August 3 is National Night Out, the annual event designed by police to enhance neighborhood watch programs, or what we call neighbor on neighbor surveillance. When police departments started hosting these events, there was very little push back. Many Americans had never questioned police tactics, which focus on punishment, separating families, and other fear-based approaches. Since 2013, organizers like those at the Ella Baker Center have been hosting alternative events designed to keep us safe by building community with each other rather than with law enforcement called the Night Out for Safety and Liberation.
Last summer, we saw what happens when millions of people realize that police murder is a crisis that we must respond to. Now, as people learn and reflect more after an unprecedented year, and realize that more police and prisons do not in fact keep us safe, it has them asking, what does?
Defund police became a popular rallying cry, but it also raised questions and concerns for many folks, particularly those who find relative comfort in the current system. Even the most vocal criminal justice reformers understand that it’s hard to imagine a world without police, because it is so far out of our current experience. But we can’t let a failure of imagination or a fear of having difficult conversations keep us from building a world where more of us are safe and secure.
Zachary Norris’s book Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons and Punishments has answers to that question and so many more. It explains how we got where we are and how to move beyond our present moment to a place where we can have systems of care that truly keep us safe.
Our team at LightBox Collaborative has had the pleasure of working with Zach and the Ella Baker Center over the last decade, and our most recent collaboration included generating a discussion guide for Defund Fear. Many of us, especially those of us who come from white, middle class communities who have had less reason to fear police, have struggled to explain or defend the move to defund police. Reading and discussing Defund Fear is a great way to have this conversation with folks who are curious about how our current systems are failing all of us and who are interested in exploring approaches that work.
And these conversations and explorations are making a difference. Recent polling shows more Americans than ever are open to public safety approaches that focus on prevention and investment in communities than ever before. The conversation is happening, the tide is shifting, and the reality of a safer future is on the horizon, as long as we keep talking, marching and voting.
Amanda Cooper comes to consulting with more than fifteen years of experience working with organizations in labor, legal rights, children’s services, and food insecurity. She takes pride in helping her clients reach new heights, whether it’s winning a national campaign, nailing a presentation or interview, or crafting a persuasive message.
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Art by Alfonso Aceves. See more gorgeous Night Out for Safety and Liberation designs here.