Victoria Ruiz is frontwoman for Downtown Boys. Their album Full Communism is available now via Don Giovanni Records. You can follow Downtown Boys on Twitter here.
Today we’re revisiting an essay by Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys, which originally ran in January 2017 as part of our VOICES series. In response to the first Women’s March, and the myriad other protests surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump, Ruiz writes about how in protesting Trump, we must also protest one of his biggest supporters: the Fraternal Order of Police. As a Brooklyn-based outlet, we encourage you to donate to the Brooklyn Bail Fund, as well as any and all of the bail funds set up nationwide — a list of which can be found here. We’d also like to highlight the George Floyd Memorial Fund, Rebuild Lake Street (MN), North Star Health Collective, COVID Bailout NYC and the Black Visions Collective. Also, we urge our white readers to spend time with this compilation of anti-racist resources.
Don’t like Trump? Then don’t like the police.
The night after Donald Trump was elected president, I went to march in San Francisco, California. So many people were chanting “Not my president” and “My body, my choice,” while a few of us chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” as we walked past a line of about fifty officers in riot gear. They were looking at us like we were scum of the earth, although they probably were very happy to collect their overtime pay — and they knew our iPhones cameras were no match for their batons, guns, bullet-proof vests and helmets.
As we were chanting about the police, a woman came up to me, shook her finger and said, “No, no, that is not what this march is about.” I began to cry out of pure anger and hurt, because she didn’t realize that, indeed, this was exactly what this protest was about. It was (and is) about power in this country: who is losing power, winning power, and protecting power.
The day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, there will be more marches and rallies throughout the country — particularly Women’s Marches. And as Janelle Monáe and other musicians take the stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s March on Washington, and people in every large city throughout the country march, cry, get angry, and mobilize together, I hope that those who brought about the election of Trump will shake in their boots as they witness our people power.
But there are plenty of groups of people who support Trump who will be celebrating rather than shaking in their boots. People who seem to be completely blind to our resistance against them. One of these groups is the police force — a group that legal professionals advise us to avoid during the protests. We’re told to write the number of the National Lawyers Guild on our forearms in Sharpie. We’re told not make eye contact or agitate the police. We’re told we should avoid doing anything that could give the cops a reason to arrest us. All of this advice is so painful because it comes out as fear of the police — not respect for rights and justice. It’s a kind of respectability politics created by white supremacy that youths of color — especially undocumented people and black youths — must be fed by parents, teachers and elected officials. And it should make us angry.
Fruit from a tree is only made possible by the roots themselves. So if we are mad at this orange-haired president, we must also confront the roots that grew him: his supporters. And one of his biggest supporters — a group that helped elect an anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-people of color, anti-environment, anti-healthcare president — was the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Fraternal Order of Police is a union, with more than 300,000 members, that protects, defends, and supports the rights of police officers, and they have called on Trump — who they officially endorsed during the 2016 election — to do things such as militarize the police and allow racial profiling. And they’ve called for more freedom and power from our incoming president after already facing a lot of heat from the public over the last few years.
With the advent of the Black Lives Movement, more and more people are being confronted with the need to recognize the role that police departments play in institutional inequality and racism. Police not only murder, they profile and arrest people of color, trans people, queer people, and immigrants. This state of affairs is not new; in many ways it’s a continuation of the racial segregation that grew out of the transatlantic slave trade and plagued history through Jim Crow Laws. As Michelle Alexander wrote in 2012’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:
Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals.
This is what it means to be a person of color in America. Our voices are not often heard — and are sometimes destroyed. Voting statistics made it loud and clear: people of color, especially black voters, supported Hillary Clinton for president by an overwhelming majority. The majority of white women voters, however, voted for a president and vice president who declared war on women throughout their presidential campaign by talking about grabbing women by the pussy, promising to defund the largest provider of reproductive healthcare, Planned Parenthood, and by planning to do away with Obamacare — which provides healthcare for millions of birthing people and the people they give birth to.
Aside from endorsing Trump as a whole, several members of The National Fraternal Order of the Police voted for the future president as well. Many of us know that what a union does is not necessarily what its individual members want, but the rank and file seemed to follow their union on this one. According to a survey of officers reported on by The Law Enforcement Magazine: Community for Cops, 84% of officers supported Donald Trump. Fifty percent claimed to support him because they “like his stance on issues.”
Every time you see a cop cruiser, remember that their union helped make Trump the president — and they will be on duty watching every march in this country on Saturday. So, what message are we going to send to them?
I am guessing that a lot of the women who are rallying this Saturday, like myself, are very zoomed in on what is going to affect our individual lives — but I hope we’re also thinking about why we are in such a threatening and dire reality. The Fraternal Order of Police helped turn the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Maybe Russia did, too, but we do not rely on Russia for public safety. We do not protest Russia to stop killing people of color.
While Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte and even Bruce Springsteen have always been political when it comes to their music, 2016 was really a turning point when it came to musicians and public figures getting “woke.” Beyoncé is a prime example, with her powerful album and film, Lemonade, her stage set (which included a photo of victims of police violence) and her invite list to the 2016 MTV Music Awards: mothers of men killed by the police. Her boo, Jay Z, narrated an incredible animated video about the startling reality of the drug war as an institutional mechanism of racism in America for the New York Times. Football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee and refused to sing the national anthem to protest police violence in front of millions of football enthusiasts.
At the same time, police officers responsible for the murders of Freddie Gray in New York and Walter Scott in North Carolina were not brought to justice by the judicial system of the United States. Clearly, there is dissonance and distrust between people and the law.
With the dangerous and terrifying election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the contradiction between what powerful (and often rich) artists, athletes and cultural figures do, say, and stand up for and what lawmakers and courts actually do is going to be immense.
We must stop turning the other cheek when it comes to police injustice and lack of accountability. If you care about Donald Trump’s alleged sexual assaults, apathy toward climate change or plans to shutter Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, then we must also care about him being elected by and defending the police. Police brutality is as much of a feminist issue as the rest of the threatening and toxic realities that must be cured in this country.