, homicides are down 2% in the first part of 2022 over the same time last year. But despite that reduction, the murder rate is still far higher than it was before the pandemic. Time reported that in 2020 homicide jumped by nearly a third over the previous year.

But, and you might not know this, according to the Brennan Center, crime overall in the U.S. peaked in 1991. So, yeah, we’ve seen some rises, but overall we are much safer than we were just a few decades ago. One reason, all this is confusing is that the police are incentivized to make crime look high. The media reports on crime breathlessly to grab clicks and views and that makes people feel less safe, especially if they’ve experienced harm in the past. 

So, because this is an episode about what real public safety can look like and the better world we can build, we’re gonna talk about the effect media coverage of crime has on our perception of it and the danger that perception can pose to marginalized communities.

So, I reached out to one of the smartest people I know, Wes Lowery. He’s a journalist, a fellow at Georgetown University and the author of The Can’t Kill Is All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement. 

Wesley Lowery: Basically everything we know about crime, policing, courts is deeply underreported and underdeveloped in some ways. We actually, there’s much more that we do not know than we do. And so I think it’s important always to frame conversations that way. Right? That what we are looking at are snapshots because very often things become very absolute ‘well, crime has gone up X.’

Well, there’s a lot of caveats in that. What do we really know? What are we looking at? X, Y, and Z. But then secondarily, what we also know is that there are all types of different social and political structures that factor into crime and crime outcomes. Right? If every afterschool program in a city is shut down, well, maybe you have more 17 year-olds who might steal a candy bar from a store or harass someone on the street or X, Y, and Z. Right? 

So, I think that’s why people are asking these questions, they’re looking at them. But it is, as you noted, important that there’s been so much political narrative right now, it’s increasing, it’s increasing, everything’s scary. Things are bad. And we can talk in a second about perception versus reality, cuz what is actually true does matter.

But what people think is true also does matter in terms of outcomes. Right? But look, even in this moment where so much of the political narratives have been like outta control crime and everything’s crazy and X, Y, and Z, the reality is based on what we know. There have been some increases in recent years, but it’s not as if things are spiraling into chaos, the way that watching maybe some cable news channels or other places might lead you to believe.

Brittany: Well, let’s have that conversation because to your point, perception is reality. How is the coverage of crime trending in the media? Is it proportional to what people are actually experiencing?

Wesley: No, I do think that we are falling into a lot of the same traps of the eighties and nineties around these conversations where our coverage too often is not particularly smart. So, for example, you might be in a city like New York, where at the city and the state level, there have been steps to try to do bail reform or to change the way people are treated in and out of the system and where certain politicians, because they believe it’s politically advantageous when a crime is committed and there’s media pressure to respond to it, like to blame the bail reforms. Right?

Now, I think it’s our job in the media to figure if this even had anything to do with it. Right? Well, what is unquestionably true is there has been an increase in violence in New York, in recent years, right? It’s just true. We know that, right? But what we allow people to do is we allow people who are not doctors to diagnose the problem.

So, insert politician goes ‘Well, it’s because of X, Y, and Z’. We allow people like the police very often to frame those narratives and without forcing them to show their work as well. And very often what ends up being the case in the criminal legal system is big sweeping claims almost never stand up to scrutiny.

I think the other thing that’s important to note though, cause we were talking about this perception and reality issue. What is also true is crime and violent crime specifically is very segregated in our country, right? We live in various cities where there are really seven or eight cities stapled together.

So, you can live in a part of New York where murder happens, or you can live in a part of New York where murder doesn’t happen. But what we are seeing is people who do not live in violent places becoming increasingly scared that it could eventually come to where they are, right? But, and we can talk this way cuz we know each other and the podcast we’re on, right? 

There’s a difference between, like white people actually facing violence and white people being scared that they could face violence, right? 

Brittany: That they’re going to, yeah. 

Wesley: Many of the white people in our nation, who, especially who live in and around cities live where they live, because they fled certain parts of the city or their parents or grandparents did precisely because of these fears, right? And so it’s a chief motivating factor, this fear of what those people might do to us. I might be harmed as I’m walking here or doing this. How do we capture that real thing while not perpetuating that fear? Right? How do we write about people’s fear without…

Brittany: Feeding the beast.

Wesley: Exactly. And it’s really complicated.

Brittany: It is complicated, which is why I wanna double click on it because the reality is that violent crime disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. Right. We look at the study from The Marshall Project. We know that often when media outlets are actually covering homicides and violent crime that occurs in Black and brown communities, the portrayals are less humanizing than when it occurs in white communities.

So, when that’s happening consistently, what are the effects on the ground in Black and brown communities? 

Wesley: Brittany you and I met in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri around police protests after Michael Brown’s death, and we’re talking what a week after August 9th. Right? And so we were all just recently rethinking about Ferguson and Michael Brown’s death.

But one of the things I think about often is right. So much of our conversation in that space about the relationship between Black Americans and the police is about the presence of bad behavior, negative behavior. So. this is one of my, I use this a lot, I say a relationship can break down for two different types of reasons.

It can break down for, because of the presence of bad behavior or the failure to meet expectations. Your girl can leave you because you cheat on her. Your girl can leave you because you forget the anniversary. Right? And those are two different categories of thing. Right? 

Brittany: But either way we leaving.

Wesley: Yeah. Either way you’re single now. Right? But the point is, when we talk about the relationship between Black Americans and immigrant communities and certainly Indigenous communities historically, but we see the video of the young man in the street, or someone being tear gassed or someone being beaten, the presence of bad behavior. Black people are the most victimized people in our society.

They are the most likely to have their television stolen, their car broken into to be shot, to be stabbed, to be harmed. Right? They are taxpayers who want safety, who want justice if they are harmed and victimized, want to know that the system has been responsive to them. And so in order to understand the lack of relationship, we have to understand not just the negative things, but the failure of the police and the criminal legal system to serve Black people when they have been victimized, right? 

We did a project at The Washington Post called Murder with Impunity back in 2018, that we looked the street corner in any city where murder is functionally legal, where statistically murders happen here all the time and they never solve them. When we talk about violence, especially when we talk about homicide, what we know is that the police in the United States of America, making arrest in about half of the homicides, right? Depending on exactly what statistics you’re using it fluctuates somewhere between 40% and 60% of homicides. Right? 

Once you start looking at Black homicides, specifically that number plummets, once you start looking in cities, plummets even further. Right? And so what we know is that there are so many Black Americans, in fact, most of the Black Americans living in the places where they are most likely to be victimized living in a place where they have almost no expectation of receiving justice. And so at a time when crime is increasing, the idea that, well, the way we fix it is just to spend more money it suggests there at the very least some follow up questions to be asked.

Brittany: I’m interested in whether you think it’s gotten any better since the protest in 2020, around police violence. Do you think that reporting on crime has changed at all since then? Has it gotten better? Has it gotten worse?

Wesley: You know, the media at large has a bias towards the outlier. Right? We don’t write about the planes that land, what that can do is it can skew public perception about the urgency and the is, and that cuts in any number of ways, right? Your credibility as a true teller as a journalist is how does what you write and what you say hold up? Yeah, I think there are a lot of people who 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we’re gonna look at stuff that they wrote under their names and we’re gonna go ‘So that’s what you thought was happening in 2020?’ 

Brittany: You thought Trumps wasn’t gonna be that bad. Yeah. So TLDR, Be like Ida B. Wells, not Roger Hills. 

Wesley: That’s pretty good.

Brittany: Period. End of story. 

Wesley: That’s the tweet.

Brittany: Wesley Lowery is a journalist and the host of “Unfinished: Ernie’s Secret”, the story of a civil rights photographer, who was revealed to be an FBI informant. It’s available right where you found this podcast.

Coming up, I’ll be talking to abolitionist Andrea Richie about President Biden’s call to fund a hundred thousand new police. Right after this short break.

And we are back. Like, none of us know what we don’t. But I don’t think I realized just how much I didn’t know eight years ago when I found myself standing among thousands of people who’d become my friends and my movement family on West Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri. Just 10 minutes from my home, but we were in a war zone.

Now I’m a student of history, my history and my people’s history. So, I knew that killings by police were not a new phenomenon and this was not a new movement, just the cell phones that captured it all were new.

And I knew deep down that we could live in a world where the police didn’t kill people. But what I had never considered, what I did not know, I could even dare to imagine is that we could live in a world without police. There were a lot of voices who were my teachers on this, and you’re about to meet one of them.

Andrea Ritchie is an organizer, activist, attorney, and writer. And in a moment when Congress folk put on kente cloth and note in the capitol rotunda in this completely unserious moment to show solidarity with the movement only to wind up supporting a plan from President Biden to shell out $13 billion to train a hundred thousand new police officers.

Yeah. I had to call Andrea up because as Wesley pointed out in the news, that’s just throwing good money after bad. We know policing doesn’t prevent crime, cops don’t solve crimes, and prison doesn’t heal people who’ve experienced harm or the people who perpetrated it. So, what should we be investing in instead?

What does that new world look like? I knew Andrea would have some answers. 

Andrea, it is very good to be with you for this very important conversation. I was trying to remember the first time we met and the first time we were in the same room together and we agreed that it was when you testified in front of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, which I was a very young member of.

I’m very, very glad that yours was a voice among the many cuz your voice has fundamentally transformed not only what I believe to be true about policing, but really what I think is possible. 

Andrea: Wow, that means so much to me. I was really conflicted about appearing in front of that task force because of the way it was constructed.

But your presence on it made me think that there was some possibility of inserting something into that process that would not be more of the same. And there was some mention of sexual violence by cops in the process, I think had a lot to do with you being there, to hear what I had to say and fighting to get in there. 

Brittany: And that is truly what I was there trying to do. So, I’m glad a little bit of it got done. But look, we’re sitting here in 2022 and there aren’t necessarily millions of people pouring into the streets like there were two summers ago protesting police violence across the globe, but this issue is always timely, especially right now, because of course President Biden has proposed $13 billion, with a B, in federal funds to train a hundred thousand new police officers. 

So, your book with Mariame Kaba is called No More Police. Way to state the aspiration right in the beginning. So, you know, with that, I imagine that you have a bit to say about President Biden’s proposal. 

Andrea: I mean, so much to say. And also given that I was around last time when he orchestrating criminal punishment policy and structuring so much of the resources, the orientation, the legitimacy, the ways in which we respond and address so many kinds of violence, including domestic violence and gender based violence towards pouring massive resources into policing and making every response be connecting back to policing. 

And that’s what he’s doing right now, including pandemic response. He is responsible for the fact that billions of dollars that were supposed to go to helping and supporting our communities in surviving and recovering and healing from an ongoing pandemic are being poured into police, as well.

So it’s sort of from 1994 before, until the president into the future, he’s the same person who’s always been with the same agenda. 

Brittany: So now there are several bills in Congress that would execute on this idea, this call from President Biden for more police, and now progressive Democrats, to their credit, have managed to block these efforts earlier in the summer.

But these proposals are coming back, you know since Democrats are always worried about looking soft on crime.

Andrea: And if they are, then they should be investing in the things that, first of all, they should be questioning what is considered crime and what isn’t. And certainly the crime of having a million people die in a largely preventable way through the COVID pandemic.

Certainly someone should be held accountable for, for instance, and that happened under their watch, for sure. But I think also if folks really want to end the things that are called crime and end violence and end harm and end the conditions of poverty and unmet needs and organized abandonment that produce what then gets criminalized or called crime, then to not be soft on, it would be to actually invest in the things that people need. The things that people need to be safe. Housing, healthcare, youth programming, education, library, common spaces, healing, transformation skills to deescalate conflict, to intervene, interrupt, and heal from conflict.

There’s so much that they could be doing that would actually be strong on eliminating the conditions that produce what is now called crime or criminalized and they are refusing to do that fairly consistently with some exceptions. 

Brittany: You know, this movement against police violence has clearly gained steam over the last decade, although it’s not new or novel to the last decade.

And of course not everyone has the same vision for what that looks like. Right? For some people it’s a full abolition of the carceral system that’s police, jails, and prisons. For other people it’s about police reform and accountability. So cops who kill people are finally held accountable in this current system.

For some people it’s about defunding the police and to what you were really saying earlier, reinvesting in the people, right?  In schools and healthcare and social infrastructure. And for a lot of us it’s a combination of multiples of those, but I think everyone who’s been involved in the movement in some way, shape, or form can at the very least agree that the cops don’t need more cash.

So, why does Biden seem so hell bent on cutting more massive checks? What is this proposal really tell us about the administration’s priorities? 

Andrea: It tells us about a particular vision of society in which shrinking resources and growing instability to climate catastrophe and the crisis of late racial capitalism will be met with more and more police and more and more containment and control and surveillance and punishment and exclusion and exile. 

That’s what the vision of the world that’s being articulated, is that things are getting worse for more and more people because of conditions that people like Biden and capitalism and policing and criminalization have created.

And that the response is gonna be more of that. And that as resources shrink those resources are gonna be more and more heavily policed to keep them available to a smaller and smaller group of people. That’s the vision of the world that’s being advanced. And it’s so clear when the president is saying the money that we set aside for pandemic relief should go into the pockets of police and not into the pockets of people.

There’s no clearer articulation of the vision of the world that he’s advancing than that. 

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, the ACLU has said that Biden’s plan has two kind of competing approaches, right? That this is about more criminalization and incarceration, which you just pointed to, but also there are supposedly investments in community based services. I’m curious if you think that both of those approaches are really there and what you think of that juxtaposition? 

Andrea: Well, I think one that what’s being framed as community based approaches is really more policing in a different form. Right? There’s policing by the actual police and then there’s policing by mental health professionals through involuntary commitment and incarceration of people with unmet mental health needs.

There’s policing through the family policing system. There’s policing through surveillance, that mandatory drug treatment, you know, mandated different kinds of programs that are about supposedly correcting individual failings and flaws, as opposed to systemic conditions that produce people’s trauma responses and traumas and conditions.

And so,  I think that they’re not actually an opposition. I think the way that he frames them, they’re a continuum of policing and surveillance and punishment. And I think that they’re also very much conditioned on collaboration with cops. So, even if they’re not cops, the presumption is that there’s collaboration with cops and that’s again, dating back to 1994.

That’s how he framed up the Violence Against Women Act, which is we will give money to service providers for prevention, intervention, support, care, but the presumption is always that you are collaborating and cooperating with law enforcement, with policing as part of that process. And that if you’re not doing that, you don’t get the benefits of the services.

And I think that’s true for the violence interruption programs, but the overall vision that he has around community responses is policing or collaboration with policing.

Brittany: You know, this is why I always love talking to you, reading what you’ve written, because I think you really help all of us reframe things that we maybe assumed we understood. Right? So, you know, something you’ve said has helped me reframe this issue myself. Years ago, I stopped saying ‘police brutality’ because that would make these things sound like isolated incidents, right. Bad apples. Right? And I started saying ‘police violence’ because that acknowledges that this issue is structural, but you go further.

You’ve written that police are violence, not safety. So, when you talk about collaborating with the police, even on something as egregiousnb as violence against women, we have to recognize the frame that that’s not a violence interruption if the police are themselves violence and they’re not providing that safety.

So, talk us a little bit more through what you mean by that. 

Andrea: Well, that was part of what I was testifying to that time that you and I first met, which is that we frame cops as responses to violence when in fact they are perpetrators and enablers and facilitators of violence, even in the context of responses to violence.

So, an invisible no more the police violence against Black women and women of color, which was kind of where a lot of the information I brought to the task force is gathered ,there’s a whole chapter on police violence in the context of responses, to calls for help. Of sexual violence by cops who are responding to sexual violence complaints, to physical violence by cops responding to domestic violence calls against people who were survivors.

And so at Interrupting Criminalization, the organization that Mariame and I cofounded together, we recently put out a report kind of gathering all the research and information about police sexual violence that we are aware of and then creating a curriculum for service providers to make sure that they are responding to the fact that when someone calls a rape hotline, or a sexual assault hotline, or a domestic violence hotline, the person who they may be talking about is a person who did them harm might be a police officer. And that for most agencies, because of the Violence Against Women Act that Biden was the architect of, for most agencies the only response they have to offer is the cops. So, if you call and say I’ve been raped by the cops, they’re gonna say, well, let’s call the cops, right? 

So, I think that reality and my own experience of that and my experience of working with survivors of violence is how I understand that police are violence because they’re not protecting the vast majority of survivors from violence.

The vast majority of survivors don’t even call them because they know their needs aren’t gonna be met and they know they risk violence and deportation and incarceration and criminalization if they do. And then for those, when the cops do respond either cuz someone called or someone else called, there’s an alarming amount of sexual, physical, and other forms of violence that happen in those context. 

Brittany: We’re gonna come back to this intersection of gender and justice in a second, but I want to really double down then on what the vision is. There is of course, a very powerful precedent for abolition in this country. So, how folks get there? Like, what does it mean to be an abolitionist in 2022? 

Andrea: Actually I’m gonna quote Erin Miles Cloud from the Movement for Family Power, because she actually said it in one of the ways I’ve found really most beautifully articulated. She said everybody wants safety for someone, some of the time. Abolitionists want safety for everyone, everywhere all the time. So, if that’s a vision that resonates with you, then join us. Cuz that’s what we are building. 

Brittany: I love that. 

Andrea: And that can start with, you know, if you believe that having a place of your own, where you can close the door and be safe in that space called housing, whatever shape that takes, is a form of safety that you are excited about promoting then get in on the fight for housing for all.

If you believe in quality, accessible, transformative education, that isn’t about policing and discipline and containment and control, but education that is about growing and thriving and building people to be able to live into their greatest human potential. Then join us. You’re doing abolitionist work.

If you believe that everybody should have access to every kind of care that they need, that their bodies need, that their hearts, their souls, their spirits need everywhere all the time. Then join us. That is an abolitionist struggle. So, I think people need to understand. The vision is that everyone has what they need to thrive.

Brittany: You wrote a little bit about that in Essence, specifically around Breonna Taylor’s killing, like you said now, we want far more than what the system that killed Breonna Taylor can offer because the system that killed her is not set up to provide justice for her family and loved ones. Families and communities deserve more than heartbreak over and over again, each time the system declines to hold itself accountable. 

You and Mariame are so good at really cutting through to the roots of suffering, because that’s really what we need to get at. Not how we punish someone when someone has suffered, but rather, how do we prevent the suffering from happening again? I wanna get a little bit more specific.

What does it look like to repair the harm and then do the collective work to create prevention? 

Andrea: Yeah, I think one thing is not, you know, adding to suffering with more suffering. So, actually in Colin Kaepernick’s book Abolition for the People, I wrote something called building a world where Breonna Taylor could live.

And I think for me, it would first be about breaking down what caused that moment. Right? And, and not just a warrant or a no knock warrant, but the war on drugs under which the warrant was written. right? The gentrification and property

Brittany: Ding ding, ding. 

Andrea: Then, you know, coalesced with the war on drugs to send those cops to her door.

Yeah and then the anti-Blackness and the misogynoir that also shaped the way her life was perceived, such that her family had to read on a piece of paper that no one was injured in an event that killed their daughter. Those are the things I think are part of the accountability and healing is actually eradicating those things.

Secondly, I think there’s a really important model in Chicago which is that there is a commander in the Chicago police department who had served in Vietnam, learned to torture people, Vietnamese people, in the context of Vietnam war brought those torture techniques and tools back to Chicago and tortured over a hundred Black and brown men and women on the south side of Chicago.

Through advocacy, both at the United nations and long time organizing in Black communities on the south side of Chicago, there was a call for reparations for those folks and that we would use the U.N. framework for reparations, which is certainly apology, certainly compensation, but also restoration, return you to the state you would’ve been had the harm not been done. 

Certainly rehabilitation, healing the hurts that have happened on all levels and most importantly cessation and non repetition. And so historic legislation was passed in Chicago for those survivors that gave them compensation, that had the mayor of the city apologizing to them for something that up until that point he had denied it even happened.

But also that they got access to healthcare services through a dedicated center, the Chicago Torture Justice Center, which then opened its doors to all people who had been impacted by the violence of policing. And they were offered access to city jobs and city education, all the things that were stolen from them through their wrongful incarceration. And so were their children. And so were their grandchildren. 

That is one way that reparations has played out for the violence of policing in one place for one group of people. But I think it offers some ideas of what it could look like for reparations, for the killing of Breonna Taylor.

Brittany: Absolutely. 

Andrea: It would be an apology. It would be an acknowledgement of the harm that the family and community would be able to speak their harm, would be able to say directly to the people who did the harm and to the people who launched the war on drugs and to the gentrifiers and to all the forces that were involved in killing their daughter, their harm.

And that those folks would need to be accountable for. It would need to make repair for it. And we would need to remember, and we would need to stop the things that produced in the first place.

Brittany: But what happened to Breonna Taylor almost broke me. In part, because looking in her eyes, looking at her face, I saw myself, I saw. I have cousins and good friends who look exactly like her.

This has everything to do with the much less discussed intersection of gender and policing. So many people think that this conversation about police violence is solely about the police killing Black men. And yet you have written extensively about how something you spoke about earlier. Police sexual violence is actually the second, most frequently reported forum of police misconduct, but we don’t talk about it. 

And for Black women, specifically interactions with police are more fraught. We’re the most likely to face an arrest or use of force during a traffic stop. We are the most likely to be killed by police when we are unarmed. And we’re the fastest growing arrest, prison, and jail population. And nobody’s talking about it.

Andrea: Well, I wanna challenge that a little bit because I think we have always talked about it. Black women, girls, queer and trans people have always talked about it. 

Brittany: Yes. 

Andrea: And we are not nobody. Right?  

Brittany: Correct the record, you are a hundred percent right. A hundred percent.

Andrea: And that’s part of what I wrote about in Invisible No more. It wasn’t just that the violence of policing as experienced by Black women, girls, and trans people is invisible no more, but I also wanted our resistance to be invisible no more. Right? From the resistance of enslaved women and girls and trans and gender nonconforming people through, you know, Ida B. Wells through all the folks who documented and resisted state and police violence throughout history. The Combahee River Collective, even Delta. Are you actually a Delta?

Brittany: No, I’m not Greek. 

Andrea: You’re not Greek. 

Brittany: I feel like all my best friends are Delta’s and AKA’s.

Andrea: There it is. But the Delta’s organized against actually police sexual violence by police against Freedom Riders and folks during the Civil Rights Movement. And so there’s ways in which we have always done that, but that’s not the story of the Civil Rights Movement. Right? We don’t know, for instance, that Rosa Parks, one of the first things that she organized was in the committee in defense of Gertrude Perkins who was raped by two Montgomery police officers 10 years before, you know, the bus boycott. 

And, so I think we have been talking about it and we continue to talk about it, but we have not, it hasn’t shaped the way that resistance has happened for the vast majority of folks. Right? So, that’s how we end up in a situation where it’s framed as an anomaly.

The real story is, you know, George Floyd. The real story is Eric Gardner. The real story is Mike Brown. And those are real stories. And in each instance, there are similar stories that perhaps even happen contemporaneously that don’t command the same attention and don’t shape how we understand the violence of policing.

That it’s not only killings, it’s not only physical violence, it’s sexual violence, it’s family separation. There’s all kinds of ways in which it’s gendered as profiling in the context of prostitution related offenses. So, we really need to think, through our experiences, what are the things that will actually produce safety, wellbeing, and thriving for Black women, girls, and trans people.

And that will start to point us towards what the actual solutions might be. 

Brittany: You’ve been intubating just how difficult a relationship trans folks have had for a long time with the police, but like you’re saying identity itself when you are trans has been criminalized as being further criminalized.

And we’re watching a lot of that unfold in real time right now, you know, we watch the bathroom bans happen. We watched the legislation around who can play what sport, you know, just in the past year we’ve seen states like Texas attempt to criminalize gender affirming care for young trans people. What do you think the end game is for these legislators?

Cause where I’m sitting, I’m like, why do you even care? Why, how I raise my child, right? In an ideal world, you would mind your damn business, but what do you think is their end game? And what should we be doing to stop them? 

Andrea: What I know their end game is, is white supremacist, patriarchy.

Brittany: And there it is. 

Andrea: Judeo-Christian theocratic state. They’ve said that’s their end game. And they’ve also laid out their plan to get there and they have executed that plan and that means domination and control and containment and surveillance of sexual gender and reproductive autonomy. And so that means that figh for people’s gender self-determination and affirming care is the same fight as the fight for abortion care. 

Brittany: That’s right. 

Andrea: Is the same fight as the fight against criminalization of prostitution and prostitution related offenses. Is the same fight against criminalization of pregnant and parenting people.

They are coming at all very intersectionally and we have not been resisting very intersectionality, so right that means that we have a shared struggle. That doesn’t mean that it’s a competition. And that’s where I think a lot of CIS women have really fallen directly into the trap laid for them by the right.

Cause the right is like let’s not have everyone resisting intersectionally, so let’s get these folks mad at these folk and divide and conquer. Exactly. And divide and conquer. And so many CIS women are falling into that trap being like you’re somehow harming me more than the state that’s taking away my reproductive autonomy by recognizing that people of all genders can get pregnant. Like that somehow is the worst injury than what the state is doing. And that is you’ve completely been brainwashed by the right. And you’re not understanding what patriarchy is. 

Brittany: See this is why I was like, we have to call you. Connect the dots, Andrea. This is what people need to understand.

Okay. So, I wanna end this conversation really in a place where you took us in the beginning where you invited people into the kind of world that you and so many others have been beautifully envisioning. Because there is a difference between abolition and reform. I know it can take people a little time to sit with ideas and that calling for police reform might be tempting while abolition seems far off. 

You know, admittedly, once upon a time I was that person. And so for someone who. Still in that place, a reformist and not yet an abolitionist. Notice I said not yet. What do you want to invite them to think about? And more importantly to do?

Andrea: I want them to think about what brings us closer to the world that we’re dreaming of that I was talking about earlier, right?

And there are some things that bring us closer on that path that are short of abolition. And then there are some things that push us further away from that path. Right? An example is a lot of folks are thinking about decertification of cops and setting up sort of registries and processes for decertifying individual cops and decertifying police departments and feeling like that’s a way we’re gonna get a hold of police violence, the violence of policing, is by figuring out who should be allowed to do it and who shouldn’t based on these categories. 

It’s who should be certified and not. That presumes that we’ll always have cops and that also puts more resources to policing by then setting up an agency that investigates and decertifies and legitimizes people who aren’t decertified and then people can appeal their decertification and then there’s a whole, like, it’s a whole apparatus now that is being built around policing that isn’t actually reducing or eliminating the violence or power of policing.

It’s just legitimizing it and putting more resources into it. That’s a reform that’s not bringing us closer to the world we want. A reform that is bringing us closer to the world that we want is one that fires cops who do harm, that defunda police departments, that shrinks the power, the size legitimacy of policing and invests resources in the things that we need.

So, you don’t need to be an abolitionist to say, pandemic release funds shouldn’t go to cops. You can say pandemic relief fund should go to pandemic relief. And that can be something that, you know, is not a full on full throttled abolitionist demand, but is one that brings us closer to a world where we have all the things we need.

The organization I cofounded with Mariame, Interrupting Criminalization, has a number of resources available that connect the dots and invite folks to go look at the website and see where they can plug in around those. So, I think there’s many ways people can dive in right now, and I just encourage people to just give a little thought to kind of 10 steps down the road is the thing that you’re doing reinforcing the legitimacy, the power, the resources, the violence of policing. Or is it bringing us closer to a world where everyone has what they need in terms of material needs, where we have skills to prevent, interrupt, and transform harm and where we are all able to live and grow into our fullest potential and where we are able to live sustainably on a planet in crisis together. 

And some folks may wanna take an exit, may think now, I’m gonna take an off ramp before we get to abolition. And maybe the further down the road, they go the further down they feel like they can go with us as they see the kind of world and the vision that we’re building.

And that is our job as abolitionists, is to make that vision clear and to make it clear all the ways in which it does what so many of us are longing for. Which is to create thriving, safe, healthy, joyful, beautiful, sustainable, and accessible communities. And lives. 

Brittany: Amen. Brilliant and practical.

Thank you for joining us. Thanks for all that you do to make that world not only something we can envision, but something that I truly believe we will experience one.

Andrea Ritchie is an attorney who represents people who have experienced police violence. She is the coauthor of the upcoming book No More Police: A Case for Abolition, written with Mariame Kaba. If there is absolutely anything I hope you take away from this episode, really from this podcast and this beautiful community of voices that make up UNDISTRACTED, I hope and pray that it’s this, it is never too late to imagine more and then go build it.

The goal is always that every one of these episodes invites you to reach further into our collective aspirations and dig deeper in our work to get there. Not to cheer ourselves on for how woke we can be, but to challenge ourselves and one another lovingly. To care less about looking good and care more about doing good, unpopular as it may be.

So, I am a former reformer who’s learning how to be an abolitionist. In this community known as UNDISTRACTED, it’s not about perfection it’s all about progress. For me, too. In the moments where I thought I was being my most revolutionary self it is those who pushed me to get radical, to truly get to the root that I made me better. 

Get to the root. It is the only way forward.

Hey, that’s it for today, but never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks and Hannis Brown.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor.

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.