This week a reader called E emailed Lainey about the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the ongoing discussions around race, reform, and revolution happening on the site over the last couple of weeks. E brought up a very good point: Native peoples are also the targets of police brutality in North America. In New Brunswick last week, Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman, was shot dead by police responding to a wellness check. I don’t bring this up to start a misery Olympics and compare which minority has it the worst in America, but because it is relevant as the discussion moves into the “what next” phase, we remember that white supremacy is an evil to everyone. Ending police brutality and defunding the police will benefit EVERYONE, and the momentum building right now is about sweeping, systemic change that can and should have significant impact all over America (and, hopefully, beyond). 

 

So what is “defunding the police”? It’s the call to action taking center stage out of these weeks of protest, but it’s also rapidly become a hot-button political issue. It sounds, at its most simplistic, like “get rid of the police”, but it really means diverting funds away from police departments to invest back in city and state services like public education, public health, mental health services, affordable housing, and other forms of community building. On her Instagram, Natalie Portman admitted that hearing “defund the police” made her afraid, because as a white woman, the police have always been a source of safety for her, but she concluded, “…the system that makes me feel comfortable is wrong.” She then posted a series of slides breaking down what “defund the police” means as a community action plan:

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When I first heard #defundthepolice, I have to admit my first reaction was fear. My whole life, police have made me feel safe. But that’s exactly the center of my white privilege: the police make me as a white woman feel safe, while my black friends, family and neighbors feel the opposite: police make them feel terror. And for good reason. Police are the 6th leading cause of death for black men in this country. These are not isolated incidents. They are patterns and part of the system of over-policing of black Americans. Reforms have not worked. Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, is one of the most progressive police forces in the country, having undergone extensive anti-bias training. I am grateful to the leaders in the @mvmnt4blklives who have made us question the status quo. And who have made us imagine, what a world could be like in which we invested in nourishing people; (in their education, healthcare, environment, shelter)— rather than putting all of our money into punishment. I’ve gotten to the age in my life, where if my gut feels uncomfortable, I take the situation as wrong. But this concept initially made me uncomfortable because I was wrong. Because the system that makes me feel comfortable is wrong. #defendblacklives#defundthepolice Swipe right for additional resources via @theslacktivists

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Senator Kamala Harris also provides an explainer on what “defund the police” really means, taking Meghan McCain, who interprets “defund” as “remove”, to school on the topic:

 

 

Don’t let the conversation about defunding the police get sidetracked into a semantic debate about abolishing police altogether. I think most people know, realistically, that won’t happen. But we can talk about the reallocation of public funds to better serve communities and build stronger, safer neighborhoods, not through aggressive policing but through a strong social safety net. Minneapolis has one of the largest urban Native populations in the US, so a city initiative to defund the police and reinvest in communities would benefit Native communities, but looking at how defunding the police could be used to build up rural communities, such as those with Indigenous residents, is important, too.

And it’s entirely possible. The inimitable Anne Helen Peterson has been compiling photos and videos on Twitter of demonstrations and marches in small town and rural America, and people are SHOWING UP. At the point that even rural America is like, “Yeah, something’s gotta give,” you know you have the momentum to effect real change. 

But allyship is a road of continual growth and coalition building isn’t possible without first recognizing and reconciling rifts between BIPOC communities. I’ve been examining my own white-passing privilege, stirred by the words of Halsey:

 

I wouldn’t have walked away from the May 30 demonstration in Chicago so easily if my skin was a few shades darker. But I put my hair up and smear on my SPF 100, and I move through the world without incident or fear. And like Halsey says, it isn’t my place to say “we” right now when the discussion is on police brutality against minority communities, as I do not fear police brutality. What I can do is keep reading, keep listening, and keep my heart open to change and continued improvement. If you’re interested in how Native issues intersect with the broader BIPOC community and the movement happening right now, here are a few resources:

Dr. Adrienne Keene has compiled a list of sources particular to the Cherokee Nation’s history with anti-Black racism. It is eye-opening beyond the issues of the Cherokee Nation, though, as it demonstrates how effectively white supremacy pits non-white communities against each other, and what histories must be reconciled to move forward, together.

The Lakota Law Project compiled a report titled “Native Lives Matter” outlining how Native communities fit into the narratives about police brutality and discriminatory justice in America.

The Henceforward podcast examines the relationship of Indigenous peoples, Black peoples, colonialism, and anti-Blackness.