Imagine beyond harm

‘I so desperately want to separate the atrocities at the Capitol from the harm caused in our community. But the way to prevent future violent white supremacist attacks is to begin uprooting racism and creating new visions of safety here in my own community.’

BRATTLEBORO — I was hoping to write a fairly short, simple and straightforward letter wholeheartedly supporting the report and recommendations of the Community Safety Review Committee (CSRC) that were shared at the Jan. 5 Selectboard meeting. I have never been so proud to be part of this town, part of the marginalized communities organizing for safety and well-being, as I was that night and the next morning.

And then the horror and reality of the unending violence of white supremacy reared its head in the form of violent attacks later that day on the U.S. Capitol, the people inside, and the democratic election processes.

What we are grappling with as a town around community safety and the violent acts by organized white supremacists in recent days are not separate.

The attacks, by armed white supremacists, were born from years and decades and centuries of white supremacists' inability to share power and see the humanity in others. Though met with some police resistance, they received active support by others. Months earlier, Black and brown bodies trying to hold peaceful vigils were met with tear gas, pepper spray, and mass arrests.

In Brattleboro, we have been shown evidence of racial profiling in our town which favors white bodies at the expense of, most specifically, Black bodies.

I so desperately want to separate the atrocities at the Capitol from the harm caused in our community. As a white person, I am afforded the opportunity to try to compartmentalize and separate the two.

But if I am honest with myself, the way to prevent future violent white supremacist attacks is to begin uprooting racism and creating new visions of safety here in my own community.

For those reasons, I find it so important to see the violence of Jan. 6 as an act of white supremacy supported by our current policing systems and link it to what we are trying to achieve here in Brattleboro.

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I thought I would focus on my experience as a member of the Citizen Police Communications Committee and my support for it to be disbanded, or my experience as a facilitator and trainer, or my support for freezing the Brattleboro Police Department's training budget as one-time trainings fall short of creating change when deeper healing and reckoning are needed.

I thought I would write about my support for CSRC member Lana Dever's words that we shouldn't have had to create this committee, write this report, or present these findings because we should know these truths already, because we should be listening.

But on the day after white supremacists violently attacked the U.S. Capitol, killing five people, I find myself writing about the first recommendation of the CSRC report: the need to acknowledge and reckon with the harm caused - specifically, the harm caused by the realities of white supremacy and state violence. The brilliance and necessity in addressing the systemic paradigm shift that must occur for any meaningful change to happen cannot be underestimated.

We - as individuals, as a community, and as the town of Brattleboro - must do things that have not yet been done before, both internally to change our own understanding and externally to change the impacts of our policing systems. We must be creative, bold, and experimental.

For those of us who hold the privileges of whiteness, of wealth and class privilege, of cisgender (non-trans) bodies, we must be willing to be wrong, to listen and to act differently than we have been. Past attempts to reform our broken system of safety did not fail because of individuals.

This is not about any one of us - this is about systems.

This is about all of us.

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There is so much hope to be had here on the local level.

As part of the coalition that worked to create a robust RFP for this process, I was blown away with what was accomplished in such a short period of time. What a gift that Shea Witzberger, Emily Megas-Russell, members of the Committee, and members of our community have given us. It speaks to the years and decades of community organizing and relationship building in this area which supported a quick and comprehensive mobilization of, and communication with, so many marginalized communities, service providers, and community members at large.

This report and the work that went into it is inspiring, a true gift and blueprint for how to move our communities and our town forward in denouncing the living legacy of white supremacist violence and moving toward the horizon of safety and well-being for all of us - an image Shea so clearly conjured at its presentation to the Selectboard.

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For me, the most inspiring part of the work done by the committee and what has come forth in its report is the ability to create more safety for more people without lessening safety for anyone.

It is a non-debatable fact that many in our communities do not feel safe. It is also a non-debatable fact that many in our communities do indeed feel safe. The recommendations put forth a path to create safety for everyone, at the expense of no one.

As we begin to discuss the findings, I hope we can start from a place that cuts past myths of white supremacy that lie to us by teaching us that carceral systems create safety.

I hope we can start the conversation with an acknowledgment of harm caused - intentionally or not - by maintaining our current systems of policing and carceral systems while demanding more proof of harm, a different form of proof, the exactly correctly worded proof.

I hope we can start the conversation by acknowledging that our current system of policing comes directly from slave catching. I hope we can acknowledge that there is so much we don't know and haven't tried. I hope we can acknowledge that there is a desire and demand for something altogether different.

Above all, I hope we can listen to those who have known since the beginning of policing, since the beginning of mass incarceration and Jim Crow and sharecropping and slavery, that the systems we have created are not meant to keep everyone safe. Our current carceral systems are the product of years and decades and centuries of the desire to hoard power, own people, and create illusions of safety for some at the expense of others.

For those of us who have benefited from our current systems of policing and incarceration, there can be a fear that a new system will enact the harm caused to others back onto us.

I want to encourage folks to imagine beyond harm. If you believe that harm and violence are an intrinsic part of safety, then you will only be asking who will be harmed if we change things.

If you are able to imagine the creation of safety without harm, then I hope you will ask yourself: What is holding us back?

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