Words by Bilal Guevera
“A badge isn’t a license to kill.”
That’s a message we saw frequently at protests around the nation and in the Rio Grande Valley following George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020. A sign held by passionate people who mobilized in reaction to a painful summer of Black (recorded and viral) death that was hard to escape and cruel to ignore.
Another popular sign we saw after the uprisings in Summer 2020?
The not-so-subtle fascist insignia of Blue Lives Matter, back the blue, and thin blue line bumper stickers, flags, and even larger than life football-stadium worthy digital billboards that remind us that Bert Ogden car dealerships “Back The Blue™ (and Border Patrol).”
Make no mistake, the Blue Lives/Thin Blue Line flag, which turned into stickers on cars, or even decals on actual police cruisers, was born in direct racist and anti-Black response to the Black Lives Matter movement. In actuality, it started in late 2014, just months after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The mock-up of the Amerikan flag is a not-so-subtle attempt for the white supremacist power structure to plead to the American public that police safety, not Black life that we should be protecting in turmoils times. And this is despite the fact that it already is a federal crime to put your hands on a police officer, which they then can slap on “resisting arrest” to any encounter.
As long as the settler-colonial project is alive, they will be fine.
While the number of people raising their voices against police impunity grew, pro-police culture is something that has been entrenched in the fabric of American racism for centuries.
Even here in the Valley – where law enforcement like the Texas Rangers terrorized locals, and Border Patrol continues to hunt and cage brown, Black, and indigenous migrants- the mindset remains that these forces are necessary for “safety”.
But I dare ask, whose safety?
So the battle of public opinion marches on…
The battle of catch phrases, social and moral positioning to decide if police should be supported, opposed, or abolished.
But police in the Valley are different right? They don’t kill citizens, that only happens “up there” (word to the chainsaw man).
State violence absolutely happens here…and so does local response. We are just a few generations removed from the Pharr Riots, which was an event in Feb. 1971 where Pharr residents took to the police department to protest recent brutality. Just like infamous images of state repression in the southeast, police ordered fire fighters to hose down citizens, escalating the situation. Alfonso Laredo Flores ended up being killed by a sheriff’s bullet.
Divest / Invest RGV is a local group that monitors and documents abuse by law enforcement, such as the suffocation death of Chris Reyes, who died in the custody of Edinburg Police Department. He was killed after his mother called authorities to respond to a psychological emergency. He died by suffocation under mysterious and cover-up circumstances.
One thing proponents of abolition can’t forget is just how prevalent policing and pro-police culture is in our society and culture, and pervasive, even, within our mental health and spirit. As much as we’d like to paint every officer as a soulless, heartless monster, we have to remember they are people, too. People that the state preys on to staff police departments and border patrol outposts, like they have for hundreds of years.
This is part of the reason why the military recruits in high schools and why police hire people from in-need communities (under the guise of patriotism of course). However, police militarization has increased due to hiring former military personnel at a 13 percent higher rate and also the 1033 Act which helps transfer military-grade weapons and vehicles to local PDs.
Chances are you’re not that far removed from knowing a cop, or a border patrol agent, or a jailer.
In the RGV, and in every corner of this capitalist world (save for a few holdouts), we need wages to support the roof over our heads and food on our tables.
Law enforcement is another job choice, but it is unique in many ways. Most of these positions require a diploma/GED and no prior major legal issues. This insider.com article says many police academies require less hours for certification than plumbers or barbers.
This means there is a relatively low barrier of entry to wield a deadly weapon, and upon hire, a huge majority of the population respects you, believes you, and fears you.
Despite the common misconception that the RGV is an extremely cheap and affordable place to live, this Valley Central report explains that low and stagnant wages contradict that.
With no degree necessary, a starting salary in the $40,000-$50,000 range, and a heavy dose of power and authority given the first steps out of the academy, it’s no wonder why these professions attract many young and eager people from our neighborhoods.
It is common for this violent State to prey upon low-income people to fight wars of aggression and repress in the name of settler-colonialism at home.
The military, which serves corporate and American hegemony abroad, and the police who enforce racist, ableist and misogynist laws, are two sides of the same red, white and blue coin.
We cannot forget that as America was being founded, ‘Indian’ Killers, Slave Catchers, and Union Busters quickly became the boys in blue.
I want to end this piece talking about current law and order, and a reminder that the so-called United States doesn’t have a monopoly on justice processes.
The Bordertown Violence Working Group writes, when writing about Amerikan law, that:
“All law of the liberal capitalist state is class law. It claims for itself the privileged objectivity necessary to adjudicate social conflict in ways deemed just by the liberal capitalist state… Law’s violence is visible to all those who refuse its authority. It remains invisible, or acceptable when not hidden, to all those whose interests it serves.”
Imagination is important in this struggle. We must remember that humans thought up and created all of these systems we vehemently oppose or strongly support.
In North America, aka Turtle Island, before European contact there was a completely different approach to wrongdoing. If someone hurt a community or a tribe, of course action was taken and accountability was important. But so are key guiding principles like peacemaking, harmony, and balance.
In a piece with three indigenous justice practitioners from the Southwest, Laura Mirsky of the
International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) writes,
“In Native American and First Nation justice, philosophy and practice, healing, along with reintegrating individuals into their community, is more important than punishment. The Native peacemaking process involves bringing together victims, offenders and their supporters to get to the bottom of a problem.”
Abolition isn’t a quick, instantaneous solution, it is a practice and a discipline that we must practice time and time again.
It is also something we must believe in, fathom, and create.
When slavery was the law of the land in places like America or Haiti, enslaved people dreamt of its end. In Haiti they fought, killed, and struggled for its abolishment. In America, they fought back as well and eventually it was the stroke of a pen that formally ended bondage.
We recognize and we must recognize that this fight did not end. Just like slave catchers gave way to sheriffs, plantations reformed themselves into prisons.
We’re not done abolishing.