Usually when one of us goes to an event, we are there to discuss the pros and cons of it. Most of the time, the event is centered on upper-middle class values because planners and demographers are predominantly in that economic class and socioeconomic segregation assures the affirmation of those values. However, one of the better trends of the current era is that more people are awakening to the fact that such values are incongruous with how most of humanity is actually living. It was with great pleasure that I attended this talk, and I can honestly look forward to reading this work.
First of all, Vitale is not just talking about the lack of an existence of crime because no one is under the impression that crime will disappear along with the police. Community policing was discussed because it is one of the most common solutions to life without police departments, and Vitale pointed out the obvious problems even if someone had no knowledge of Trayvon Martin’s existence. First, who defines the community? Most neighborhoods have been segregated for years, so people have definite ideas about who “belongs” in a community. Also, what does the idea of a “police force” evoke? Mainly weaponry, and if the idea of “community” is dubious, the notion of who should be armed is dubious as well.
Of course, there will always be detractors who say that there are no safety scenarios without the police. Vitale was ready with three examples involving three different schema across the United States. The first example was the opioid crisis in Ithaca, New York, where the citizenry crafted the Ithaca Plan, which has been successful and is available for others to emulate. The second plan involved addressing crime within communities which was organized by Just Leadership USA, and is called the Build Communities program, which was not only launched this year but led by people of color, who are the primary targets of law enforcement. Finally, in Salinas, California, citizens are taking on councilmembers who campaigned on abolitionist principles but continue to maintain the prison-industrial complex. No one would believe abolitionists who had no proof of concept, and Vitale has real data to persuade a sea change.
Finally, Vitale did not center the event on himself, even though it was his event and his book because as a White man, he knows that he is not the main target of law enforcement. There with him was Chris Harris from Grassroots Leadership, a criminal reform and abolition justice group in Austin, Texas; Sukyi McMahon of Austin Justice Coalition–and Roundtable on the Future of Justice; and Franklin Bynum, an abolitionist judge who works to free as many of the indicted as the law allows. The event reminded attendees that the work was happening on a local level, even in Texas, and people could become involved. Vitale also recognized Beth Richie, an author of color, whose book Arrested Justice deals specifically with the effects of the prison-industrial complex on Black women. Centering the event on the true targets of policing makes it clear that communities must press against the bars of segregation to create truly safe neighborhoods.
Discussing abolition as someone who could avoid coming into contact with the criminal justice system is the first sign of someone being actively engaged with changing the dominant narrative. By recognizing that policing as always been more of a target on people of color, Vitale is continuing the dialogue of what makes a healthy community for all citizens. In the future, there should not be a need to lock people up because we as humanity will find better, less exploitative ways to address societal ills. This event and this book are visible signs of progress.