#Marissa418: White Feminists, It’s Time To Question Our Trust In The Police

Carceral feminism tells us that the state is capable of reform and pushed women to rely on state services for protection from gender violence, despite the state being the biggest perpetrator of gender violence both here and abroad. Focusing on the safety of white women has led to policies such as Stop-and-Frisk and Stand Your Ground laws that have led to criminalization of people of color. We truly can not expect a system of violence to be the solution for ending violence. Prison abolition is Christ-like. Jesus is a revolutionary who came to challenge state power and authority and fight in solidarity with the most marginalized. Both the right and the left are complicit in upholding the criminal justice system and the prison-industrial complex.” -Killjoy Prophets, #FaithFeminisms

 

[Content Note: State Violence, Domestic Violence, Racism, Sexual Harassment]

This post was written for the Killjoy Prophets’ campaign for Marissa Alexander–#Marissa418. Check out the tag on Twitter, and email killjoysandprophets@gmail.com if you want to get involved! 

I work in a minimum wage, fast food job, and I am a queer woman. In my years of working in this environment, I’ve faced more incidences of sexual harassment than I can count. Recently, a customer decided he was going to try to give my female coworker a lapdance. He climbed up on the counter demanding she let him give her a lapdance, while his friends looked on and laughed.

This experience left us both shaken. We didn’t know how to react without getting fired, or what to do. So we nervously smiled and continued to take their order as if nothing was happening, hoping they would leave soon. That’s what I usually end up doing in these situations, because what else can we do?

When I got home, I ranted about this on social media, and before anyone even responded I knew what folks were going to say:

“I would have called the cops!”

I appreciate the sentiment. It’s obvious these people who inevitably respond to me this way whenever I talk about sexual harassment I face at work mean well and care about my safety.

I understand that knee-jerk response, and I’ve responded similarly to others.

A few years ago someone I know came to me and told me she’d recently been raped. My first response was to offer to drive her to the police station and support her as she filed a report.

She laughed at me.

“The police? No thanks. They don’t give a shit.”

I could only sigh and nod in agreement, because I knew she was right.

My coworker, this person who came to me, and I are all white. Our complaints are far more likely to be taken seriously by law enforcement officers than they would be if we were women of color, especially if we were black women. I am queer, and sometimes that is visible, which means I am less likely to be taken seriously than a woman who does not appear to be queer. And yet, I am still much more likely to be taken seriously than a trans woman–especially a trans woman of color–would be.

Yet, even though I have a lot of privilege, I have have learned through my own experiences and through listening to others that the police are not my friend.

Want some examples?

1. Several of the police in my town are part of a group called International Cops for Christ. Members of this group carry Westboro Baptist-like signs around scream homophobic rants through a mega-phone, telling people they’re going to hell. (images of one of these cops can be seen in this article). I have heard stories of these officers allegedly pulling over and harassing LGBTQ people who have rainbow bumper stickers on their cars.

2. Earlier this year, a homeless woman reported being raped, and then later refused to testify. This woman was arrested–in the name of protecting women–because she would not testify. Popular feminist Amanda Marcotte supported this, saying prosecuters “made the right call” to arrest her.

3. In her book, Conquest (which should be required reading for all white feminists who want to do better at intersectionality) Andrea Smith gives example after example of horrific police violence against First Nations people. In one example, she tells the case of Connie Jacobs, and her son Ty who “were shot to death by police who called to respond to a domestic violence incident. No charges were filed against Dan Voller, the police officer who murdered them.” (p. 149)

4. Ferguson, MO–which I’m sure you’ve heard about in the news recently–where a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Where those protesting this crime have  been facing police violence for weeks now, as they try to hold Michael Brown’s killer accountable.

5. Marissa Alexander, a black woman and mother, who “fired a warning shot to protect herself and her children from her abusive partner” and  is “facing up to 60 years in prison as punishment for surviving.”

The U.S. “justice” system is not our friend, fellow white women. Women of color, especially black women, have known this for a long time, since their communities are far more heavily targeted by this corrupt system than we are.

We white women are told growing up that if we are in trouble, call the police. Our privilege lets us pretend that this will work, and sometimes it does (especially if it gives the “justice” system a chance to incarcerate more people of color).

But it’s time we stop expecting the masters tools to dismantle the master’s house, to reference Audre Lorde. And it’s time we stand with the women of color who face the worst of this state violence.

Andrea Smith points out in Conquest that studies have shown that “more prisons and more police do not lead to lower crime rates.” (p. 144) [1] She also reminds us that (emphasis mine)

State violence—in the form of the criminal justice system—cannot provide true safety for women, particularly women of color, when it is directly implicated in the violence women face…The criminal justice system has always been brutally oppressive toward communities of color (p. 154-155)

The criminal justice system in this country cannot be a solution to violence because it is violent. It is guilty of some of the worst violence against women–especially toward women of color. 

To quote Smith again,

Women of color are generally in prison as a direct or indirect result of gender  violence…Abused women often end up in jail as a result of trying to protect themselves. For instance over 40 percent of the women in prison in Arizona were there because they murdered an abusive partner. [2] (p. 157)

This isn’t justice.

If you’re a white Christian feminist interested in real justice, here are a few steps you can take:

1. Read Andrea Smith’s book, Conquest, especially the chapter where she deals with the failure of the U.S. criminal justice system. Then read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

2. Read about what you can do to be an accomplice to the protestors in Ferguson and to the family/friends of Michael Brown.

3. Pay attention to, signal boost, and get involved in a week of action for Marissa Alexander going on this week: #Marissa418. Follow the tag on Twitter if you want to learn something. Listen to the Thirty Seconds or Less recordings on the topic. Email the Killjoy Prophets at killjoysandprophets@gmail.com and ask what you can do to get involved.

Let real justice–God’s justice that sets the oppressed free– roll down like waters.

______

[1] Elliot Currie, Crime and Punishment in America, Steven Donzinger, The Real War on Crime, Samuel Walker, Sense and Nonsense About Crime, as cited by Andrea Smith, Conquest

[2] Nancy Jurik and Russ Win, “Gender and Homocide: A Comparison of Men and Women Who Kill,” Violence and Victims 5, no 4 (1990): 236

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