Summer Thunder Part 3: A Better Way
Ask yourself if the situation is such that only law enforcement can or should respond. In many cases, that answer is “no”. Here’s a guide to looking beyond 911.
Law enforcement. They have their place in our communities; however, they are not the answer to everything. For many, inviting them into your home is a fearful prospect that can and often does end violently. And, as if law enforcement in your home is not a scary enough prospect, imagine having an officer who literally has no training whatsoever come to your home and wing it. According to the Bureau of Justice Law Enforcement Management Administrative Statistics report, there are law enforcement agencies across the country who hire officers who have zero training on how to be an officer—no police academy, no college degree, nothing, zip, nada. Think about that for a moment—a law enforcement officer responds to your call for help and the only training that they have on how to respond is what they have absorbed on the job. That is a recipe for disaster and one to which we should all say, no, thank you. And, that does not even account for the officers who respond and bring with them all of their preconceived notions of inherent criminality in people of color as well as their ideas about victims having gotten what was coming to them.
At the end of the day, officers are people like you and me with all of the social baggage that goes along with day-to-day living. They are the helpful neighbor down the street, the working mom next door, and the single parent one block over. Wearing a badge does not bestow a magical understanding of all the challenges that Americans face in a crisis. It does not equate to training and it certainly does not undo centuries of stigmatizing victims and perpetrators.
By now you have probably heard the call to “defund the police.” But, what does that mean exactly? Is it the shuttering of police and sheriff departments as many critics claim? No, it is not. Despite fear-mongering efforts, “defund the police” does not mean that advocates want to abolish law enforcement. Rather, it is a movement to recognize that there are alternatives to law enforcement that are often better equipped to help. It is a call for demilitarizing our local police departments, coupled with the reallocation of funding to agencies who are equipped with the tools and the training to respond to calls for help. Without law enforcement in the mix, we may be able to reduce the often inevitable violent interactions that occur as a result.
So, who do we call if not law enforcement? First, we need to ask ourselves if the situation is such that only law enforcement can or should respond. In many instances, the answer is going to be no. That being the case, we need to look beyond 911. And, there are many alternative resources available to us including agencies that are far better equipped to handle many of the crises that our friends and families face.
“The sources of criminal activity and public safety challenges are multifaceted while our responses to them are often singular: more and tougher policing, prosecution, and incarceration. Not every public order challenge is a nail in need of a hammer. If we are to honor the dignity of every person and respect the sanctity of human life, we need a more balanced and diversified approach that recognizes confrontation and coercion are not the only, and often not the best, strategies for protecting our communities. Research-informed innovation that builds a more flexible and effective toolbox of responses is needed to move us towards the more peaceful, flourishing, and just society that is the shared objective of conservatives and progressives alike.”—Rashawn Ray and Brent Orrell, Brookings Institute
Here is a resource list based on the toolkit created by @raeddand with some alternatives to calling law enforcement:
Calling A Friend
When you are in an uncomfortable situation, it always helps to call a friend you trust. Not only is the act of talking to a friend generally comforting, calling a friend to come to check on you or pick you up could be all that is needed to resolve a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. You may even want to call a friend if you see a situation with a law enforcement officer escalating, as police are more likely to want to deescalate the situation when there are more witnesses.
If you see someone having a mental health or medical crisis, instead of calling 911 it might help to find direct care. There are also mental health clinics that provide mobile services as well as medical clinics. One way to be ready for emergencies is to compile a list of these kinds of organizations in your area, even calling or visiting to see what specific services they provide. A good place to start is by contacting your local NAMI chapter to inquire about a Crisis Intervention Team and/or mental health treatment centers in your area.
Crisis response teams—groups of people who are trained in medical and/or mental health first aid—are a good way to get medical or mental health care and are usually free or low-cost. There are many programs like these all over the country and they usually have a wide range of services like conflict resolution, protest assistance, first aid, and more that they can provide.
Rape Crisis Centers
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or raped, getting medical care is the single most important thing they can do. Before taking any other action, the person who has been harmed should go to a hospital, emergency room, or a Planned Parenthood health center. Rape crisis centers can also provide in-person counseling, hospital, police, and courtroom accompaniments; and some have their own hotline.
Animal Help Now
If you see an animal in distress or have an animal nuisance, instead of calling the police you can call your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Animal Help Now is a directory of these services which you can find by typing in your zip code and selecting your situation (e.g. wildlife in distress or domestic animal issue).
Care webs is an idea introduced in Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book “Care Work” that is used in many disabled communities today. The concept is to have a group of friends that are willing to help you when you need it. Care webs are usually discussed beforehand and ask questions like: What is the goal of your care web? Who needs care? What kind? You can read more about care webs in Care Work.
Usually, when you call a hotline you’ll get a trained counselor; however, a warmline is a peer support line that is generally managed and staffed by those who have had their own experiences of trauma that they are willing to share. Unlike a crisis line, a warm line operator is unlikely to call the police or have someone locked up if they talk about suicidal or self-harming thoughts or behaviors. You can find the number for your local warmline here.
If you, or someone you love, are worried about having a crisis in the future it may be helpful to make a crisis plan during the period of calm. Crisis plans and post-crisis plans are documents you can write out yourself or with the help of a therapist or friend. These plans can be made for yourself and friends or if you are worried about not being able to communicate in the event of a crisis. Here is a template that you may want to use and/or you can visit WRAP for more information on crisis plans.
Mental Health Training for Allies and Supporters
Mental health services are extremely hard to come by for many people. While the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) is a helpful resource, if a crisis worker feels that someone is about to attempt suicide they will call the police. In those situations, it can be hard for our loved ones to reach out to friends. Also, most people do not have the proper training to appropriately respond to such a call for help. If someone you care for reaches out to you, it may be helpful to have the skills to respond in a meaningful way. USA Mental Health First Aid has training that covers assessing for risk of suicide or self-harm, listening non-judgmentally, giving reassurance or information; and encouraging self-help, professional help, and other support strategies.
Community-based alternatives are projects and initiatives that can be implemented in communities that are committed to reducing police presence. The main idea with these alternatives is that they all require a community effort and are intended for people committed to organizing in their community. The actions provided below include other implementations, ideas on bringing them to your community, and resources that may be helpful.
Copwatch is a community-run organization that monitors police activity in their area looking for signs of police brutality and misconduct. If you don’t have a Copwatch near you and you feel there is a necessity for one, there are many ways one can be implemented. You can learn more about establishing a Copwatch chapter in your community and their history with Berkeley Copwatch’s handbook.
There are going to be times when the decision whether or not to call law enforcement will not be yours to make. If the police have been called, here are some actions you can take to help keep the people involved safe:
Document. Record audio or video of the situation. Once the police come, record badge numbers and/or their faces, make sure if anything happens, someone can be held accountable. Here's more information about your right to record.
Communicate. If someone involved in the situation cannot hear, see, or has trouble communicating; make sure they understand the police are coming and once the police arrive, try to let the police know they may not be able to communicate or if they are a psychiatric patient. Police are not always trained to interact with people who are disabled, have mental health challenges, or have trouble communicating.
Intervene. If you’re a white, able-bodied, cis person, and you can safely intervene, you are significantly less likely to be killed or brutalized by the police. You can use this privilege by standing between police and whoever is being targeted.
There is little doubt that America’s reliance on law enforcement has made them the go-to answer for just about every situation we encounter despite the fact that there are people and organizations better equipped to de-escalate the situation and protect us from harm. Law enforcement is rarely the answer. Frequently, their presence does nothing other than inflame an already difficult situation. The “defund the police” movement is about rethinking how we respond to crises in our families and neighborhoods. It is about harnessing the best of our communities and supporting agencies and people who can better care for us and our loved ones.
What Else You Can Do
Send congress state or mayor to 50409 to lobby your officials to reallocate funds to community resources that can help during times of crisis. Use the Police keyword to see police violence statistics for your state, and local P.D.