“Who do they serve? Who do they protect?”

NYPD SUV’s barrel through protesters in the streets of Brooklyn, NY.
A screenshot of video footage showing NYPD patrol SUVs barreling through protesters on the streets of Brooklyn, May 30, 2020.

Those two questions repeated in my head last night as I watched militarized police cascade on Americans throughout the country. Americans, mind you, who were protesting the latest act of police brutality against our black and brown brothers and sisters. And to be clear, “brutality” in this case means murder. Today it’s George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, yesterday it was Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The systemic violence perpetrated by the forces designed to “protect” us has a long list of victims’ names.

“Who do they serve? Who do they protect?”

It may be a cliché twitter response to the countless images of violence at the hands of our tax-payer funded police forces, but it’s a question we deserve an answer to from our elected leaders and the police unions who use these meaningless slogans to defend their actions. One of the most striking aspects of the protests and ensuing response is how feckless leadership has been in defending us—the citizens—from the very people we pay to supposedly serve and protect us.

The public outcry for justice is not a whisper, but a scream. The sentiment is not ambiguous—Americans want justice for the lives lost at the hands of an increasingly violent and increasingly unchecked police force.

As protesters marched through the streets of multiple cities nationwide, onlookers cheered them on. People are donating to bail funds in record amounts. If you need further proof of what Americans are thinking, simply look to the corporate interests who have used their marketing dollars to speak out against institutionalized racism. Capitalists haven’t had a sudden change of heart, they speak whatever language the people want to hear. And what the people want is justice.

When our leaders make ambiguous statements condemning violence from “both sides” or scapegoat “outside instigators”, I don’t think of how weakly they answered the call, but of how much power the police force must have in this country if our elected leaders cower to them even when they have numbers on their side. And this weakness doesn’t see party. If Republicans are the cop kneeling on the neck of America, then our Democratic leadership is the cop who stands by letting it happen.

“Who do they serve? Who do they protect?”

Regardless of what your answer is to this question, one thing is certain — we spend way too much money on government sanctioned weapons and too little on our communities, especially communities of color.

Here in New York City, when our schools are underfunded and understaffed, how does our elected leadership respond? By creating a “NYPD school safety division” and hiring more police. When public transit is underfunded and understaffed, how does our leadership react? By creating a MTA Police Department and hiring hundreds of more police officers. Too many homeless people sleeping on the streets and subways? Deploy thousands of police. During the safest era in New York City’s history and immediately following the killing of Eric Garner and the protests that ensued, what did our “progressive” Mayor and City Council do? Hire thousands more police officers. Facing a pandemic and enormous budget shortfalls, how is city and state leadership responding? By fast-tracking thousands of new police officers while simultaneously making cuts to health care and social services.

And when a cop abuses or murders a citizen and our leadership fails to hold them accountable, who pays for the ensuing civil suit settlement to the victims?

At this point we’re not paying for protection, we’re paying for our own abuse.

History has repeatedly shown us that the safest community is a well-funded community. It’s time we divest the (b)millions we spend on “policing” our citizens and reinvest in supporting our citizens.

“Who do they serve? Who do they protect?”

As someone who believes strongly in our public institutions, to say we are fending for ourselves might be an overstatement, but in times like this it’s important to look inward and derive strength from our community. If you can, please donate to your local bail and non-profit legal funds. You can view a directory of community bail funds at the Community Justice Exchange. If you cannot afford a monetary donation, I strongly suggest reaching out to your local mutual aid network. Whether you want to volunteer, or especially if you are a person or family in need, mutual aid networks are a great resource of community support and advice. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has a growing national directory and Patch has a list of NYC mutual aid networks.

And lastly, the most important thing you can you do to defend and protect yourself is to defend and protect those who are being marginalized and targeted for the deficiencies in our political and economic systems. The color of your skin should not determine your ability to define right from wrong and it sure as hell should not blur your vision so badly that you cannot see a murder for what it is.

I stand as an ally with the black and brown communities who continuously take the brunt of our militarized police.

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“You see there are people who believe the function of the police is to fight crime and that’s not true, the function of the police is social control and protection of property.”—Michael Parenti

“I will always be on the side of those who have nothing and who are not even allowed to enjoy the nothing they have in peace.” — Federico García Lorca

“The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” — James Madison