Special Report
Equity & Diversity Opinion

What Abolishing the Police Means to Me: A Student’s Perspective

By M'munga Songolo — September 23, 2020 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Read the introduction to this essay by Education Week staff writer Corey Mitchell, “Are Strained Police Relations With Black Teens a Solvable Problem?

Policing in America has roots in the slave patrols designed to end resistance or uprisings within the slave community. I acknowledge this history so you can understand the inherent fear Black people already have toward the police. We can recognize the connection between Nat Turner and George Floyd, who were killed 189 years apart, both by a racist system.

This summer, I participated in Word Is Bond‘s Rising Leaders program, which empowers young Black men through leadership development, critical dialogue with police, and education. That experience has only strengthened my stance on the need for police abolition. None of the officers I interacted with, some of whom even policed my own neighborhood, had grown up or lived in north Portland, Ore. So how could they fully understand the people who live here? And they aren’t contributing members of the community here, because they spend their paychecks elsewhere.

I wish things could be different. I wish I could wake up and not hear about another police shooting of a Black person. I wish my Black brothers and sisters wouldn’t live in fear of being stopped or approached by police, not knowing whether they would see their family again. I wish there wouldn’t be another Tamir Rice or Breonna Taylor. That doesn’t stop until we abolish the police as we know it.

I am a Zambian-born Congolese immigrant who came to the United States at a young age. My beginning struggle here in the States was of assimilating to white American culture and being proud of my Black, African history. While this pride took me a while, I still didn’t fully understand another journey I would embark on: fighting for all Black lives of the African diaspora.

I was 8 years old when Trayvon Martin was killed. My parents, new to the American experience, began to teach themselves about police and vigilante violence toward Black people. And that’s when we had “the talk.”

For me, that talk was a series of spontaneous comments when I would leave the house or plan to do something. “Maybe you shouldn’t wear all black.” “Come home before the lights get on.” “Don’t run in the dark.” “Put these on to look ‘better.’” This talk that Black parents have with their kids regarding law enforcement is a battle that the Black community will never win. Regardless if we try to look as tranquilizing as possible, our melanin is considered just cause for us to be feared.

In addition to participating in Rising Leaders this summer, I began organizing protests alongside my twin brother, Asukulu. It has been an eye-opening experience for me. I learned even more about the racist history of Oregon, the failures in the education system that make Black students feel uncomfortable in our skin, and my city’s underfunding of the communities that need it and overfunding of the police.

I understand now, more than ever, the need to abolish the police. For many Black and brown communities, the police have never been a source of protection or safety. We need to reimagine what that looks like in 2020. Maybe that is community members coming together forming defense teams in which communities look after their own. Abolishing the police for me means having communities decide how they will protect themselves.

Those decisions must extend to young people and to the school resource officers who overpolice Black and brown students today. We can only create safe spaces for students to learn with the full removal of SROs in schools and greater investments in counselors and therapists.

The Black community has been overpoliced, beaten, and killed by those called to “protect and serve.” I am happy that the world has now woken up to the violence that Black people are facing, but this has been the struggle we have been facing for centuries. Your ignorance and silence has come at the cost of our lives. Now you, the reader, must be willing and ready to listen and act on the vision of Black youths, and especially the Black young women who are often silenced. Generation Z—my generation—is the future, and we are taking a firm stance against racism of any shape, kind, or form.

One of the ways in which I cope is through spoken-word poetry. Being a poet has been difficult since George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed, yet the raw feelings and emotions I’ve been able to capture when I write have been special. This poem I’m introducing is called “The SyStEm"; it was created because of the systematic racism that continues to hold Black people down. I reference George Floyd because this is when the world awakened to what we Black people have been going through for the last 400 years.

“The SyStEm”
My heart dropped.
8 minutes 46 seconds seemed like hours
have you ever wondered what it feels like to be still?
nothing moving but tears trickling down your face which even your hands can’t truly erase
they’re engrained
cycles of trauma keep us fiending I wish they knew the way we were screaming
heart pounding
skin bleeding
heart rate speeding
my will to live receding
And they tell me to breathe
these tears trickle down my face and my hands can’t even erase
they’re engrained
It’s the system.
Maybe just act like you missed em

A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2020 edition of Education Week as I Understand Now the Need to Abolish the Police

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