From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Let’s Imagine a Post-Pandemic Era With Less Policing and No New Jails
Date June 2, 2020 12:00 AM
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[In this time of heightening crisis, we must be brave enough to
use our full imaginations — and listen to those who have been
dreaming of and fighting for just cities and communities for years. ]
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LET’S IMAGINE A POST-PANDEMIC ERA WITH LESS POLICING AND NO NEW
JAILS  
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Amanda Alexander
May 9, 2020
Truthout
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_ In this time of heightening crisis, we must be brave enough to use
our full imaginations — and listen to those who have been dreaming
of and fighting for just cities and communities for years. _

An NYPD officer wearing a mask looks at the camera during a daily
briefing in the Union Square subway station amid the coronavirus
pandemic on May 6, 2020, in New York City. , Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty
Images

 

Right now, the “impossible” is happening every day.

In Detroit, with COVID-19 bursting the boundaries of our everyday
catastrophes, we are seeing astounding — and overdue — changes in
police and courtroom practices. Police are arresting fewer people and
courts have scaled back to so-called “essential functions.” This
comes after thousands of people in the community have long demanded an
end to aggressive police stops, driver’s license suspensions and
court debt. Now, courts have stopped issuing warrants for failing to
appear and fewer people are being jailed. In some U.S. cities, jail
populations are the lowest they’ve been since the 1980s — even the
1940s
[[link removed]].
Macomb County, near Detroit, just shelved plans for a new $300 million
jail, citing the pandemic.

After years of unemployment, foreclosed homes, water shutoffs,
shuttered schools, health clinic closures and jail expansion, many in
Detroit’s Black majority have no illusions that our current system
is doing anything but abandoning them to die. This calculated
divestment has been relentless; after the outbreak of COVID-19, we
learned that Wayne County officials had shifted $4 million in the
2019-2020 budget
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away from indigent health care and into new jail construction. And
yet, in our neighborhoods, Detroit residents continue to prioritize
each other. If we can do that here, despite decades of disinvestment,
it’s possible everywhere. This moment has shown us that changes can
happen quickly, and that the “impossible” is simply a matter of
priorities. It’s about choosing — or being forced to choose —
transformative solutions that dial into our collective humanity.

We are facing fundamental choices about who we are as a society. We
could choose racist fear and fascist, dystopian policing. We could
continue to deem entire communities “criminal” and refill the
jails just as swiftly as we’ve begun to empty them. Or we could
recognize we cannot return to “business as usual” because even
_before_ the pandemic, we had a state of emergency.

We’re at a turning point now. It’s time to learn from people who
have been imagining new ways of being in community, and who have begun
making monumental shifts.

At the Detroit Justice Center, we’ve asked more than a hundred young
people what investments the city and county could make that would help
them feel safe, valued and empowered. Not _one_ of them has said we
need more police on the streets or more jails. Instead, they said we
should build mental health spas, restorative justice mediation
centers, and invest in public transit. Pay our teachers, fix our
schools, build housing that’s affordable and accessible for people
with disabilities. These are not partisan political demands; in
reality they are the freedom dreams_ _of young people who understand
that broad swaths of people have been living in a state of emergency
for decades.

Many communities have long known: jails _produce _poverty, job loss,
evictions and homelessness, neighborhood instability, violence,
trauma, debility and death.

In Detroit and much of the country, people who experience the brunt of
systemic and interpersonal violence and the horrors of our jails and
prisons have been fighting for renewed visions of safety and community
well-being. They reject the idea that some people are only worthy of a
jail or prison cell, and they have been leading the way in building
more just cities. Their broader solutions encompass worker-owned
cooperatives and thriving local farms and food systems, and they also
recognize the need to empty jails in order to unlock the resources
that we spend on criminalizing and punishing people.

We’ve entered a moment when we could bring the era of building new
jails to an end. In the past several years, more research has shown
what so many communities have long known: jails _produce _poverty, job
loss, evictions and homelessness, neighborhood instability, violence,
trauma, debility and death. Jails make communities less safe and less
healthy. Where incarceration rates are high, community social and
economic well-being decline. And all of this misery costs us over $1.2
trillion each year
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(once the impact on other systems like foster care, housing, and the
costs to families is taken into account, that’s the total cost of
incarceration in this country). Fortunately, organizers have given us
ideas for what we could build instead, and models for fighting for
budgets that would create more just and equitable communities.

Last year, in a historic vote, the Atlanta City Council moved to shut
down the Atlanta City Detention Center and repurpose it as a hub where
residents can access health care, housing, quality child care and
more. The Center for Equity, Wellness and Freedom is the result of
years of organizing and strategizing
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by formerly incarcerated women and their allies. Women on the Rise and
the Racial Justice Action Center
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by Marilynn Winn and Xochitl Bervera, mobilized over 45 organizations
to shut the jail under a rallying cry of “Communities Over Cages.”
Atlanta officials built the jail in the lead-up to the 1996 Olympics
“to hide the homeless from the community,” as Winn puts it
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ensnaring poor people in a cycle of tickets, warrants and unaffordable
cash bail.

Over many years, the Atlanta activists fought to reduce pretrial
incarceration, end cash bail, eliminate city ordinances that
criminalize poverty, and cut city contracts with Immigrant and Customs
Enforcement. And they didn’t stop there. As the jail population
shrank from over 1,000 to less than 100
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they began to articulate a vision for how the city could reallocate
the $32.5 million it was spending each year
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on the jail to meet communities’ needs. After the city council vote,
Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declared, “No longer will
Atlanta be in the jail business
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Winn and others did what visionary organizers do so well — they’d
made the unimaginable inevitable.

Winn and others did what visionary organizers do so well — they’d
made the unimaginable inevitable.

Thankfully, it’s been happening in cities all over the country. In
New York City, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle,
Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, people are demanding
resources for health care and well-being. And they’re winning. In
Philadelphia, organizers with the “Close the Creek” campaign won a
fight to shutter the city’s House of Corrections after pretrial
reforms drove down Philly’s jail population by a third
[[link removed]],
from 8,082 to 5,394, in two years (2016-2018). Last summer, San
Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted to close the city’s
Juvenile Hall and create rehabilitative noninstitutional support
options for young people — after the Young Women’s Freedom Center
and other organizers made them do it. This time last year, in Los
Angeles County, after more than a decade of building power, the
JusticeLA [[link removed]] campaign blocked the construction
of two new jails — projects totaling over $3.5 billion — and went
on to win an unprecedented commitment to public health care. In
Colorado, formerly incarcerated people and their allies, led by the
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, have won millions in
community reinvestment for housing, jobs, reentry supports and health
care in communities hardest hit by violence and incarceration.

In this time of heightening crisis, we must be brave enough to use our
full imaginations — and listen to those who have been dreaming of
and fighting for just cities and communities for years. While these
community builders and organizers do not have all the answers, they
have been asking the right questions. Questions that have very high
stakes for all of us, like­­ how can we heal, so that we can create
healthy communities? And how, through our heartbreak, can we be more
open-hearted people, so that we can create cities that are more just?

This is transformative work that can orient us toward a livable future
for us all. If we’re lucky, future generations will thank us for it.

_Amanda Alexander is the founding executive director of the Detroit
Justice Center [[link removed]], a movement lawyering
organization that works alongside communities to create economic
opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and
just cities. Amanda is a senior research scholar at the University of
Michigan Law School and serves on the board of the Center for
Constitutional Rights [[link removed]] and the James and
Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
[[link removed]]. Her writing has appeared in The Globe &
Mail, Detroit Free Press, Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Harvard
Journal of African-American Public Policy, and other publications.
Follow her on Twitter: @A_S_Alexander
[[link removed]]. _

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission. 
Reprinted with permission.

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