What does abolition look like in Iowa?

I have joined the Quaker Abolition Network, a new national network of Friends working toward the abolition of police and prisons.

I used to think of abolition in terms of the institution of slavery, the death penalty, or nuclear weapons. But the collapse of social, environmental and economic systems reveal injustices that had remained somewhat hidden from white people beneath a thin veneer of the myth of whiteness. One of the greatest benefits for white people in our country is this protection from police harassment, from knowing any encounter with the police can so easily lead to incarceration or death. From unrelenting fear. I first began to get just a glimmer of what this is like when I saw a black mother break down in tears as she tried to express her constant terror every moment her children were out of the house. A black friend began to explain what should have been a minor interaction with police. Soon after he began he stopped, and it took literally 4-5 minutes before he could continue the story. What happened was outrageous. This pain persists even though the incident took place years before.

I was given permission to take this photo

That it should not have to be said that Black lives matter proves their lives often do not in the view of some, and largely in the view of the state. As uprisings in response to racial injustice intensify and spread, the police forces that attempt to quell this unrest become more violent, repressive and militaristic. And the associated, rapid disappearance of civil rights for all of us, move us further along the authoritarian path. Those in the Black Liberation Movement, and Mutual Aid projects, are the vanguard of protecting what few rights we still have.

Here in Iowa the Black Liberation Movement declared a Black state of emergency.
(see more Black State of Emergency in Iowa #BlackEmergencyIA | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com))

“With this declaration of a state of emergency for Black Iowans, we are also calling on all local elected officials — from city elected officials to state representatives — to Governor Reynolds to our federal elected officials in the congress and the senate — to join with us in recognizing the state of emergency for Black Iowans and reacting with the resources that are necessary to help combat this,” said Jaylen Cavil, an organizer with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (BLM).

These remarks were followed with more people speaking. I’m including what Patrick Stahl said, because he is one of the people I know from my engagement with Des Moines Mutual Aid’s food giveaway program.

Patrick: Hi, I’m Patrick Stahl with Des Moines Mutual Aid.

Des Moines Mutual Aid is a collective that does outreach for homeless folks in our community, houseless folks in our community. We also assist BLM with their rent relief fund, and most of the work we’ve done is running the bail fund for the protests over the summer. In the course of that work, we have witnessed firsthand the violence that is done upon people of color, Black people specifically, by the white supremacist forces of the state – in this state, in this city, in this county. There is absolutely a state of emergency for people of color and Black people in Iowa. The state of emergency has been a long time coming. We will support – DMMA will absolutely support any and all efforts of this community – BLM, and the people of color community more generally- to keep themselves safe. Power to the people.

Patrick Stahl

It is these connections between Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) and Des Moines Black Liberation that are leading the abolition movement in central Iowa. One of DMMA’s projects is a bail fund which has been able to post bail for every activist arrested last year, mainly members of Des Moines Black Liberation, during demonstrations for racial justice.

Following is from friend Ronnie James when he spoke at a Black Lives Matter teach in last summer.

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war. Organized groups like The American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense showed that we can build not only aggressive security forces for our communities, but they also built many programs that directly responded to the general wellbeing of their communities. This tradition began long before them and continues to this day. Look into the Zapatistas in Southern so-called Mexico for a current and effective example.

These people’s security forces, or the “policing of the police” not only helps to minimize the abuse and trauma they can inflict on us, but it begins to shift the power balance from them to us.

Mutual Aid programs that help our most marginalized or other events that work to maintain our spirits result in stronger communities. A strong community is less vulnerable to police intrusion. 99% of our conflicts can be solved by those affected by them, but only with the support of those around them. Anytime we call on the police to mediate our problems, we are risking ourselves or a loved one from being hurt or worse.

The more we replace the police with organized community response to conflict, the safer we will be. Another powerful benefit is the removal of power from those that take their orders from those that have no interest in your well being, at least past it being useful to amass and increase wealth.

Of course, part of this fight of police abolition will be fought on the political stage, but let’s not fool ourselves that the state and the wealthy will ever give up tight control on all resources. We can lobby and vote to have police resources diverted to less dangerous organizations, but they will still be working for the same state and same class that have dispossessed and repressed us for centuries. Every election has the possibility of reversing any policy gain we may won.

Some of the fight will be in the government offices, but the majority of it will be us, in the street.

Many communities work to train amongst themselves mental and physical health workers, conflict mediators, and anything else we need, despite the state and it’s soldiers insistence that they are the sole “authority” of these skills, and always with the implied threat of violence.

As we work toward this, and this summer has proven des moines has the heart, desire, and skills to do so, we still have to deal with what’s in front of us.

We each have skills and resources we can utilize towards the abolition project. Some of us can use the halls of the system to make short term change there, others have skills that produce food, provide medical care, or care for our precious youth, some are skilled in the more confrontational tactics needed. Once we envision that world our ancestors want for us, finding our role is natural.

If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.

All Power To The People.

Ronnie James

So if we abolish the police, what’s the alternative? Who do we call? As someone who grew up calling 911, I also shared this concern. I learned this: Just because I did not know an answer didn’t mean that one did not exist. I had to study and join an organization, not just ask questions on social media. I read Rachel Herzing, a co-director of the Center for Political Education, who explains that creating small networks of support for different types of emergencies can make us safer than we are now, and reduce our reliance on police. The Oakland Power Projects trains residents to build alternatives to police by helping residents prevent and respond to harm. San Francisco Mayor London Breed just announced that trained, unarmed professionals will respond to many emergency calls, and Los Angeles city-council members are demanding a similar model. This is the right idea. Rather than thinking of abolition as just getting rid of police, I think about it as an invitation to create and support lots of different answers to the problem of harm in society, and, most exciting, as an opportunity to reduce and eliminate harm in the first place.

How I Became a Police Abolitionist. When people dismiss abolitionists for not caring about victims or safety, they tend to forget that we are those victims, those survivors of violence by Derecka Purnell, Human rights lawyer, The Atlantic, JULY 6, 2020


This entry was posted in abolition, Black Lives, civil disobedience, Des Moines Black Lives Matter, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Mutual Aid, police, prison, Quaker, race, Uncategorized, white supremacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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