Today I took my cat to the vet. I put him in a little cage and put him in the car and got his gums looked at. Normally I’m against animals (including humans!) in cages. In this case it served a worthy purpose and I now know my good kitty Lou does not have any gingivitis. Yay!
When I got back home, I saw a post online about (yet another) person of color (in this case a woman named Sandra Bland) who died in police custody. Along with the post was a video of her arrest from the cop car’s dash cam. She’s clearly being defiant but ultimately cooperates and exits her vehicle. The police officer in contrast, very soon after pulling her over, threatens to shoot her. Later in the video, he claims to have been kicked during the arrest.
PROTIP: If you touch a cop in any way while they’re fucking with you, they will probably charge you with assault. In addition, they may rough you up or otherwise fuck with you once they have control of you.
So later on, Sandra winds up dead in police custody. The original infraction was failing to signal when changing lanes.
A friend posted this comment:
“…If indeed she was murdered in her jail cell that’s a big deal, but its purely speculation.”
To which I replied:
“I’m pretty sure if I started putting people in cages and then one of those people died, it would be more than “speculation” that I was responsible for that death.”
“There’s a big difference between you kidnapping people to your basement and law enforcement.”
“Right. Presumably they’re responsible professionals who should know how to keep people from dying in their cages.”
I later added some more thoughtful words to my final (mildly snarky) response. My point is that if you’re in the business of locking people up, supposedly for the good of society, you had better provide at least a little bit of care of those people. I’m pretty sure negligent homicide is still a crime and this is almost certainly at least that. Probably there was some sort of retaliation against Sandra for her resistance that lead to her death. Best case scenario: deadly incompetence (see also: Oscar Grant); worst case scenario: a brutal and racist institution that feels it can retaliate with impunity against those who resist – especially people of color, queer people, and others perceived to be lower in the kyriarchy.
This should not be OK with any of us.
So why do we need police or jails or prisons? (My answers: 1. We probably need something similar but fundamentally different in terms of its transparency and accountability and mission 2. For preventing threatening individuals from causing harm in the short term 3. We probably don’t.)
If someone is wasted and causing harm to people or breaking their stuff in the street, it makes sense to have a (SAFE, CARING) place where that person can be kept until they sleep it off. Just like I need to put my cat in a cage so he doesn’t jump out the car window and hurt himself. Cages can serve a purpose. I won’t want to keep animals or people in cages over the long term tho – it’s cruel, it doesn’t achieve anything, and as we’ve seen, it can be misused or abused and itself cause social harm.
So what happens when that drunk gets out the next morning? Do they have a family or support network? Untreated mental illness? A well-demonstrated propensity to acts of violence? If so, maybe the community needs to decide to 1. talk to them 2. help them 3. kill them.
I dunno. I don’t think there’s a utopian solution here. I do know that the system we have we have is riddled with problems, disproportionately harms (or kills) certain groups of people, and needs some serious re-thinking.