The following introduction was written by Gerardo Veliz Carrillo and others from the Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition.

The Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition, of which TC SURJ is a member, presents the following critique of the Common Council’s “Reimagining Public Safety” campaign. We urge Ithacans to invest in problem-solving models and to reject approaches that compromise the safety of working, poor, and racialized people. The notion that local officials wish to “gather input from the community,” is a farce. The city has already decided to accept funding for the Law Enforcement Assisted Division (LEAD) program, a heavily police-centered model that was neither requested nor approved by the public. Policing is the problem. We must reject the false solutions of more policing and “reformed” policing and look to restorative justice, mutual aid, and community-powered models for reducing harm in Ithaca.

If you have any questions or would like to get involved, contact tompkinscoalition@gmail.com. You can also hear Russell Rickford, Enrique Gonzalez-Conty, and Gerardo Veliz Carrillo speak to Ute Ritz-Deutch of WRFI about this statement and the history behind it in this interview.

“Reimagining Public Safety” Statement  
Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition  
December 9, 2020  

The REAL Aim of “Reimagining” Public Safety  

In recent months, a popular movement has arisen internationally—and right here in Ithaca—to challenge the entrenched racism and violence of policing.  

Now officials say they want to “reimagine” public safety. But “reimagining” is only the latest attempt to distract us from the popular demand for police defunding.  

We are not fooled by deceptive rebranding.  

The Ithaca Common Council has already ignored the people’s demands for a budget that defunds police AND expands the kind of community services that actually keep us safe.  

Now WE must reject cosmetic reforms designed to legitimize the rotten institution of policing. We need real change centered on restorative justice and rooted in communities, not superficial solutions that camouflage the destructive effects of criminalization and incarceration.  

The Pitfalls of Police “Reform”  

Officials who uphold the punitive logic of policing cannot reform the police. Policing itself is the problem.  

We must reject all “reforms” that increase police presence, scope, surveillance, and budgets. Probation, reentry, and intervention/diversion programs should be removed from police control.  

We should also resist the idea that rooting out “bad cops” will lead to better policing. Bad cop/good cop narratives only disguise a rotten system.  

Conversations about local policing have included proposals to bring to Ithaca the intrusive “reforms” that have been implemented in places like Camden, NJ.   

But as Camden residents know well, such models of policing intensify profiling and mass surveillance and rely on invasive monitoring, frequent arrests, and routine violations of privacy, dignity and human rights.   

Even as city officials encourage residents to engage with the “Reimagining Public Safety” events and claim to be open to all ideas, the city clearly plans to adopt a model that continues to heavily involve the Ithaca Police Department in social matters, as in the case of recent funding for LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), created to “[respond] to low-level offenses such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution.” While we support a focus on community involvement and positive alternatives to criminal justice/jail, we do not support LEAD’s central focus on strengthening police-community relations in Ithaca. 

The Realities of Policing   

Policing is an institution with a long history of brutality against marginalized and oppressed people. It was designed to protect a white supremacist, capitalist system by subordinating groups that were seen as threatening to the existing racial and economic order.  

Despite Ithaca’s idyllic image, local police routinely abuse people of color and poor people.  

  • 2010—Shawn Greenwood shot during a narcotics investigation.   
  • 2011—Keith Shumway shot during an altercation with police.  
  • 2019—Rose and Cadji assaulted/arrested by police (and Cadji tasered) after a scuffle provoked by an aggressive white man.  
  • 2020—A young black man arrested after being threatened by a white man with a knife. The white man walked away with no charges.  

A Path to GENUINE Reform  

If we’re serious about “public safety” we need to shrink bloated police budgets and invest in community services that help meet people’s needs, not policies that criminalize and incarcerate. 

The safest communities have the most resources, not the most cops!  

Why devote more energy to fixing the image of police? Why don’t we join people in our neighborhoods—and many parts of the world—who are pursuing restorative models of justice?  

Truly just alternatives to policing are community-led and community-affirming. They attempt to repair the social fabric. They exclude police entirely from responses to harm and insecurity. They rely on community action and healing to address instability and human need.  

More MUTUAL AID—Less POLICING!  

Mutual aid is one model of community action that is closely linked to matters of public safety. Since the pandemic hit, thousands of people in Tompkins County have participated in mutual aid networks. Could the mutual aid model be expanded to help respond to addiction, suffering, and other forms of harm?   

Local residents have already offered useful ideas for rethinking “public safety,” including the demand to transform Ithaca’s SWAT truck into a mobile health clinic.   

With empathy, respect and human dignity as our goals, as well as depolicing, we might also  

We can also look far beyond our community for inspiration.   

In places like Brazil and Puerto Rico, organizers are creating a vision of public security that sustains the rights of the most affected populations; demands protection instead of repression; and calls on legislators (not police) to equip communities with the material resources they need to pursue safety and stability. In Mexico and elsewhere, some communities have expelled police, gangs and corruption and enabled trusted, indigenous guards to help protect residents.  

Drawing on these and other models, people in Ithaca and Tompkins County could construct communal models of public safety that work for their own neighborhoods.   

Ongoing Efforts to Restrict, Defund and SHRINK Police  

Such positive approaches should be combined with measures that limit the ability of police to abuse, monitor, harass and detain vulnerable populations. Any community conversation about police reform that does not center the widespread demand for defunding is antidemocratic and dishonest. The shrinking of police is a first step. 

In recent months the Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition, an alliance of activist groups and individuals, has formed around a set of popular demands to shift funds from the ballooning Ithaca Police Department budget and reinvest in social programs. The Antiracist Coalition demand letter was signed by more than 500 people—the vast majority of them from a Tompkins County zip code.  

We realize that long-term alternatives to punitive policing require the construction of a new political and economic order—a society that devotes full resources to meeting the human need for food, housing, healthcare, education, employment, childcare, recreation, creativity and dignity.  

Learn More and GET INVOLVED  

We are committed to a larger vision of anticapitalism and antiracism based on principles of demilitarization, decarceration, decolonization and ecological repair.   

We are also dedicated to the pursuit of real reforms that shrink the scope of policing and increase community healing and wellbeing. We’d love for you to join us in the struggle for genuinely democratic and reparative approaches to public safety.  

Contact us @ tompkinscoalition@gmail.com. Thank you. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *