What To Do Instead of Calling the Police

A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A Process

This is a living document. Last Updated: May 15, 2018.

We’ve all been there. Your neighbor is setting off fireworks at 3am. Or there’s a couple fighting outside your window and it’s getting physical. Or you see someone hit their child in public. What do you do? Your first instinct might be: call 911. That’s what many people are trained to do in the United States when we see something dangerous or threatening happening. 

At this point, most of us understand that, in the U.S., the police uphold of system of racialized violence and white supremacy, in which black people are at least three times more likely to be killed by the police. For years now, we’ve heard the nearly daily news of another unarmed person of color being shot by the police. When the police get involved, black people, Latinx people, Native Americans, people of color, LGBTQ people, sex workers, women, undocumented immigrants, and people living with disabilities and mental health diagnoses are usually in more danger, even if they are the victims of the crime being reported. Police frequently violently escalate peaceful interactions, often without repercussions. In 2017, the police killed over 1,100 people in the U.S.  

So what do you do? When you see harm being done, when you worry for your safety, when you feel your rights are being violated? What do you do instead of calling the police? How do you keep yourself safe without seeking protection from a system whose default is still surveillance and erasure of others?

We start by shifting our perspective. We start by learning about the racist history of the police. We start by saying, an alternative to this system should exist. We start by pausing before we dial 911. We start by making different choices where we can. We start by getting to know our neighbors and asking them to be a part of this process. 

The following is an in-process list of resources on alternatives to policing, which range from the theoretical to practical. It starts with a series of best practices and guiding questions I have developed in the last two years of nurturing this document in conversation with many people. 

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A few frequently asked questions: 

Who is this document for? This document is for anyone who wants to build a world where we have safe, strong communities. Where we know and trust our neighbors. Where our response to emergencies of all kinds leads to peace and connection rather than escalated violence and disconnection. This document was originally written to expand white people’s understanding of police violence and to equip them with the tools to be better community members, and the best practices and guiding questions reflect that. However, the resources and tools are here for people of all races and backgrounds. 

Who are you? I’m Aaron Rose: a white, middle-class, life-long New Yorker and south Brooklynite. I’m a gay, queer, transgender man. I’m an educator, a writer, and a diversity & inclusion consultant and coach. I help build cultures where people of all identities can thrive as themselves and collaborate together. 

How can I recommend an edit, report a broken link, contribute a resource, or share my perspective? Email me at hello@aaronxrose.com. I welcome any and all feedback given in service of building a safer world.  

To support this resource's ongoing DEVELOPMENT, donate here. THe goal is to raise enough to pay non-white people to expand this resource. 

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Where to Start: Guidelines for White Allies

 

1. Get to know your neighbors.

Many situations in which you might feel compelled to call the police can be resolved by knowing your neighbors. Knock on people’s doors or leave a note with your number. Open up a conversation. Agree to reach out to each other if you have an issue before calling 911. This is particularly helpful for things like loud music, smoke, and mental health issues. 

Ideally, you’re connected to many people in your building / on your block / in your neighborhood. This is particularly important for white people who are moving into historically black or Latinx neighborhoods. Your new neighbors likely already have deep history with one another. They know who is having relationship issues and who’s trusted to intervene. They know who is struggling with their mental health and who calms them down. They know the unofficial way to reach the building’s super if something’s wrong. Honor their history together and demonstrate a commitment to learning. Invest in your relationships and in your collective safety. 

 

2. Rewrite your internal script about the police.

White people: most of us have been taught, however subconsciously, that the police keep us safe. And the thing is, they usually do. But that often comes at the expense of people of color. We are called to rewrite our story about the police, so that we define safety as including not only ourselves but also our whole community. 

This can be painful and deep work, especially for those of us with other marginalized identities (white women, white queer people, etc). Our cultural autopilot reinforces the idea that standing in true solidarity with people of color puts us at risk in some way – socially, psychologically, economically, or physically. 

As it arises, notice the instinct, however subtle, to prioritize your safety at the expense of another. From which old pattern does this originate? Is it an autopilot belief that it's not your job to protect people of color? Is it a fear of getting close to people who are different from yourself? Is it the pain of past experiences where your needs and boundaries were violated? Say to yourself, as often as you need: In service of a safer world for myself and others, I am willing to see this differently. I invite a new perspective. 

If you’re interested in soon-to-be-released guided meditations and other resources on releasing attachments to institutionalized racism and nurturing truly supportive connections with non-white people, sign up here. You'll be the first to know when they're available. Healing the world starts with healing ourselves, and many of us still need support in releasing our dependence on old power structures and welcoming a new way of relating and living. 

 

3. Start where you can, build from there.

Reducing our dependence on police intervention can be a gradual process. We call the police in many different situations – everything from noise disturbances to domestic violence to burglaries to assaults. For some of these – like noise complaints and some interpersonal conflicts – we likely already have the resources we need to respond in a different way. For others – like burglaries, serious domestic violence, or other kinds of violence – we need to engage in a longer process of developing alternatives. Start where you can, and we’ll all work together to get where we need to go. 

And finally, read this call to action from Taj James and reflect on what you would need to do to transition into a new way of keeping yourself and your community safe: “White friends and family, I think we are better off without the police. I think we might be safer, happier, healthier if there were no police. In addition to fewer Black people being killed by those police our life would be much better. I am starting to think we are better off without them. That we don't need them. That if we shut them all down today and transferred all the resources they control to communities to set up systems of community safety and accountability we would all be much happier. My gut is that when white people are able to say ‘Having no police is better than what we have now’ that will reflect the willingness and courage needed to make a fundamental transition from an old system to a new one.”

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What To Do Instead of Calling the Police

A New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Call the Police (Truthout)

Alternatives to Policing (Justice in Policing)

Alternatives to Police (Rose City CopWatch)

Alternatives to the Police (McGill Daily)

Animal Help Now: Provides immediate support in wildlife emergencies. If you encounter a wild animal who is injured, endangering your safety, or lost, AHN is a safer intervention option than the police. Animals are also frequently killed in police interactions that could be deescalated peacefully. 

Audre Lorde Project’s Safer Party Toolkit: How to run a safe party that doesn’t need police presence to maintain safety. (Español | Zine version) (some content is NYC-specific)

Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future (Truthout)

Calling Someone Other than the Cops (The Atlantic)

Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Policing (WeChargeGenocide.org)

Creative Interventions Toolkit: An incredible organization created by Black and Asian feminists that interviewed people about what they did to intervene in partner abuse and sexual assault without the state. This is one of the resources they created: a huge guidebook with tons of concrete examples, stories and tools for how folks have done this work.

Critical Resistance Abolitionist Toolkit

Imagine Alternatives: Finding Ways Not to Call the Police (Caroline Loomis): An open letter, a resource list, and some great exercises for stretching your imagination to consider why you call the police and how you might make different choices and build alternatives in the future.

INCITE!’s Stop Law Enforcement Toolkit

INCITE!’s Community Accountability Best Practices

Policing is a Dirty Job and Nobody’s Gotta Do it: 6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World (Rolling Stone)

Ten Lessons for Creating Safety Without Police: A Reflection on 10 Years of the SOS Collective

The Revolution Starts At Home: A book co-authored by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinh, Ching In Chen, and Jai Dulani about abuse inside activist communities and how folks have dealt with it without the cops (was out of print, is now back in print).

Transformative Justice Resource List (USPrisonCulture.com)

Vikki Law: Resisting Gender Violence Without Cops or Prisons

What To Do When Someone is Having a Mental Health Crisis on the Street (SF Bay Area specific)

 

Alternatives to Policing Projects / Organizations / Tools

Audre Lorde Project’s Safe Outside the System (SOS) seeks to empower community members to be proactive in preventing anti-LGBTQ violence, intervene when violent situations arise, and build stronger relationships between LGBTQ people of color, our allies and the community as a whole.

BYP100 Case Study in Community Accountability

Cure Violence stops the spread of violence in communities by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms – resulting in reductions in violence of 40% to 70%. Note: this program is now state-sponsored, which some people feel undermines its efficacy and sustainability.

National Mental Health First Aid Trainings: Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. 

NYC's Mental Health First Aid Trainings

People’s Community Medics: An organization created by Black women in East Oakland that is a community controlled alternative and/or addition to calling 911 for emergency medical care. They created it after the ambulances were just not showing up or cops were showing up first.

Philly Stands Up: An organization that works with folks who have committed sexual assault or partner abuse who want to take accountability.  This is their document where they talk about how they work with perpetrators.

Restorative Response BaltimoreA conflict resolution and community building organization that provides ways for people to collectively and effectively prevent and resolve conflicts and incidents ranging from bullying to auto theft to assault. Read about their work's impact, start a group in your area, or refer a conflict here.

Richmond, CA Case Study

 

Apps for Coordinating Community Crisis Response

Buoy (mobile & desktop app): A community-based crisis response system.

(developers’ chat room for troubleshooting set up | user-to-user support forum | github wiki | if you need additional help figuring out how to set up Buoy on your site, Maymay may be able to help: https://maymay.net/)

Cell411: A real-time, free emergency management platform, built by and for activists. 

 

Resources on Racism & The Police

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves On Race and Racism

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Do you want to add resources or share a community case study? Are you a person of color who wants to assist or lead the ongoing development of this resource? Email me at hello@aaronxrose.com.