Identity

How to Fight Police Violence Beyond Just Posting About It

If you want to help push back against police brutality, there are plenty of ways to take your politics from your phone into the real world.
April 19, 2021, 3:44pm
Group of masked protestors forms a line with their hands linked
Photo by Halfpoint via Getty Images
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Bearing witness to the historic reckoning with systemic racism, and amplifying dialogue to drive change that delivers on the promise of racial equality.

Police violence against Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people feels unceasing. Over the last week alone, we’ve heard testimony at the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. We’ve watched as Daunte Wright was killed by police, ten minutes away from Minneapolis, in the culmination of a traffic stop over air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. We’ve watched as Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability released a horrifically graphic video of a 13-year-old boy, Adam Toledo, being shot by police. 

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As a Black person in the United States, my grief and fear is mounting. Each day, it feels harder to exist in this country. I do need allies, it’s true. Everyone should be outraged and heartbroken about police brutality. But I don’t need friends I haven’t spoken to in months checking on me when a Black person gets murdered, nor do I need gimmicky social media campaigns. I, and other identities targeted by the police across the country, need people to be active collaborators in the fight towards justice. Revolutions don’t happen simply by retweeting infographics or using hashtags twice a month—this means going beyond social media and making this work a core part of your life. Here’s what you can do to actually help.

Learn about and support the movement to abolish the police, full stop.

Abolition might sound unfamiliar or even scary to you. But understanding it and committing to it is one of the most effective things you can do for this freedom movement. 

It is not useful to call for “reforming” the police, either through giving more money to their budgets for bias training or body cameras, or whatever other measure they assure people will make cops stop murdering Black and brown people in the streets. 

“Reform” measures have been proposed and enacted for decades, and nothing has worked. Body cameras were once considered the best deterrent against police violence by some policymakers on the left, who imagined that they would herald a greater sense of shame, accountability, and responsibility for police brutality. Body cameras didn’t stop police violence; they just filmed it. Now, body camera footage is just another medium through which we must be traumatized by gruesome deaths.

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Reforms have proven inadequate when it comes to policing and prisons. If the idea of ending policing and prisons makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not alone: Many people have lived with police and the prison-industrial complex for so long that abolition seems unrealistic at best and dangerous at worst. Instead of then deciding that that warrants a blanket refusal to support one of the most central tenets in the fight against police brutality, do your research. Study the work of abolitionists like Mariame Kaba, whose book We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice will help you only understand why we need a worth without police and prisons, but how we can help shape that world. Learn about alternatives to calling the police. Talk to your pro-cop family and friends about what you find out.

Join a protest.

It’s understandable that some people might feel unsafe participating in protests. Sometimes police respond to protests, like those ignited by the killing of George Floyd, with violence like tear-gassing, shooting rubber bullets, throwing hand grenades, and surveilling and punishing demonstrators. (Depending on a person’s citizenship status or history with law enforcement, they also may not be able to risk arrest.) 

Protesting is still one of the most powerful tools we have for enacting social change. To maximize your impact, consider connecting with Black-led organizations (your local Black Lives Matter chapter is a good place to start) and ask what specific help they might need on the ground. Because protests often need people to help uphold COVID-19 precautions and respond to police-inflicted injuries, you might be of use as a volunteer medic. If you’re white at an anti-racist protest, you can show support by becoming a barrier between Black people and the police, which was a widespread practice during the George Floyd uprisings.

Support incarcerated people.

The prison-industrial complex and brutal policing are intertwined. Supporting those on the inside who have been imprisoned and abused to feed this leviathan is a necessary, even holy, act. Mariame Kaba, the abolitionist writer and actor I mentioned earlier, compiled a list of nine actions you can take to support incarcerated people. A basic way to get started is to send letters—prison can be crushingly lonely, and contact is a human necessity. You can also donate to commissary accounts, send books, call your governors and representatives about issues affecting incarcerated people, and offer free mental health or legal help if you’re a professional in those fields or know people who would be willing to donate their services and time.

Donate to bail funds, mutual aid groups, and individual people who need financial support.

Donating to giant nonprofits isn’t inherently harmful or meaningless, but putting that money directly into the hands of people on the front lines, including individuals, mutual aid groups, and established bail funds, can make immediate changes in their circumstances.

It’s commonplace now for families whose loved ones have been killed or injured by police to set up fundraisers, as Daunte Wright’s family has done. Otherwise, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people fighting on the front lines or who have been injured or impacted by police violence, may be accepting money via Venmo, PayPal, or CashApp. If you see someone you’d like to help who isn’t actively crowdfunding, ask them if it’s OK to drop some money in their account. It’s a simple thing, but, if you can afford it, do it. You could be paying for their necessities, bills, self-care needs, or a therapy session. If someone is dealing with situations that put them into a lot of police contact, consider seeing if they could use your help to set up a fundraiser—putting in the effort of creating and amplifying a place where they can receive donations might help them out tremendously. 

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Protestors are being arrested all over the country, and many need cash bail to be released. The National Bail Fund Network has a large directory of community bail funds to donate to. If they become overwhelmed with donations, they will often redirect you to other community mutual aid groups like these: The Philadelphia Mutual Aid Fund, The D.C. Mutual Aid Fund, and the Detroit Sex Worker Mutual Aid Fund. Here are some funds to check out and give to: 

Call or text your elected officials—yes, even though Trump is gone.

Police brutality is still flourishing, even after the administration change. Continue to call your elected officials every day and tell them that you demand this violence stop. Use this directory of federal, state, and local elected officials to point you in the right place. If you’re not sure who to call, here’s a primer on finding the best elected official to speak to about a given issue. Here’s a basic guide to calling policymakers about police violence, if you need tips about what to actually say.

Use ResistBot for another amazing, quick way to get in touch with politicians—you can simply send a text that will be sent to your officials as a fax or an email. (It’s free to use, but consider making a donation to offset the service's operating costs.)

Convince your academic institution to divest from policing, mass incarceration, and fossil fuels.

Many academic institutions have financial connections to policing and mass incarceration, or to environmentally deleterious investments and endowments that have destructive consequences on, particularly, nonwhite people’s homes and health. Start a divestment campaign to pressure them to withdraw from those financial relationships. Black students and allies at Harvard University have been doing this work for a long time. Campus policing is also corrupt—and often overlooked. Amplify grassroots efforts that you’re involved in on the ground, in community with others. 

Follow Nylah Burton on Twitter.