The energy growing around campaigns to #DefundPolice and to promote abolition cannot be stopped. As people are introduced to abolitionist practices, it’s a great time to question the legitimacy of the police and the idea that they promote community safety.
Often during moments of crisis our first thought is to dial 911, but this frequently escalates an already heightened situation, or it can lead to a loved one entering the prison system or other harmful institution, which is difficult to escape once entrapped within its reach. One way we can make prisons and police obsolete is by simply not calling the police in the first place, and to do that we must understand what other resources we can tap into within ourselves, our neighbors, and our larger community.
This is why we put together this webinar, “What To Do Instead of Calling the Police - Building Community Empowerment.” We hope that viewers feel empowered to build and utilize their own skills and support networks, rather than provide alternative call lists that rely on other “experts”, which oftentimes work with or are just as harmful as the police. These reactive resources also do little to address the systemic inequalities that policing supposedly fixes.
If you missed the webinar, you can view it here.
You can also save the slides for your own use. Below are some of the resources we shared and expansions on some of the questions asked.
Harm in Non-Police Services
Many connections exist between the punitive structures of institutionalization, homeless resource services, court-ordered therapy, and rehab and prisons. There are also a number of harms caused by the trauma of foster care and youth residential programs.
Child endangerment is typically the result of systemic barriers preventing equal access to needed resources. Instead of providing needed resources to families, the state removes children from their homes, which is traumatizing and detrimental to their well-being. Research demonstrates that Black and Indigenous children are more likely to be removed from their families and less likely to reunify. The solution to child endangerment is providing access to resources and supporting at-risk families in our communities, rather than criminalizing and further oppressing our most marginalized community members.
For more information, read
Defining Community/Pod Mapping
As we talk about community today, there’s this quote by Audre Lorde that can help us frame what community means. She says “without community there is no liberation…. but community must not mean a shedding of differences, nor the pathetic pretenses that these differences do not exist”. When we think of community, it feels like so many people are focused on an idealized version where everything is peaceful and everyone is always in agreement. This romanticization doesn’t necessarily reflect our reality and can limit our potential for relationships and community building. As a result, this idealized ‘community’ can feel so abstract because we’re envisioning it as groups of people who are 100% in alliance on every single thing - which can feel very limiting when it comes to who we want to build relationships with.
Our community may not always be defined by those who look like us but rather with those whose values most closely align with ours. Our differences are important and reflect our own backgrounds and experiences. Being open to learning from and with each other is what makes us a community - one of many that we are each a part of.
And to offer alternative language to community, pod-mapping was a term coined by the Bay Area Transformative Justice Clinic. The people in our “pods” are the people in our lives that we would call on to support us with things such as our immediate and ongoing safety, accountability and transformation of behaviors, or individual and collective healing and resiliency.
For more information about pod-mapping, you can review this post and download and print your own pod-mapping worksheet from the Bay Area Transformative Justice Clinic. Note - growing a pod is not easy and takes time. We measure our success by the quality of our relationships with one another, and invest the time to build trust, respect, vulnerability, accountability, care, and love. Building your pod will expand the possibility of other people, who may experience more isolation, from being able to build their own pod.
Learn more about transformative justice experiences through the book, Beyond Survival.
Inside your pod
Safety Plans (pre-Crisis)
A safety plan is a “personalized, practical plan that can help you avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react when you’re in danger.” Safety plans can be something you make yourself, or in collaboration with a loved one. They often benefit people suffering from suicide ideation, psychosis, or other potentially dangerous side-effects of mental illness; individuals in abusive or chaotic relationships; people in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol; or anyone who regularly experiences high-risk crises.
Tips for Safety Plans
- Remember that you are not trying to stop any crisis from ever happening. Instead, you are lowering the peak of the crisis.
- If you are helping someone else create a safety plan, the term ‘safety plan’ can be triggering for people who have been in punitive healthcare. Approach instead by saying, “I love you and want to feel better prepared to help keep you safe. Can we come up with some strategies together?”
- YOU CANNOT CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE. Safety plans are not a way to control others, but to present healthy options that their support network can help them utilize. Do not get angry or interrogative when someone does not follow their safety plan.
- Tell people about your safety plan! The more people who know, the more likely the plan will be effective. It’s also helpful to get really specific about how you want others to engage with your plan (ex- check in with you about coping skills, call your contacts for you, hold dangerous items in their house, etc).
- Boundaries are healthy! If someone does not want to fulfill a specific role in your plan, it does not mean they don’t love you. Instead, ask them if there is another role they would feel more comfortable fulfilling.
Here are some more resources for safety plans:
Safety Plan App (advertised for people with schizophrenia, but can be used by anyone!)
Wellness Checks/Trauma and Regulation (mid-Crisis)
A wellness check is done when there is concern for someone’s well-being. Currently wellness checks are completed by the police, but their armed and authoritative presence tends to escalate the risk for harm, which is why we see wellness checks becoming deadly when the police are involved. The good news is that anyone can perform a wellness check within their community. All you need to do is care about the person and refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates that in order for higher needs to be met, we first have to ensure the lower needs are met. So when you show up to perform a wellness check, first identify if physiological needs are being met or not. If a physiological need is identified, we want to make sure we connect the individual to resources to meet those needs immediately. Next, you want to assess for and provide for safety needs. Once physiological and safety needs are met, then we want to make sure the person feels connected as this is an important protective factor to prevent suicide and to promote overall well-being.
The Body’s Trauma/Danger Response
When you see someone’s danger response is activated, use the de-escalation strategies below
De-escalation: Re-establish Safety:
- Regulate yourself! “Be the thermostat, not the thermometer”
- Non-verbal cues (posture, position, facial expressions)
- Deep breaths
- Tone of voice
- DO NOT GET DEFENSIVE
- Introduction - be honest, ask for permission to help, reassure
- Remove Danger- people need danger response when in danger
- Actual or perceived
- Mirror- no need to extinguish emotion
- Do not tell the person to “calm down”
- No commands, criticisms, or challenges
- Limit questions
- Reconnect to present SAFETY
- Sensory activation and energy release
Mutual Aid/Care Network (post-Crisis)
After a crisis, our immediate reactions tend to be “did you go to the police?!” or “you have to go to the police!”. We’re so reliant on the legal system that instead of focusing on how we can address immediate needs, we rush into pressuring people to file reports that are often subjected to a long, tiring, drawn-out process. As a result, this means that seeking legal help can be retraumatizing for so many people with no care or support for their healing—which is why a lot of survivors do not report their assaults. Instead of going to the police after something has happened, we can focus on making sure individual needs are taken care.
That doesn’t necessarily mean seeking help directly from a non-profit, because oftentimes charities have processes, rules, and regulations in place that prevent certain people from accessing their resources. It also means that those who are eligible for these services can be subjected to more policing to ensure that they aren’t in violation of any policies. This oversight strips people of their autonomy and ability to determine what their own needs are.
This is where so much of our pre-crisis work in community building is crucial. How many times have we told people to reach out if they need help? How many times have we had people tell us that? And have we ever reached out? Instead of asking people we semi-know to reach out, I think we need to ask ourselves how we can build the relationship and trust with people where they feel comfortable and safe in doing so. That’s where mutual aid and community care come into play.
Some local orgs that focus on mutual aid & community care
Salt Lake Covid-19 Mutual Aid Community members request what they need or offer their services and goods
Migrant Mutual Aid Focus specifically on undocumented folks who are not able to receive most private and state funded services
Just Media Utah Provide essentials for houseless folks
Rose Park Brown Berets Advocates for youth and other marginalized community members in Rose Park
OCA Utah Share a lot of resources and events, with a focus on API and refugee communities
Outside your pod
Bystander Intervention Strategies
The Bystander Effect is a social psychological theory that suggests that individuals are less likely to offer help to a “victim” when there are other people present. The more bystanders there are, the less likely any one individual is to intervene.
Remember that, like many other terrible things in this world, the bystander effect is NOT a natural, innate part of us. If it’s learned, it can be unlearned.
How Do I Not Be a Bystander Then?
Knowing is (only) the first step.Change your mindset, do a deep dive and look at the carceral logics you’ve internalized, and broaden your definition of community. Cultivate empathy and take action! Ask yourself - How can you, through everyday action and with others, co-create a world without police?
You can introduce yourself to people in your geographic area and build relationships with them (like bringing waters to a local encampment), learn and practice bystander intervention strategies (but take them with a grain of salt), learn and practice harm reduction tactics, and work with or give money to groups that do outreach with at-risk communities. Organizing with your community is the best way to build people power + create a better world!
Here are more resources about bystander intervention
Bystander Intervention Training (for the workplace, the internet, and other contexts)
Organizations to support
To learn how to use Naloxone
To get a life saving naloxone kit
Call: (385) 495-9050
Utah Harm Reduction Coalition
Call: (385) 266-7206
The Sex Workers Outreach Project Salt Lake City Chapter
Just Media Utah
United Panther Movement SLC
Community Member Kale
Guidelines for mindfully moving through fear/anxiety:
- Understand what fear/anxiety feels like in your body (increasing mindfulness of emotion)
- Turn your frontal lobe “back on”
- Pace your breathing
- Relax your muscles
- Practice grounding strategies
- Check the facts
- Let go of assumptions/interpretations
- Identify the facts
- Explore other benign/harmless possibilities
- Act in your community values
- Ask: Do I need to intervene?
- Does my intervention serve my entire community?
- Ask other people for help if you need it!
Exercises for grounding/mindful decision making:
Five Finger Method:
Count 5 deep in-and-out breaths
List 5 things you can observe with your senses (one for each sense)
List 5 additional interpretations of the facts you see - bonus points for harmless interpretations!
- Take a step back
- Observe the situation
- Proceed mindfully
Pros & Cons chart:
Compare the pros & cons of two or more options you are considering (either in your head, or write it out if that’s an option). Make sure to include pros & cons that other people in the situation may experience.
Place your hand on your stomach and breathe in for 4 seconds, out for 6-8 seconds to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
We thank everyone who came together to participate in this workshop. If you feel like adding to this resource or have comments or concerns, we’d love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for more updates as we build more ongoing community resources and skill-sharing tips to protect each other from police violence. If you felt like this information was valuable, please consider donating to the SLC Bail Fund.