On September 23rd, a Kentucky grand jury failed to indict three police officers in the murder of Breonna Taylor. Following this decision, people around the world took their protests to the streets, where many of them were met with state repression and violence. Some were arrested and suffered more significant consequences for expressing their sorrow and fury than those officers will likely ever experience for committing a violent murder.
I am outraged, but I am not surprised. The criminal legal system was not designed to protect Black women like Breonna Taylor—it was designed to enslave, torture, and murder them.
Recently a trusted colleague reminded me of Audre Lorde’s powerful writing:
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.
-Audre Lorde, Second Sex Conference, October 29th, 1979
In this speech Lorde was speaking about white feminist women in academic institutions, but the message certainly resonates in other wings of the master’s house—perhaps most of all, the courts and police departments. This is why you will no longer hear me cry “Prosecute the police!” at a rally or a march. Prosecution is the master’s tool. It will never truly be a useful instrument for the dismantling of the systems of oppression that are responsible for the murder of Black women like Breonna Taylor and the countless other BIPOC who law enforcement have tortured and executed.
Black, brown, and Indigenous women, trans people, nonbinary folks, and others who have suffered oppression and violence at the hands of the criminal legal system figured out a long time ago that it is not designed to bring justice to them. This was the knowledge and lived experience that resulted in what we now refer to as transformative justice—grassroots, community-led efforts to stop harm and seek repair for those of us for whom calling the police is more likely to lead to harm than to justice.
This is what has led me to my work with my community, organizing with comrades to implement local policies and lean into procedures that can create roads to justice that deliberately exclude the state. This is why I believe that it is absolutely essential that we on the left put down the tools of the master, repudiate the criminal punishment system, and immediately invest our resources and energy into BIPOC-led efforts to create community alternatives.
Mimi Kim, co-founder of INCITE! and founder of Creative Interventions, spoke recently to Violence Free MN about the work of transformative justice. When asked what she would say to people who are new to this work, she said: “Start now. Move quickly.” I want my comrades to hear this message: Start now. Move quickly. There is no time to waste. We cannot trust the system to dismantle itself. It is essential that we invest in community alternatives to the criminal legal system. The work is difficult, confusing, rewarding, overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting, and powerful, but most of all it is necessary and it is going to require all of us to make it possible.
Start now. Do one small thing, immediately. Read the TCDSA Grievance Process and think about ways you can integrate transformative justice values into every DSA meeting you host or attend. Pick up a copy of Beyond Survival from your local anarchist bookstore and join or start a book club. Download the Creative Interventions Toolkit and familiarize yourself with the tools of the people. Get together with people you love to map out your support and accountability pods. Listen to Steps to End Prisons and Policing: A Mixtape on Transformative Justice and talk about it to anyone who will listen. Get together with your neighbors and comrades and ask: what would it look like to create community safety and accountability structures in our community, in our neighborhood, in our apartment building, on our block? Where do we start?
Move quickly. Give yourself deadlines. Don’t get trapped in musing and debate. Move into practice. Challenge your daily routines and consider how you can integrate transformative justice into your intertwined personal and political lives. The revolution is happening now. Don’t sleep through it. Resist fear of failure. Make mistakes. Devise structures for your learning and growth. Show up as your fully human self. Commit to self-study. Set intentions of justice and peace. Tend to impact. Have courage.