Juneteenth 2020 was a proud day for Duluth. 100 years after a white mob desecrated this sacred Anishinaabe ground with the blood of Black men, Duluth’s downtown swelled with a transformative hope: dignified rage and Black joy. For one afternoon, our streets were blessed with rap music, poetry, and the heartbeat of Ojibwe drum circles. With Black women and queer people at the lead, speakers gifted us with education, raw honesty, and visionary ideas.
Their demand was clear: Abolish the police.
When I first heard calls for abolition, I dismissed them as fantasies gone too far. If you feel that way reading this, I simply encourage you to keep listening. Abolition isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but the steps to get there can.
A core abolitionist principle is that the police do not keep us safe. For the most part, the police do protect my white body and private property. But it’s not just about me, and it’s certainly not just about my private property. I am not truly safe until every member of my community is safe.
Here’s a tip for white people: You probably won’t see the danger of the police by looking at your own experiences. You’re going to need to listen to and research the experiences of Black and Indigenous folks, People of Color, migrants, and queer people. If it doesn’t hurt, you probably aren’t listening closely enough.
Police abolition demands community interconnectedness and creativity for the long haul. It challenges us to invest in food, medicine, and shelter for all so that we don’t have to use weapons, fear, and division to control each other.
Abolitionists don’t tell us to flip a switch and turn off the police. Instead, they teach us how we can build unarmed and more specialized community safety teams. They teach us how to eliminate the root causes of violent crimes. They teach us to care for one another with a humanity that militarization denies.
And, you know what? We can start all of that tomorrow.
Alternatives to the police exist around the country and around the world. Just three hours away, organizations like Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, and MPD150 have done much of the visioning work already. Their websites alone hold decades of ideas, lessons learned, and careful research. Some of their proposals that could be implemented in Duluth immediately are to freeze all increases to the Duluth Police Department’s budget, remove Duluth Police resource officers from our schools, and conduct a racial bias audit of the Duluth department. Duluth could then invest all that money, time, and labor into social services that actually prevent crime, provide safe housing, treat the opioid epidemic as the health crisis it is, educate our youth, ensure our youth have access to therapists and social workers, and so much more.
Police abolition can feel scary. It’s also a path to hope, inspiration, and a new level of human care. If you are horrified by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others, I encourage you to dig into that fear and give abolitionism a serious look. We need you; we need everyone.
Perhaps the core of abolition is that simple: No human life is disposable. We cannot sacrifice one single more Black or Native life to systems we know are not working. The time to act was centuries ago. The opportunity is now.
Claire Bransky of Duluth majored in political science with a focus on state violence at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. She works now for the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA).