Defund the Police Reflection – from Jennifer Soule-Hill

As we continue our deep focus on defunding the police, we’re sharing reflections from the PPF community about learning and action around abolition, police, and policing.

This reflection comes to us from PPF Executive Committee member Jennifer Soule-Hill, about Derecka Purnell’s essay, How I Became A Police Abolitionist, which many different groups in PPF have now read and discussed together.

As a white woman who grew up in a white-flight suburb adjacent to Detroit, my interactions with police were limited to viewing the police as “Mr. Safety”.  In this critical moment in the life of our nation and our world, I am doing a lot of unlearning and relearning that questions how very different my childhood experience with police was from my Black neighbors just 10 miles down the road.  

Jennifer Soule-Hill and her family at the Presbyterian Border Outreach Encuentro, Agua Prieta, Sonora, November 2019

Through sharing some of her own childhood experience with violence and police intervention, Derecka Purnell powerfully suggests that we should never have had police, whose origin story is a vestige of slavery.  This is an example of a basic relearning of history I must reckon with as I seek to be faithful and grow into an antiracist identity.  The system of segregation Mr. Safety upheld in my mid-eighties suburb was inextricably tied to the repression of union organizing and suppression of the revolts and escape attempts of enslaved persons from the 1800s, and continues into the police brutality and murder experienced by my neighbors today.  Policing from the very start in our country and at its core was made for the purpose of maintaining racist power and holds tight to this grip through this very day.  

In facing this history and my place in it, I have found a new kind of mental freedom, new space to acknowledge that a structure built in racist power and practice can be broken down through antiracist power and practice.  To build new systems of community care and safety, Purnell reminds us of the courage of anti-slavery abolitionists, who amidst great anxieties and tensions like what we are experiencing today, practiced risk, resistance, and experimentation.  “They held uncertainty in their bellies and started running.” 

The image of running toward freedom reminded me of another posture we must adopt if we are to embrace this moment – imagination.  Policing in our nation tries to steal from us our deepest dreams that freedom and justice can flourish without it.  So as a part of your practice of personal resistance, I invite you to also create some new mental freedom.  Imagine with an open heart, as if creating a picture in your mind’s eye, of what it could look like if our communities provided care for one another without clinging to our first impulse to call the police? To whom instead would we place our trust and resources to assist us in emergencies?  In what roots of violence prevention and healing services would we invest? Whom would you rather have by your side in a moment of danger, during a medical event, a mental break, or a national disaster?  Picture those people.  And picture that this web of care is possible to build.  Picture Black, Brown, Indigenous, and siblings of Color breathing a sigh of deep relief.  Imagine a collective inhalation of imagination and exhalation of fear.  

I want what I am imagining to be real for my siblings of Color, for me, for you, for my children, for each of us.  As peaceseekers unlearning, relearning, and adopting a new mantra to sustain our next long march, may it be Imagination, Risk, Resistance, Experimentation.   Repeat.