Open Letter about the Care Not Cops Presentation to Lebanon's City Council

Upper Valley DSA

November 20, 2020

The people of Lebanon have spoken. At the City Council meeting on November 18th, over 40 people responded to our CareNotCops proposal. Of that 40, around 30 were in favor. Some commenters brought their compassion and shared pleas for greater resources to social services for the populations they know personally or spend their professional lives working with. Some showed great courage in sharing terrifying stories of mistreatment at the hands of unaccountable, armed police who purport to keep us ‘safe’. Others showed continued strength and bravery by standing up to systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, and more, by calling out the lie that our society treats everyone equally. Remember - the issue is not just that police are racist, it's that “our society is institutionally racist. Racism is not just an attitude but a structural feature. Instead of looking into the heart to solve racism, we need to change the system.” The thing to note here is that police are armed, have incredibly wide discretion as to how they enforce the law, and will almost never be held accountable if they perpetrate extreme violence against a person from a marginalized community. 

Around 10 commenters were in opposition. One person screenshared a spreadsheet with some calculations he’d made about the daytime population of Lebanon. 

The majority of the other commenters made vague emotional appeals to their fear of criminals invading their businesses. Yes, that’s right. Property. One man, Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed and Supply, spoke mostly about his own charity and outreach, seeming to imply that that sort of thing ought to be how we solve these problems. He ran out of time before he was able to bring up a story which was probably the one that was quoted recently in a Valley News article. In it, he described a situation in his store that he thought perfectly encapsulated the need for more police: a man with a gun came into the store and was refusing to wear a mask to protect the staff and other patrons against possible transmission of the coronavirus. He became agitated. One of Jacques’ staff members was able to calm the man down and convince him to wear a mask. Yes, you read that right - they were able to resolve the situation peacefully without the need for an armed agent of the state intervening. Can you imagine what might have happened if armed police had come to force this man to wear a mask? Best case scenario, our tax dollars would be wasted making a tense situation worse and causing undue strain on everyone involved. Worst case? Someone gets hurt or killed, possibly multiple people. 

That is the argument against what we are proposing, and it is, in fact, a strong argument for it. One commenter who seemed to be opposed went off about eugenics, Nazi germany, and more. Another wrote in the chat: “Seems like most of the voices for DSA were young women with little understanding of the realities of the situation. Lots of generalities and canned talking points. Lebanon is safe and welcoming. Especially for people with mental illnesses. Furthermore, if you have a mental illness, you’re not mentally fit to set budget targets for local law enforcement.”

There’s a lot here. Briefly, because each sentence here deserves volumes, but in the interest of time and space: 

  • Women are the future. They have a VERY full understanding of the realities of the situation. Attempting to discredit a population, particularly one facing the vastly disproportionate harms called out here is the very definition of gaslighting. Thank you, commenter, for so ably discrediting your own views. 
  • When you say ‘generalities’ and ‘canned talking points’ I think what you mean is carefully researched information backed by data, and also illuminating, specific anecdotes. In particular, one anecdote that was TOO specific. A woman who called in started naming specific police officers who had violated her rights and was interrupted by the mayor (a white man) and told that it was inappropriate to do so. We’ll come back to this problem in the future because it is insane that police have instant access to huge amounts of information about us, and we can’t find out which cops routinely break the law in the performance of their duties.  
  • Lebanon is safe and welcoming if you are a white person with a middle class income. Full stop. 
  • Statements like this, and people like you make our communities unwelcoming and unsafe for people with mental illness. It is for precisely this reason that folks with mental illness must have their voices heard when discussing budget priorities concerning mental illness (and not you, who clearly has no idea what mental illness is). We must not  live in fear. We cannot believe that psychos are coming to kill and rob us as soon as the police are gone, and also claim Lebanon is safe.The truth is it’s neither, but there is a way forward. 

It is remarkable how much misogyny and ableism this person was able to fit into a few short sentences, and yet this was simply the most direct example. Virtually all commenters who spoke against the proposal used some form of dog whistle euphemism to hide their bias, whether conscious or unconscious.

  • “I have grown up here my whole life” is used to diminish the voice of those who moved here recently. How long do we have to live here to get a say? 5 years? 10? Pretty sure you are eligible to vote and pay taxes as soon as you take up residence. This is anti-immigrant, and anti-poor people, who rent and whose conditions change frequently. 
  • “Why are people from outside the community allowed to speak?” is used to push out the voices of constituents (workforce, shoppers, recreators) whose numbers are routinely used to justify the enormous police budget, and who despite not residing in the city can nevertheless be hurt by the unaccountable cops. 
  • “I’m a small business owner” is used to say that my voice matters more than yours because my property is worth more than your life. 
  • “I am not/I know people who aren’t white and I/they haven’t been hurt by cops.” If I need to explain this to anyone, then please get in touch, we have a lot of work to do. Your experience is not everyone’s, and trying to silence the lived experience of any marginalized person or community is unacceptable. Stop talking, and listen. 

When Media outlets like the Valley News cover stories like this, they have a duty to contextualize what they report. The media’s insistence that journalistic integrity involves giving equal weight to two sides of a story despite one side owning all of the substance and moral authority  feels bizarre in cases like this. 

The fact of the matter is that you have people who believe that making this change might hurt their material condition. We don’t believe that’s the case. Regardless, none of them are prepared to deny that it will improve the material condition for folks who desperately need it. So what those opposed are saying is that they are unwilling to take the possible chance that an imaginary harm MIGHT befall them, with lots of good evidence that it won’t, in the presence of overwhelming evidence that the change will substantially improve the conditions for many others. 

That’s immoral, it’s wrong, and I for one, won’t stand for it. Organize. Join the Struggle. If we fight we win.

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