Stories We Tell Ourselves: Changing the White Narrative of Policing

The curfew has ended, the National Guard has left the streets, and the officers who murdered George Floyd have been charged — but the rebellion continues, and our work remains.  

Much of the mainstream rhetoric about the Minneapolis uprising initially focused on looting, destruction of property, and financial costs to the state. In recent days, we have seen a shift as reactionary media sow fear about a future without policing and minimize coverage of ongoing protests. Most of us as white folks have been taught, over and over, that police are here to protect our bodies and our property, and that this is what safety looks like. For many white folks, our first reaction is defensiveness and condemnation of the looting and burning of property.

Here at SURJ-TC, we are working hard to reject this rhetoric we have grown up with. We unequivocally support the uprising, and we believe the best way to end violence against Black people is by abolishing the police. We invite you to work with us on reframing the narrative, for yourself and those in your circles. We offer some reminders and questions for reflection:

1. George Floyd, and too many other Black folks, have been murdered by police. Property can be rebuilt, but lives can never be returned.

2. We live on land invaded and illegally seized by European colonizers, in an economy built off the backs of Black people, whom colonizers from Europe enslaved for centuries. Colonizers developed modern capitalism through genocide, looting, and exploitation of Indigenous, Black, and Brown peoples — and from these violent roots, white wealth continues to grow. From mid-March to mid-May, American billionaires gained $434 billion, even as millions of Americans lost their jobs. White supremacy is inherent to capitalism. It hugely benefits the white elite, and it brings significant advantage to the other 99% of white people.  

3. There is no "right" way to respond to such a violent history and reality. Our role as white folks is to help end the violence of policing, not to critique responses from Black organizers and community members. Describing certain protesters as "peaceful" and others as "violent" only justifies a militarized response of the state. As Trevor Noah and others have pointed out, white moderates will never accept any form of protest as ‘the right way’ anyway: even the simple act of taking a knee was unacceptable to many.

4. Important changes are happening, and inspiring promises are being made — but we have a long way to go to reach police abolition, and to build something new. It is our job as white people to center Black voices, to do the work of internal reflection without burdening BIPOC folks, and to stretch our imaginations to envision what a police-free future will look like.

5. Many neighborhoods are more connected than ever right now. As we begin to imagine a Twin Cities without police, let’s remind our white neighbors not to advocate for community safety efforts that closely resemble police. Help others get clear that the biggest threats to our communities are militarized police state presence and other white supremacist activity.

6. White supremacy is not only something to unlearn in our minds. White supremacy lives in our bodies. White folks must engage in deeper connection with our nervous systems and bodies to practice undoing this toxic wiring. Author and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem speaks to this in his extensive work. 

 

We invite you to ask yourself: 

• What does 'going back to normal' mean to you? What did normal mean for you, and what did normal mean for our Black communities?

• What stories have you been told about what safety means? Where did these stories come from? Who is invested in these stories being true?  

• What do you think 'protecting your community' means? Who and what are you protecting? How will you contribute to wider community protection that includes safety for Black folks?

• We don't want to replicate cop-like behavior in our community safety work. How can you root this role in care for the uprising and your neighbors, not in fear of damaged property? Where is the line between community defense and policing each other? 

• How can you respond when you hear neighbors, family, friends, say things like, “There's a suspicious person walking on our block”? "I agree with what they're saying, but not with how they are acting”? "We all need to come together right now; there's too much anger”? 

• When white elected leaders call for “peaceful” protest and police reform (instead of abolition), how does this perpetuate violence against people of color, and especially Black people? 

• As damaged buildings and businesses are rebuilt, how will you help prevent gentrification of these communities? How will you stay in relationship with this work and your neighbors long-term? 

These are not rhetorical questions. Write down your thoughts and talk to your friends and family.

 

Finally, internal work is essential to dismantling white supremacy, but these questions are not a substitute for showing up in action. Concrete steps for white people include: 

  • Sign the petition and volunteer to collect signatures for Recall Freeman
  • Move your money to organizations working toward a just and police-free world, including Black Visions, WFPC Front Lines Fund, and Minnesota Voice
  • Show up in the streets: Follow Black Lives Matter MN and CAIR-MN on Facebook to stay up-to-date on events in the Twin Cities 
  • Support mutual aid and community resources: Visit Uprising Minnesota for current asks, demands, and resources 
  • Contact your representatives to demand police abolition: 

Minneapolis City Council

St. Paul City Council

Minnesota Legislature 

Re-building a community where Black people can truly thrive will require deep, long-term cultural change. It will take committed thought, vulnerability, and our most open imaginations to demand an end to policing, and to fight for our collective liberation.

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