Police Violence Is a Systemic Problem That Requires Systemic Solutions

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Commentary Human Rights

Police Violence Is a Systemic Problem That Requires Systemic Solutions

Jessica González-Rojas

There can be no reproductive justice when Black mothers fear for the lives of their sons; when Black families are deprived of caregivers, breadwinners, and parents; and when Black children cannot grow up in a society that values their lives and upholds their human dignity.

For more anti-racism resources, check out our guide, Racial Justice Is Reproductive Justice.

Black lives matter. This simple statement of truth, this powerful affirmation of human dignity in the face of racist violence, has become a call to action. A rallying cry. A prayer for justice.

As a Latina, a mother, and a reproductive justice advocate, I am outraged at the continued police killing of Black men, women, and children, and the lack of accountability for these brutal violations. I can’t help but think of my son, and try to imagine the pain of so many mothers who will never celebrate another birthday, holiday, or milestone because the police took their baby away.

Police violence and its subsequent lack of accountability is not caused by bad cops or disputed evidence. It’s caused by systemic institutionalized racism that promulgates and justifies the killing of Black bodies. And it’s more than an attack on an individual; it’s an attack on families.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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When Esaw Garner said, “[M]y husband is six feet under … and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids,” or when Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, reacted as she was told to be calm in the face of her child’s killer going free, “Everyone wants me to be calm. Do you know how them bullets hit my son, what they did to his body as they entered his body?”—it was painfully clear to anyone watching that the social, spiritual, and economic well-being of an entire family had been devastated.

Police violence acts to destabilize, dismantle, and destroy families. As Dani McClain at the Nation, Katherine Cross at Rewire, and others have pointed out: Police violence against Black families is clearly a reproductive justice issue. There can be no reproductive justice when Black mothers fear for the lives of their sons; when Black families are deprived of caregivers, breadwinners, and parents; and when Black children cannot grow up in a society that values their lives and upholds their human dignity.

There can be no reproductive justice when Black women are denied the human right to see their children grow up.

Latino/as represent a broad spectrum of racial and ethnic diversity. Many in our community suffer every day from racist profiling, harassment, and violence at the hands of law enforcement officials. Others are called to action as allies, to stand beside our hermanos and hermanas and speak with a united voice.

Our thoughts are with the families of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and so many others killed by police, and we stand with those from coast to coast who have peacefully demonstrated in opposition to this state-sponsored violence. The time is now for our leaders and policymakers to listen and take action, to heed not only the cries of grief and anger but also the clarion calls for accountability and justice. Yes, the rage is real, and plainly justified. And those who grieve, and rage, and “die-in,” also provide invaluable counsel to those who care to listen.

Police violence against Black communities is a product of interlocking systems of racial, economic, and reproductive injustice—and systemic solutions are needed. Most importantly, the families of those killed, and the communities that experience police violence, must remain at the center of this important national conversation. News reports have focused on the emotional outcry of protesters, while short shrift has been given to their clear, concrete demands. As is nearly always the case, those who experience oppression are depicted as passive victims or hysterical reactors, rather than experts whose analysis merits serious consideration.

Policymakers and law enforcement bodies should take these demands seriously, and respond swiftly and with comprehensive plans built on the input of those most affected. There is, for example, the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda’s statement of solidarity, which calls on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue its investigation into police misconduct and excessive use of force in Ferguson, Missouri, and demands that President Obama take a leadership role in denouncing the actions of the prosecuting attorney. Or the demands of Ferguson Action, which include a comprehensive agenda petitioning for “an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of Black, Brown & all oppressed people,” full employment, decent housing, an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, quality education for all, and a review by the DOJ into systematic abuses by police departments—among other reforms.

If policymakers fail to respond, communities should leverage the power of the ballot to raise up new representatives. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Self-determination for communities of color in the United States cannot be a reality while voter suppression and racist gerrymandering is alive and well. No community will be able to fully inform and direct the policy solutions needed to address police violence, or any other important issue, until the right to vote is fully guaranteed.

It is happenstance that this year of increasing outcry over police violence against Black communities has come the same year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the reproductive justice movement. But it is also instructive. In fact, the reproductive justice framework provides many helpful signposts for anyone seeking to act in solidarity. The core tenets of reproductive justice—1.) center the leadership of those most affected, 2.) locate the root causes of injustice in intersecting systems of oppression, and 3.) uphold dignity and self-determination—could not be more relevant.

Many have rightly pointed out that the system isn’t broken—it’s working exactly as designed. I have to agree. But too many of our families, and our communities (and our hearts) are broken, and badly in need of healing justice, in need of a path forward to a day when Black lives unquestionably matter, in every place, in every sense.

As someone honored to carry a torch lit by the warrior women who came before me, I am hopeful that reproductive justice can help light the way, and committed to standing and speaking and acting in solidarity for as long as it takes to secure dignity and justice for all our families.