As we close our six-month deep focus on defunding the police and the eight-week Praxis Circles to understand this call, we are publishing reflections from PPFers on what they’ve learned through this process. This one comes from Deanna Hollas, PPF’s Gun Violence Ministry Coordinator.
When I first heard the phrase “defund the police,” I had a bodily reaction of resistance. This is because of my work in the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement and I imagined if we didn’t have police, heavily armed white supremist groups would take over our streets similar to how the Taliban or ISIS has in other countries.
I was not alone in my resistance, as many white people have been conditioned to equate police with personal safety. My resistance began to dissolve once I started learning more about where the term “defund the police” came from and how it is part of a larger framework of abolition through PPF’s Action and Praxis Circles.
Members of the GVP working group met once a week for eight weeks and worked through PPF’s Abolition Reader as a group. As we met, we wondered how GVP and “defund the police” intersect. How might our GVP work change with this new learning?
As we worked through the Reader, the story-based strategy guide challenged us to think about the underlying assumptions we have about who is the hero, the victim, and the villain in the stories we tell around guns. The exercise helped me see how much of the GVP movement policy work has been centered around the individual gun owner who is often assumed to be a white male. What might be different if we were to tell a different story? What stories might we tell (and actions taken) if we centered the voices of those most affected by gun violence: women, youth, LGBTQ+ people, and BIPOC?
We also began to see our work in the context of abolition. As put forth in Showing Up for Racial Justice’s Community Safety for All Toolkit, God is an abolitionist. God has always been about the work of abolition, as abolition is liberation. Just as God liberated Israel from slavery, God is inviting us into the work of freeing our communities from systems of violence, punishment and “power over.” Not only will the people impacted by such systems be set free, but this liberation is for all, including the gun owner and the police. What we need is vision, imagination and courage to ask: “what kind of world do we want to live in and what will it take to get there?”
Margery Rossi, the moderator of PPF’s GVP working group, says:
“Our GVP group goal of ending gun violence doesn’t go far enough as a ‘kingdom goal.’ This goal addresses what we don’t want to see happening; it does not address what we do want to see happening. It was enlightening to review my city budget and see how much of it is dedicated to the police. Compared to the budgets of other municipalities where our group members live, the percentage was fairly consistent across the country. This shows that we do not value quality of life for all – police are here to protect people and property and enforce laws, many of which would not be necessary if we, as a society, valued life & worked for the common good. We don’t.
“Instead of providing options and services to help people grow beyond survival, we rely on law enforcement to keep people in line. It’s lazy and unimaginative and a ridiculous burden to put on police and taxpayers. It would be much less expensive to treat people well! It also reflects our fears and our almost obsessive focus on individual rights, not a commitment to the common good. We have a society awash in guns. This means that police fear for their lives every minute of every day and rely on their own guns as control and protection. If we had fewer guns in general, there would not be as big a need for police intervention, budgets and fear. We could use funds currently dedicated to policing to improve the quality of life for all people.”
The final activity was to create a vision of the world we want to live in. My vision (below) is based on Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” and the ministry of RAWtools.
We know we have a gun violence problem in this country because lawmakers have chosen gun industry profits over public safety for decades. As churches, we can offer an alternative to the gun market for individuals and families. In my ministry, I talk to many people who have guns they no longer want for various reasons (inherited, used in suicide, concerned about child safety or just don’t want anymore) and have no alternative to rid themself of the gun other than to sell it in the gun market. The Praxis Circle motivated me to order a chop saw, extension cord, and eye protection to start disarming weapons for friends. According to the NIH, research shows that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. Disarming firearms and making them into garden tools is one way to engage in kingdom building work.
I now see that my original resistance to defunding the police was based on the faulty assumption that we would suddenly have no more police and my conditioning as a white woman to equate police with safety. Police, like guns, do not make us safe.
Activists that call for defunding the police are calling for a divestment in systems of force and power over and directing those funds to systems of care and restorative justice practices. One Praxis Circle participant wondered why we had to defund the police, couldn’t we just add systems of care. I was reminded of what Edwin Robinson of Dallas Black Clergy once said to me. Robinson said black organizers and pastors have been asking the city for years to fund systems of care and restorative justice practices but they are always told there is no money, but when he looks at the city budget, he sees there is always plenty of money for police.
The only way we will create a different world is for us to stop funding systems of violence and start funding the world we want to live in.