Letter to Cambridge City Council
The recent murders of Black people by the police have brought to the surface the inherently violent and racist structures of policing in the United States. It has become increasingly clear that police presence cannot keep Black people safe. In fact, police presence leads to physical and psychological harm to Black people who are most likely to have repeated encounters with police.
Policing has always existed in this country to uphold the status quo of white supremacy, capitalism, and colonial structures. The institution emerged in the United States from slave patrols and colonial seizures of land from the indigenous population. Police became a professionalized force in the 19th century to uphold corporate interests against worker rebellions. We have seen the continuation of similar practices in recent weeks, as police have been deployed to protect private businesses while brutalizing protesters for exposing police violence in this country. As foot soldiers of the carceral state, police are accountable to the criminal legal systems that punish, isolate, and imprison Black people. Police do not exist to address the root causes of harm and violence within communities; too often they cause the harm.
This consciousness about policing in the U.S. is reflected in the massive number of #DefundPolice campaigns that have swept across the country. The Movement for Black Lives, along with countless individuals and lesser known organizations, have called for dismantling institutions of surveillance, policing, and punishment. This movement is calling for construction of community-based mechanisms with transformative and restorative justice agendas that address and prevent the root causes of harm. This movement also calls for investing in the social fabric of communities, (e.g. mental health support, housing services, job training, quality education, healthy food) as a way to foster lasting physical safety and generate community wellbeing.
Invest in the social fabric of communities, as a way to foster lasting physical safety and generate community wellbeing.
While urban centers across the country are in a moment of profound transformation, there is a perception of Cambridge as a progressive utopia with a humane police force that serves and protects all residents equally. As a coalition of progressive Black Cambridge residents, our collective experiences differ from this claim. Cambridge is not exempt from the structures and practices of white supremacy that extinguish Black life in a multitude of ways. We offer an alternative view of Cambridge that recognizes police presence as harmful to the overall wellbeing of Black Cantabrigians. Though there may not be many documented instances of blatant physical violence perpetrated by the police in Cambridge, there are still examples: Gates, 2009; Harvard Student, 2018. These interactions may seem like isolated incidents, however, there are many untold stories of harmful encounters between low income Black residents and the Cambridge police. We must uplift the experiences of our brothers and sisters and align ourselves with the Movement for Black Lives in calling for divestment from the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) and investment in long term solutions to community safety for Black people.
Black residents are under-represented in discussions of policing in Cambridge because of their economic and social position in the city. A great majority of Black Cantabridgians receive some sort of housing benefit regulated by the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA). Pockets of Black communities have historically been concentrated in and around the public housing projects. These communities are often left out of public discourse because civic engagement, particularly challenging government policies and practices, can be dangerous to those who receive government subsidies. The CHA and police work together to cast off ‘problem tenants’, who are often in the most precarious position. Those who “cause trouble” are criminalized and viewed as unfit to live in Cambridge. Boston is left to absorb the “problematic” residents who are then subjected to the same racist practices across the river. This system reflects a logic of white supremacy that Cambridge actively serves through its violent and bureaucratic practices.
Interpersonal violence within Black communities, often referred to as ‘black-on-black’ crime, is treated as something to be erased rather than addressed. Some city officials have claimed that Cambridge is not in need of the same transformative change as other places, and that Black Cambridge residents especially benefit from police presence in Black neighborhoods and welcome the many programs offered by the police department. We wholeheartedly disagree. We are calling for more social programs to address interpersonal violence within the Black community, not more police.
There are countless and yet unregistered accounts of Black businesses bemoaning the unrecognized impacts of police detailing of their neighborhoods. The bottom line of those businesses is affected by the police harassment, the issuing of parking tickets and various citations around their 8businesses. The impact of this is threefold: the policing acts as a form of intimidation to Black clients, the tickets serve as a sort of Black tax, and combined these things silence Black residents. All of these predatory practices prevent individuals and Black business owners from sharing their experiences at the risk of losing their livelihoods.
The People’s Republic of Cambridge prides itself on its reputation as a progressive place, at the cutting edge of social and technological innovation. We say, prove it! Cambridge has a discretionary fund of over $250 million. Let us use these funds and redirect resources away from CPD to build a Cambridge where everyone thrives, including low-income Black people.
Prove that our reputation as a progressive city is in fact the truth of Cambridge and not just rhetoric. Let us be on the cutting edge of the national movement to defund the police by creating a community where people are truly safe and where all Cambridge residents are treated as deserving of the same standard of living. People in the projects do not need to be over-policed; they need more jobs, childcare, free internet, business start-up funds, their student loans forgiven, their kids’ college tuition paid, and other educational services. Use CPD funding to pay for public services that will keep everyone, including poor Black Cantabrigians safe and thriving.
Here we are, Black Cambridge residents. We are actively calling on the Cambridge City Council to #DefundThePolice!