On May 4th, 2014, a new cross-movement formation called STOMP (Stop Oppressive Militarized Policing) held a community speak-out in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. That same weekend, Boston was host to “Urban Shield” - a massive, annual SWAT training that brings to together police agencies from across Massachusetts to try out the latest militarized tactics and weapons. Among the groups that formed STOMP - Youth Against Mass Incarceration, Free Tarek Mahanna, WRL’s Facing Tear Gas Campaign, Families United for Justice as Healing, Watertown Citizens for Peace - was Black and Pink, a group dedicated to supporting incarcerated LBGTQ people and abolishing prisons entirely.
Ali Issa caught up with Drake Jones of Black and Pink after the event to get their thoughts on how the many communities affected by militarized policing can fight back, the significance of the STOMP speak out and what safety might look like beyond policing and prisons.
How did you get involved in Black and Pink?
I just showed up! After hearing a Black & Pink presentation on criminalization of trans people and solidarity, I brought myself to weekly “mail processing” sessions, where we read mail that our incarcerated LGBTQ family send in. The free world Black & Pink folks were very welcoming. They taught me how to start taking steps to reply to requests, and we’d also talk about what prison abolition means and how to get more involved.
How do you understand the connection between organizing against mass incarceration and organizing against police militarization?
Organizing against prisons and police is connected to organizing against white supremacy and racism. Organizers of color have been struggling against police and prisons for a long time. It’s important to learn from that history. One lesson is: don’t exclude incarcerated and criminalized people from movement organizing. Including them might mean providing bail funds, transit fare, food, housing, writing to and visiting prisoners, supporting people who are impacted by police violence, etc. That’s movement work that keeps more people involved.
Another connection is the false promise of “safety.” Prisons, detention centers, and police all say they’ll keep people safe from harm. Yet they’re incredibly harmful! Prisons rip apart families and communities by locking their loved ones in cages where they are vulnerable to incredible violence (particularly from guards), get abysmal medical care (if any) and awful food, and face barriers to healing from trauma and addiction. Police funnel people into this incredibly harmful prison system, and make communities very unsafe. When cops are geared up for war, they behave as an occupying force in the communities they target. The results are deadly: In 2010, Detroit police threw flash-bang grenades into a house in the middle of the night, then shot and killed a 7 year old Black girl named Aiyana Jones. Sadly, there are many stories like hers. Organizing against prisons and police means exposing the harms they cause and the “safety” lie.
A final connection is that to abolish prisons, we need to stop the flow of people—especially people of color—into the criminal legal system. There are a lot of strategies for that, and one of them is to cut off funding to police forces and reduce their power. If we had fewer cops on the street, they would not be able to make as many arrests, and we wouldn’t build prisons and we’d stop using the ones we have.
What about the connection between repression of dissent/ mass protest and repression of communities in Roxbury, for example?
I don’t think I can fully speak to repression of communities in Roxbury. I need to learn more about the type of oppression they’re facing.
About dissent, I think it’s important to remember that police have historically used the harshest repression tactics to silence dissent when the organizers aren’t white. For example, remember the assassinations and arrests of so many Black Panther leaders, COINTELPRO, the use of police dogs and fire hoses against Black civil rights marchers, and the police helicopter bombing of the Philadelphia MOVE headquarters. Here in Boston, the times I marched with mostly people of color, there were police swarming from every direction- not so with mostly-white marches. I think it most frightens them when people of color organize and speak out. Of course, militarized cops don’t just target politically active people of color. They use those weapons and tactics against whole communities. To carry out their “wars on [whatever],” police departments are always looking for more funding, weapons, armor, tanks, helicopters, and so on. So where do they get the funds and equipment? One way: they insist they’re necessary to “protect” cities from large convention-style protests. We saw this pattern before the Free Trade Area of the Americas protests in 2003 in Miami, and the NATO summit protests in 2012 in Chicago. Police led a media campaign to convince the public that they’d protect the city from dangerous protesters with reinforcements and new gear. In Chicago, days before the protests, they made high- profile arrests followed by trumped-up charges, to justify the massive taxpayer cost of the new gear. After the protests end, police sometimes keep the gear and the funds, using them against the city’s communities of color.
How do you feel that this organizing can counter reliance on the police/prisons inside LGBTQ/Queer liberation struggle?
Trans and queer liberation movements have been struggling against police and prisons for a long time. In the 1960’s, trans women led resistance actions against police at Dewey’s Donuts, Compton’s Cafeteria, and then famously during the Stonewall riots. Later, the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City ended at the womens’ House of Corrections, to protest the incarceration of trans and queer people. Here in Boston, the Fag Rag ran articles on prison justice. Many trans and queer people saw their own liberation as connected with, for example, Black liberation and ending the war on Vietnam. As Black & Pink, we try to honor this history in our work for prison abolition and trans and queer liberation.
Today, unfortunately, some LGBQ and/or Trans people support proposals that give police, prosecutors, and prisons more resources, such as longer prison sentences for hate crimes. It’s important to think about the reasons for that support. It does really hurt when our beloved friends and lovers suffer violence, including police violence. It hurts when the media disrespects trans and queer victims, too. Prisons and police manipulatively use that pain to try to convince us that they care about us and will protect us from homophobia, from transphobia. They’re lying, of course—police are among the most likely people to attack us! But our organizing will be more effective if we offer alternate ways to affirm that trans and queer lives are loved and valued. Caring for the victims’ families is one way to show trans and queer lives matter.
In what ways are the differences between how different groups and movements are impacted by militarization important?
Issues of racial, economic, and social privilege are very important. People in our movements who experience more privilege have a duty to be very thoughtful and self-reflective. Instead of taking leadership roles or shaping the agenda, white and middle-class and cis-gender people should spend more time listening, building genuine relationships with organizers of color, and doing support work. After all, communities that are constantly under siege by the police cannot walk away from this issue. They are directly impacted every day. So their interests, concerns, and priorities should really be the central focus ofthe work. Finally, because police militarization impacts several different groups and movements, there’s great potential for finding common ground together and building a much stronger movement.
In your mind, how did the STOMP event deepen some of these connections?
First, STOMP created space for people to break bread together, to talk to each other and learn about the struggles and organizing activities of different communities working on similar issues. We discussed the incredible harm that militarization is causing. We shared grief and rage over police killing Black community members in Boston, the military/police home raids in Watertown after the Marathon bombings, the FBI targeting Muslim communities, and much more. The event also created space to recognize past and present organizing to resist police and prisons. It was powerful to hear about some of the work that different groups were already doing on these issues, and inspiring to know that people who had really suffered great pain and loss at the hands of the police were there, in the room, ready to fight back. We also talked about the importance of providing ongoing support to people who have lost their loved ones to police violence.
Anything more to add as you take thoughts away to your travels?
At the STOMP meeting, we talked about how this movement will be strongest and most effective if it does not create distinctions between “deserving” and “undeserving” people. Nobody deserves to be locked in a cage, deported, attacked by the police, or to have weapons of war deployed in their neighborhoods. There’s a set of online videos about trans/queer prison abolition, and they’re titled “No One Is Disposable” – that phrase should be our guiding light.