Why Transformative Justice: A Response to “Why Didn’t She Just Call the Cops?”

Why is the world always easier to fix/than our own homes?

–Essex Hemphill

We cannot live without our lives.

–Banner held by Combahee River Collective members protesting the sexual assault and murder of twelve Black women in the Boston area in the first six months of 1979

The Third Eye Collective is led by female-identified people of Black/African descent who are victims and/or survivors–all of us resistors–of sexual violence. Many Black girls and women who have experienced sexual violence at the hands of family, intimate partners, and community members, have also had direct, lived experiences as prisoners of punitive state institutions defined broadly to include jails, prisons, open or closed facilities, remand centres, immigrant and refugee detention centers, mental hospitals, foster care, group homes, child protective services, and domestic violence shelters. When confronted with gendered and sexualized violence in our families, communities, and institutional spaces, Black cis- and trans- girls and women have very few–if any–viable avenues open to us that we can take to effectively address this violence without further criminalizing us. Because many of us experience physical abuse and sexual violence at the hands of the police and other representatives of the state, we are reluctant to rely on the criminal legal and punishment systems for justice, redress, and response. We have good reason not to call the police when we experience violence. Our collective refusal also stems from our yearning to abolish the carceral state and create new relationships based upon mutual respect and accountability as well as decolonial forms of collective belonging, self-recognition, and sovereignty.

Case in point:

  • Since the creation and wide-scale implementation of specialized domestic violence courts in the 1990s, Canadian feminist legal advocates have indicated an alarming increase in the number of women who were counter-charged by the police under ‘gender neutral’ mandatory charging policies (Balfour, 2008), especially Black Canadian and Black Caribbean women in Toronto, Ontario (Pollack, Green, & Allspach, 2005).
  • Since the implementation of feminist-inspired law reforms which sought compulsory criminalization and vigorous prosecution of gendered violence, Black women’s rates of incarceration have doubled. In Ontario prisons, for example, Black women are admitted to provincial custody at a rate almost seven times that of white women (Gittens & Cole, 1995). At Vanier Centre for Women, admissions of Black women increased 630% over the six years between 1986/87 and 1992/93.
  • Zero-tolerance mandatory arrest and compulsory criminalization of domestic violence has had the unintended consequence of incarcerating more abused Black women who call the police for help.
  • These pro-arrest trends that criminalize abused Black women’s self-protective use of force are a direct consequence of the appropriation of the feminist movement against sexual violence by neoconservative ‘law and order’ policies and neoliberal austerity measures such as cutbacks in public spending and social assistance (Balfour & Comack 2006; Bumiller 2008; Richie 2012).

Black feminist activist-scholar Beth Richie summarizes the current reality that race-radical Black feminists are faced with when struggling to reconcile feminist anti-violence activism, anti-police brutality activism and prison abolitionism, struggles for decolonization, and other movements for racial and economic justice. Richie writes:

“The anti-violence movement buys into the carceral state by advancing “anti-violence” campaigns that rely on arrest, prosecution, and punishment as ways to solve the problem of gender violence. The focus of the problem is individual incidents of abuse rather than public policies that result in state violence against women and queer communities, which are ignored by feminist groups who invest in or accept resources that are tied to the growing punishment industry. Those racial justice organizations that do resist state violence and the concomitant crises that result from mass incarceration see their work in masculinist terms. Some even point to anti-violence activism as one of the culprits in the mass incarceration of poor men of color. Many fail to understand that the criminal legal system is not only racist, it relies on heteropatriarcal assumptions that narrate a kind of social order that is based on domination.” (Richie 2014)

Arrested Justice

In opposition to both mainstream anti-violence feminists’ advocacy for state-driven, criminalization-based strategies to address domestic and sexual violence and Black nationalist politics which silence the anti-violence activism of race-radical Black women, queer, and trans people, many Black girls and women whose lives are lived at the crossroads of punishment and victimization are developing their own programs for addressing racialized and gendered violence within their communities, which draw heavily on the principles and strategies of transformative justice (Palacios 2014). Like many other activists organizations led by women of color (See Bierra et al. 2006; INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence 2006) organizing across North America, the Third Eye Collective is dedicated to advancing radical, oppositional models of justice, redress, and response.

Unlike the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement in Canada and the United States that has over-relied on penal solutions to address violence against women—via mandatory arrest, presumptive arrest, no-drop policies, tougher sentencing policies—transformative justice feminism is grounded in a race-radical Black feminist theoretical framework that is committed to change social conditions that subordinate and marginalize Black women (Palacios 2014). It seeks to develop community responses and strategies to address sexual and state violence in order to move beyond state-imposed, institutionalized criminal legal and punishment systems and professionalized social services. By developing community responses for support, intervention, healing, and accountability that do not rely on the state, these grassroots movements are building capacity to address multiple forms of structural and institutional violence. Within our current carceral landscape, transformative justice feminist praxis is an essential epistemic and organizing tool. For the members of the Third Eye Collective who have been victimized by both intimate partner violence and state violence, there is no other choice for us but to continue building community accountability circles and anti-violence movements that guarantee our collective survival. The stakes couldn’t get much higher. Combahee River Collective5

References:

Balfour, G. 2008. Falling Between the Cracks of Retributive and Restorative Justice. Feminist Criminology, 3(2), 101–120.

Balfour, G., & Comack, E. 2006. Criminalizing women : gender and (in)justice in neo-liberal times. Black Point  N.S.: Fernwood.

Bierra, A., Carrillo, O., Colbert, E., Ibarra, X., Kigvamasud’Vashti, T., & Maulana, S. 2006. Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies. In Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (Ed.), Color of violence : the Incite! anthology (pp. 250–266). Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.

Gittens, Margaret, and David Cole. 1995. Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Toronto, Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. https://archive.org/stream/reportracismont00comm/reportracismont00comm_djvu.txt.

Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. 2006. Color of violence: the Incite! anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.

Palacios, Lena. 2014. “Indigenous and Race-Radical Feminist Movements Confronting Necropower in Carceral States”. Dissertation, Montreal, Quebec: McGill University.

Pollack, S., Green, V., & Allspach, A. 2005. Women charged with domestic violence in Toronto the unintended consequences of mandatory charge policies. Toronto  Ont.: Woman Abuse Council of Toronto.

Richie, Beth. 2012. Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. New York: New York University Press.

———. 2014. “How Anti-Violence Activism Taught Me to Become a Prison Abolitionist.” The Feminist Wire. Accessed January 21. http://thefeministwire.com/2014/01/how-anti-violence-activism-taught-me-to-become-a-prison-abolitionist/.

Written by Lena Carla Palacios

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2 thoughts on “Why Transformative Justice: A Response to “Why Didn’t She Just Call the Cops?”

  1. Reblogged this on blkcowrie ❀ and commented:
    “Within our current carceral landscape, transformative justice feminist praxis is an essential epistemic and organizing tool. For the members of the Third Eye Collective who have been victimized by both intimate partner violence and state violence, there is no other choice for us but to continue building community accountability circles and anti-violence movements that guarantee our collective survival. The stakes couldn’t get much higher.”

    ~ Third Eye Collective

    Some facts about Black women in Canada: “Since the implementation of feminist-inspired law reforms which sought compulsory criminalization and vigorous prosecution of gendered violence, Black women’s rates of incarceration have doubled. In Ontario prisons, for example, Black women are admitted to provincial custody at a rate almost seven times that of white women (Gittens & Cole, 1995). At Vanier Centre for Women, admissions of Black women increased 630% over the six years between 1986/87 and 1992/93.”

    Liked by 1 person

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