Providence is a city with a hugely underfunded school system, unsustainable housing costs, average wages which barely clear the poverty line, and yet we are planning to spend $90M on the police. This is a massive mismatch between the priorities of those in power and the actual people of Providence.
The uprisings currently taking place around the country and the world against racism and police brutality have been a source of great inspiration for both our organization and millions of newly radicalized people. These protests have advanced the cause of defunding and abolishing the police from a fringe position to more mainstream acceptance in the matter of two weeks. For this, Rhode Island Socialists wishes to thank organizations around the state, including Black Lives Matter, Black and Pink, the newly formed youth organizations of Gen Z: We Want to Live and PROVZ, for the leadership, courage, and dedication they have shown in this moment of crisis. These groups have done incredible work organizing some of the largest protests in the state’s history, and pushing the local political machine to make real, meaningful change. Rhode Island Socialists supports the call to abolish the police, and to reject the moderate reformism many mainstream liberal groups, like the Democratic Party, have been proposing instead.
The common conception that society could not exist without police is a myth pushed forward by the ruling class. Professional policing is a relatively recent development, only arising in the 1800s as capitalism took hold as the dominant economic system around the world. These organizations were formed not, as they claim, to protect the public, but to protect and enforce the property rights of the rich. In the United States specifically, the professional police forces arose from two groups, slave patrols and strikebreaking detective agencies like the Pinkertons. To this day police organizations continue to carry out their mission of protecting the ruling class from the people by brutally suppressing communities of color in order to enforce a system of white supremacy, breaking strikes, enforcing evictions, harassing the unhoused, and generally keeping the working class divided and in a state of fear to prevent them from rebelling against their exploiters. The police enforce modern slavery in the form of mass incarceration, where disproportionately people of color are locked up and forced to work for free or a pittance, in many states having their labor rented out to private companies. Police kill more United States citizens in a single year than have been killed in every school shooting combined, and murder by police is now a leading cause of death for Black Youth. This is why the argument that “we just need to get rid of the bad apples” is ludicrous. No matter how moral any individual officer may be, you cannot reform an institution that was founded and continues to serve as a repressive army of white supremacy.
We see these same forms of oppression play out right here on Rhode Island, including the story of Terrell Paci, a firefighter who had a gun held on him by a cop for the crime of being Black while in his work uniform, at his fire station. Christopher Johnson, a candidate for poet laureate, was racially profiled, assaulted, and arrested for simply trying to walk home from a show while Black. The ACLU has filed multiple lawsuits this year alone against cops who are supposedly paid to keep schools safe, but in reality just end up harassing, assaulting, and arresting young children. We saw how police used “less lethal” munitions to shoot at a man committing the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a riot, causing the loss of his eye. Shop windows can be replaced, a person’s eye cannot.
Some liberal groups have proposed a series of “moderate, immediate reforms”, such as the “8 Can’t Wait” listing, which includes measures like banning chokeholds and requiring body cameras, which have been put in place in cities around the country for years with no material impact on the level of violence inflicted on people of color by the police. Chokeholds had been banned for years in New York when Eric Garner was murdered with one. Body camera footage is misplaced, misused, or simply deleted in cases around the country. Daniel Shaver was murdered by police with multiple body cameras filming the event and the murderer was still acquitted. Breonna Taylor was murdered in her sleep when police “raided the wrong house”, and her killers still have yet to face charges. All of these countless examples show how the police cannot be “reformed” into serving the people, as that was never their intended role. While we deeply admire the efforts by the community to get the Community Safety Act passed, and those Providence External Review Authority (PERA) board members who have done their best to enforce its mandate, it has already served to demonstrate that the police, if not defunded at the root, will ignore or subvert any reform measure they don’t agree with.
Providence is a city with a hugely underfunded school system, unsustainable housing costs, average wages which barely clear the poverty line, and yet we are planning to spend $90M on the police. This is a massive mismatch between the priorities of those in power and the actual people of Providence. Rhode Island Socialists greatly admires the leadership shown by Black youth activists and communities of color around our state and city in calling for defunding the police, and thank councilors Katherine Kerwin and Rachel Miller for listening to this call. What is needed is not moderate, incremental reforms like 8 Can’t Wait, but real structural change like the “8 to Abolition” demands, which call for defunding the police and investing in our communities. The jobs currently handled by the police would be better served by a combination of social workers, addiction counselors, and unarmed traffic wardens.
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We must take the funding currently being used on a militarized body to harass people of color and instead use it for services (education, public housing, decarceration, drug treatment programs, reparations, etc) our community desperately need and have been proven to reduce crime. Disarming, defunding, and ultimately abolishing the police is the only way to begin the process of dismantling the systemic white supremacy in this country. We can have a democracy where all members of our community are heard, or we can have a massive militarized police force, we cannot have both.