If you experience intimate partner violence, your only option for immediate help may be to call the police, even though an arrest may not do enough to get you out of your dangerous situation and keep you safe in the future. What if instead you could text a number and meet with a trauma-informed crisis intervention specialist to begin working on a long-term plan?
If you don’t realize your brake lights are out, you’ll probably get pulled over by the cops while driving home from work. Especially for black and brown Americans, a routine traffic stop can all too quickly turn deadly. What if instead of police handling this situation, a city worker signaled you to pull over and helped you replace your lights?
These are a few examples of alternatives to policing, detailed in a series of posters created by Amber Hughson, who runs the @conflicttransformation Instagram account. Hughson created the posters back in 2018, but they’ve been shared widely in recent days in light of the ongoing protests against police brutality.
Those protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have spurred calls to defund and even abolish police departments across the country, and they have already inspired some change—such as Minneapolis City Council members pledging to dismantle their city’s police department. Calls for police abolition aren’t new, but the idea may be new to many Americans who have a hard time picturing what a future without police would look like.
Defunding or abolishing police, the posters explain, doesn’t mean that criminals would suddenly roam free. Instead, it’s about approaching policing—and the issues that police are meant to solve—differently, with a new set of resources targeted for that situation.
Right now in the United States, police officers play a huge variety of roles: traffic enforcers, conflict mediators, first responders to mental health crises (even though many departments aren’t trained to handle such situations). Any routine police stop can escalate to violence, whether fueled by the department’s militarization or internal issues of racism and bias. A future with fewer police would prioritize public safety by funding alternatives to these interactions with police.
“Your friends are intoxicated and fighting but you don’t want to get them in trouble,” one of Hughson’s flyers reads. “Imagine… you call +311 and a crisis intervention team comes to your door. 1 hour later, your friends are sleeping it off at home. Isn’t that public safety?”
“Someone is behaving erratically and in harm’s way,” another reads. “Imagine… texting a number and an unarmed urgent responder trained in behavioral health comes within 5 minutes. An hour later that person is safe and getting the support they need. Isn’t that public safety?”
These aren’t supposed to be specific policy proposals of what we should implement, Hughson recently wrote on Instagram. These flyers instead are designed to outline alternatives to policing. The flyers were made “for a local purpose with the intent of helping people to picture alternatives,” she wrote.
Police are such a big presence in our cities that it can be hard to picture what our communities would look like if we relied on and funded police departments less, but people such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore have been calling for police and prison abolition for decades.
As these protests bring a new focus on the outsized role (and budgets) of police departments across the country, activists are working on community-based solutions and alternatives that focus on justice. Hughson defers to them, she wrote—including organizations such as Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity, and, of course, Black Lives Matter. The exact alternatives to policing that work for your community may vary, because they should be tailored specifically to your community. What Hughson’s posters do, though, is show, to a broad audience, that alternatives to policing aren’t that hard to picture.