While Police Exist, We Cannot Be Free: An Open Letter to the Radical Mental Health Movement

[I wrote this for a peer support community based in radical mental health but it feels relevant here too.]

As a crazy person who experiences extreme emotional states including uncontrollable rage and altered states of reality, as a working class queer trans woman from a conservative small town, as someone who was homeless as a young person, a drug user, a former sex worker, and an organizer who’s been targeted by the feds, I’ve always been afraid of police.

And I have damn good reasons to be. Many, probably most, of y’all do too.

Spaces like this one have been important to me and I care about it. But in the past week, as I’ve seen posts critical of whiteness have been reported and read some of the comments around here, it’s hard for me to understand anyone in this group who doesn’t see that the police are our enemies. And that if we are white or non-Black we need to shut up and take leadership from the people who are being most directly impacted by policing – Black people.

When a white trans woman I knew who shared a lot of other identities with me completed suicide, I saw myself die. I relived my own suicide attempts and that time I succeeded in my mind. I became a ghost who had to stay to witness my community and my chosen family cry and mourn and worry that all of the rest of us were gonna die and want to kill themselves too.

Every time since that another trans woman has completed suicide, even ones I didn’t know or only knew through a friend, it has added up. Cis people can feel this pain, but they can’t understand that cumulative effect, even if they are suicide survivors too. They can’t feel like I feel every time someone gets on TV and says trans women are rapists and shouldn’t be allowed to pee, how it makes me relive abuse, all the sexual assaults, all the suicides, how it becomes one more reason I never want to walk out the front door or take another breath ever again. Even if they were also abused or assaulted or afraid to go outside.

Every single day – every. single. day. – I see my Black community attacked. My chosen family, my friends, my clients, my comrades, my coworkers. By cops, white yuppies in the gayborhood, and even security guards at social service agencies supposed to serve them. I lost track of how many got locked up a long time ago, all of them for doing shit they had to do to survive, and some for doing nothing at all. I can’t count the number of people I’ve held in tears about another friend or partner who would never be coming back. But I still remember the faces of the ones shot by cops.

I remember, I bear witness, I try to hold space, I cry with them, but I don’t understand.

If you are in this group, the police are a threat to you. We have a stake in this struggle. If we are white, we are much more likely to survive a police encounter during a crisis, but one emotional breakdown in the wrong place and crazy people can be shot down or locked up. None of us can be healed or free as long as the police exist.

But for those of us who are white or non-Black, we cannot understand that cumulative effect and exhaustion that Black folks are experiencing right now, or the weight of 400 years of white supremacist oppression. We are not the ones who are most directly impacted by police violence.

So back here in this tiny corner of the internet, and ones like it, where we’ve tried to build a space for crazy people to come to seek support or commiseration or validation or advice or shared rage, now is the time to look at each other and realize how class, gender, race, ability and other identities we hold shape the suffering we bring and share and process here. And also for non-Black people here to look at how many of the same systems that are killing Black people are killing us too, and the only way any of us can get better is to join the Movement for Black Lives and follow the people who feel the most pain and fear and loss those systems are creating.

Black people in this group and everywhere, your lives matter. Everyone else, don’t critique the ways Black people resist or express their anger and grief. Amplify their voices any way you can. Admit you think and do racist shit all the time, learn about why and stop. Get the fuck into the streets or do whatever else you’re asked to do.

I know disability doesn’t go away when there’s a demo or vigil or march or direct action. Go if you can, even if it’s really hard and your body hurts and your anxiety makes you afraid – but if you’re non-Black, only go if you are asked to show up or its crystal clear that the event is open to everyone. If you can’t or shouldn’t go, give all the money you can, organize other people who can and give love and emotional support to the Black people who are leading them, even if you feel hollow and alone and like you don’t get enough love or support yourself.

Black people are putting their bodies and souls on the front lines of a struggle that will help free all of us, even when they are the ones who are suffering the most. To everyone here who is trying to educate others on top of dealing with all our own private and collective tragedies, thank you. There is no such thing as reverse racism. Hate speech is not free speech and cannot be tolerated here or anywhere.

But posting facebook statuses ain’t enough. Polite conversation ain’t enough. Nothing will change until we actively fight back and disrupt the status quo.

Black lives matter. No justice, no peace.

The System That Killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Cannot Be Reformed

What To Do Instead of Call the Police

26 Way To Be In The Struggle Beyond The Streets (for disabled folks and others who can’t march etc)

Note to self: White people taking part in #Blacklivesmatter Protests

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors

Transformative Justice and Prison Abolition Resources 


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