Do you trust the police?

There continue to be conflicting versions about the first killing of an environmental activist in this country, Manuel Teran “Tortuguita”. I am also an environmental activist.

So many times, the initial versions of police killings from the police have proven to be false. In this case the police say Tortuguita fired at them. Do you trust the police version? There is supposed to be body cam video, but that hasn’t been released. We are waiting for more details, but the truth may never be known

I know people have different ideas and/or experiences related to policing in this country. My attitude has changed dramatically over the past decade because of being involved in Black, Indigenous, and other people of color’s communities.


We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

Lucy’s article includes this correction, that so many White people do unintentionally:
Correction: The author and FJ editors realize that an earlier version of this article inadvertently erased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Quakers in describing Quakers as though we were/are all White. Certainly there have been Black Friends and Friends of Color in our body from our earliest history. We apologize for this error. This online article has been updated accordingly. We have also clarified the relationship of George Fox with Margaret and Thomas Rous.


I have learned much more about community safety from my experiences with my Mutual Aid community. Mutual Aid is about rejecting hierarchies. Policing is about enforcing, often violently, hierarchies, systems of dominance.

I would like to see more people join our efforts to abolish police and prisons.


I’ve been participating in the Quaker for Abolition Network, initiated by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. The following is from an article they wrote for Western Friend.

Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
Mackenzie: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.

Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December 2020

I contributed to another article in Western Friend.

In late 2020, the two of us wrote an article for this magazine, called “Abolish the Police.” Through writing the piece, we realized we wanted to convene a larger space where Friends with an interest in police and prison abolition could have conversations with one another. Quaker abolitionists today face major pushback from our Meetings; we hoped that drawing Friends together would support and strengthen our work.
In this context, the Quakers for Abolition Network is being born. We are a collection of Friends from at least five Yearly Meetings; we range in age from high school to our 80s; we are disproportionately queer and trans. While AFSC and FCNL staff are participating, this is a grassroots project without any formal connections to existing organizations. We are in the process of defining our mission statement, structure, and our methods for addressing white supremacy when it shows up in our work, while building relationships with each other as we go. Below, four Friends write about their approaches to abolition, their lessons, and their visions for where Quakers might be headed.

Jeff Kisling: Mutual Aid and Abolition
I grew up in rural Iowa, where there was very little racial diversity and interactions with police and the court system were rare. About ten years ago, I was blessed to become involved with the Kheprw Institute, a Black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when a Black mother broke down in tears, explaining how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. It was obvious that every other person of color in the discussion knew exactly what she was saying.
After retiring, I was led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid, a multiracial organization founded to support houseless people. For over a year, I’ve helped my friends fill and distribute boxes of donated food, while continuing to learn about the framework of mutual aid.
To me, mutual aid is about taking back control of our communities. Besides the food giveaway, we support houseless people and maintain a bail fund to support those arrested agitating for change. We also work for the abolition of police and prisons.

Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh: Introducing the Quakers for Abolition Network, Western Friend, Sept 2021


Points of Unity. Des Moines Mutual Aid

  • We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities
    We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity.
  • We believe in community autonomy.
    We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression.
  • We are police and prison abolitionists.
    Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention.
  • We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities.
    Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.
  • We have open disagreements with each other about ideas and practices.
    We believe there is no formula for resolving our ideological differences other than working towards our common aims, engaging each other in a comradely manner, and respecting one another, whether or not we can hash out disagreements in the process.

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