Ashley Smith et al: Building solidarity in the fight against the carceral state

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kina Thorpe, Dayna Stimson and Ashley Smith. Kina Thorpe, of Burlington, is a member of Community Voices for Immigrant Rights and is on staff at the Peace & Justice Center. Dayna Stimson, of Burlington, is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights. Ashley Smith, of Burlington, is managing editor of Spectre Journal and a member of the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights.

The Black-led multiracial working-class uprising against police brutality is the most significant social movement in decades and the largest wave of protest in U.S. history. Set off by the racist killing of George Floyd, it has completely changed the national discussion about policing and thrown the Trump administration onto the defensive and into crisis.

The movement is fighting to defund the new domestic and international structures of policing that enforce brutal inequalities of race, class, and nationality. The U.S. has expanded and militarized its police; created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that houses the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and integrated all these forces with the U.S. military.

These institutions have conducted a reign of terror against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, working class people, and countries all around the world. In challenging this enormous carceral state, the movement has set in motion a logic of solidarity between oppressed and exploited people in the US and throughout the world.

Activists must seize this opportunity and build connections between struggles against the different dimensions of policing at home and abroad. In particular, we should build solidarity between fights to defund the police and abolish ICE.

The connections are objectively clear. While Black people are most targeted by the police, Brown people, in particular Latinxs, are also subject to racial profiling and police violence. In California, for example, Latinxs comprise 46 percent of people killed by the police, second only to Black people. 

The same pattern holds for mass incarceration. As abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore points out in a recent New York Times interview, about 33% of those in prison are Black, 23% are Latinxs, and 30% are white, despite Black and Latinx people comprising only 13% and 19% of the U.S. population as of 2019, respectively. 

For undocumented members of the Latinx community, the police, ICE, and CBP are inseparable institutions. The three closely collaborate throughout the country to surveil, harass, detain, and deport migrants for the “crime” of being without “papers.” 

The Black Lives Matter movement is also impacted by ICE and CBP. Not only are both empowered as police to arrest citizens as well as non-citizens, they were deployed to repress protests in Washington, D.C. and across the country. In Minneapolis, CBP’s Air and Marine Division deployed one of its predator drones to provide video footage of the rebellion and help police identify activists. 

Thus, BLM and the immigrant rights movement have a common interest forming a united front against the carceral state. In Vermont, we have the opportunity to build connections between the fight to defund the local and state police with Migrant Justice’s No Más Polimigra campaign to ban collaboration between the police and ICE. 

Both these movements are surging in the state. The Racial Justice Alliance and the wave of BLM protests in Burlington forced the City Council to pass a resolution promising to cut the police force by 30 percent by attrition and remove them from the schools next year. 

Similarly, No Más Polimigra has scored recent victories in Winooski, Hartford, Norwich and Burlington, ending collaboration between police and immigration authorities. Activists around the state are gearing up for similar campaigns in many other towns in the coming year. 

If the two movements collaborate, each will benefit. No Más Polimigra curtails the ability of the police to profile and harass Black and Brown people, and BLM fights to cut and defund police departments, weakening their ability to surveil immigrants.

The entire multiracial working class in our state has interest in the victory of these two movements. The federal and state governments have diverted billions of dollars from education, healthcare, and social services to pay for their new giant carceral state. 

The numbers are truly astonishing. The Department of Homeland Security spends over $50 billion a year, earmarking $18 billion for CBP and $9 billion for ICE. State and local governments spend $120 billion a year on policing across the country. In Vermont, Burlington spends some $17 million a year on its police and the state about $70 million on its troopers. 

No one in the multiracial working-class benefits from this barbaric system of policing, mass incarceration, and mass deportation. We are all literally paying the price for it as our government maintains spending on the carceral state, while it cuts government jobs and programs that serve all working class people. 

Thus, we have a common interest in defunding the carceral state, and reinvesting in communities of color, social institutions that improve people’s lives, and in jobs programs to alleviate the crisis of unemployment amidst the pandemic and recession.

But we cannot accomplish this solely by voting blue — Democrats have played an active role in upholding these systems of policing. Change will only through a united front of the multiracial working class in struggle. We must unite and fight to defund the police, bar their collaboration with ICE, and build a movement to abolish both of them! 


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