Thirty-five activists gathered at Memorial Park in SanTana on Saturday afternoon to ponder the provocative question: "What does a world without police look like?"
CopWatch Santa Ana convened the regional encuentro. People from Oxnard, South Central and South Gate joined in the discussion, including Beatriz Paez, the South Gate woman whose phone was smashed last month while recording U.S. Marshals in her neighborhood. The footage has over one million views on YouTube. For all in attendance, though, filming the police is just the beginning…
CopWatch Santa Ana, a longtime thorn in the side of Santa Ana Police Department, and its abolitionist dreams are nothing new. Two days after the infamous Santa Ana city council 'Fuck the Police' hat meltdown last October, the group released an open letter to police and politicians. It gained online traction by being reposted on radical websites like libcom and elsewhere.
"It is a mistake to believe that the police can be reformed; this is why CWSA strives for the complete and total abolition of police," the open letter reads. "The collective believes our communities are capable of determining their own lives."
Saturday's gathering began with a people's potluck, including chocolate cupcakes (take that, police state!) The free food attracted homeless folks and handball homies. On the other side of the park's handball court, CopWatch Santa Ana taped a banner to the wall reading "Abolish the Police." Curious onlookers from nearby kids parties turned their heads for a moment. For the next three hours, a discussion gave slight glimpses of a blue line thinning out of existence.
The first conundrum that comes to mind is the problem of violent crime. Rapes, murders and domestic violence all call to the more legitimate functions of police, but even that wasn't beyond questioning. "I know that we can't depend on the state to defend us," said CopWatch member Tecolotl. "It forces us to be responsible for one another." Women circles for survivors, transformative justice, and restitution were mapped out as alternatives.
There's gaps, of course. SanTana has the highest rate of domestic violence among the state's big cities. Would an abuse survivor want to have a community-based solution where people know each others' personal problems? That goes to issues of trust. Also, under what compelling authority would restitution be given for theft, manslaughter and other crimes of deprivation? And would a rape survivor care at all in rehab efforts aimed at the perpetrator?
For CopWatch activists, part of the problem of society's criminal element ties into the capitalist system. "We want alternative economies to be non-coercive," said CopWatch member Amaru in leading the second discussion. "Police are ultimately protecting capital with violence." The microcosm of Really, Really Free Markets offering goods at public parks for free was mentioned at one end of the spectrum. The call for creating a construction cooperative framed a more ambitious aim at the other.
The last plática called for strategies of self-defense. "More and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of abolishing the police," Amaru mentioned. Unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore are fueling the fires. Rolling Stone even offered up an article on six ideas for a cop-free world last December. Real world examples, not utopian musings, were offered up. The CURE Violence model, feminist patrol squads in Brooklyn quieting cat calls and crime, and Mexico's autodefensas received their due attention.
The inspired example of Cherán, a municipality in Michoacán, Mexico that booted corrupt politicians and police following an uprising in 2011, looms large. But Cherán has a population of less than 20,000 with deep forests all around. SanTana is an urban city of 330,000 people. How do those examples translate? Can they? The gathering provoked more questions than concrete answers.
"We want to move from conversation to implementation," said CopWatch Santa Ana member Mopoua. With that, the sun retreated behind the handball court wall when the encuentro neared its end. "At least nobody mentioned body cameras," Amaru joked.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2