For working-class and poor black and brown communities in the United States of America, the concept of safety—particularly when it is dependent on hypermilitarized police forces—is a flimsy, dangerous illusion.
One move, one word—or no moves and no words—standing, running, driving or breathing have all been charges leveled against black and brown people and deemed immediately punishable by state-sanctioned lynching.
Enter: Night Out for Safety and Liberation, an annual event that takes place on the first Tuesday of August and serves as “an alternative to National Night Out where community members redefine what public safety means to them beyond policing,” according to a press release from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Instead of focusing on building relationships between communities and law enforcement, the revolutionary action focuses on institutional oppression and the ways in which poverty, lack of housing, substandard or a complete lack of education and health care, under- and unemployment, and food deserts serve to create an occupied class of citizens for whom safety is never, ever guaranteed.
“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is an opportunity for marginalized communities that have been threatened by government efforts to ban or deport their families to support each other and share strategies that will contribute to their solidarity and safety,” said Jorge Renaud, an organizer with Texas Advocates for Justice.
Other organizations participating in the annual event include the Center for Community Change, Enlace, BreakOUT!, Black Youth Project 100, Blackout for Human Rights, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the North Carolina and Texas chapters of All of Us or None.
“Too many of our communities are in a public health crisis right now because of long-term disinvestment in the resources we need,” said Zachary Norris, the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “And yet the Trump administration is cutting critical programs that support vulnerable communities while advancing a dumb-on-crime agenda that inflicts even harsher sentences on people, even though we know those policies make us less safe. We need elected officials to start responding to public health problems with public health solutions.”
More from the press release:
This year, there will be NOSL events in 30 cities throughout the country, including block parties, film screenings and rallies, where community members will build relationships with each other and brainstorm together about how to make their neighborhoods safer. During NOSL events, people will speak out about police violence and being survivors of crime, create murals, and discuss community-based alternatives to police. Night Out for Safety and Liberation began in 2013, partially as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the ongoing and longstanding violence inflicted upon black and brown communities by law enforcement. NOSL organizers believe that focusing on policing as the primary path towards public safety and encouraging neighborhood surveillance causes harm to people of color, and does not lead to safer, stronger or healthier communities.
I often go back to James Baldwin’s seminal 1966 piece written for The Nation, “A Report From Occupied Territory,” in which he makes plain that: “... pious calls to ‘respect the law,’ always to be heard from prominent citizens each time the ghetto explodes, are so obscene. The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.”
There can be no toxic, potentially fatal, relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. There can be no police officers singing and dancing and basketball shooting—those insulting visuals amplified in the wake of lynching after lynching—without the knowledge that the goal is distraction and placation, not mutual respect for humanity or safety.
There can be no obscene kumbaya moments between law enforcement and community children without the acknowledgment that black and brown communities are too often concrete cemeteries—places where the only beauty is carved out by the beautiful, resilient people who inhabit them and who have an ancestral will to survive.
There can be none of these things without first dismantling relentless and unrelenting systems of oppressions built, maintained and nourished by the dehumanization of black and brown people in this country.
What good is building bridges over people already drowning?
Healthy relationships are reciprocal. Healthy relationships do not begin with one party’s ability to shoot the other party dead in the street for being perceived as breathing the wrong way in the wrong skin at the wrong time by the wrong people. Safety is not defined by a badge and a bullet for anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of either.
Safety cannot be defined by “neighborhood watchmen” whose idea of protecting institutionally and systemically targeted black communities is to pathologize blackness and ask for assistance in doing so under the crooked banner of progress and peace.
That is not what safety is, not what safety ever will be; this is why Night Out for Safety and Liberation is so critical.
Safety is liberation. Let’s get free.
Follow Night Out for Safety and Liberation online with the hashtags #NOSL17 and #SafetyIs. Go here to find information about events, supporting organizations, artwork and a how-t0 guide for hosting an NOSL event.