Planting the seeds of police abolition

I’ve been meditating on how to contribute, seed by seed, to the abolition of policing. To be honest, I want a world where the solution to harm and violence is not to kill and jail Black people (or any human) into oblivion.

The issue is really how do we address harm — how do we intercede in the factors which lead to harm; how do we grant all people the right to safe . Because right now, to Black folk, policing is just the violent way in which our governments keep some people safe by simply eliminating us.

Our governments haven’t grasped that are myriad ways to grow and nurture safer and sustainable communities

I’ve been out in the garden as spring turns to summer, so let me begin by discussing how the planting of seeds, how gardening reduces violence.

There are studies — lots of them complete with carefully designed experiments and low p-values — that establish links between green spaces and reduced violence. The Impact of Green Space on Violent Crime in Urban Environments: An Evidence Synthesis is a literature review and examine in particular urban gardens

A larger number of studies (n=12) addressed community gardens and greening of lots. All of these studies suggested that greening interventions or the presence of community gardens were related to a reduction in crime. Included in this group is a series of pre-post studies by Branas et al. in which researchers “cleaned and greened” a series of lots over several years in Philadelphia, PA, resulting in decreased incidence of gun violence

What is “crime”?

In the Branas study the researchers developed a very well designed study

Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) used the city’s antiblight ordinance to identify and remediate vacant lots.

Are Black and Brown people blight? Anyway, to quote the study further

In unadjusted analyses of abandoned building remediations, we found statistically significant reductions for firearm assaults (P < .05), although not for all assaults or nonfirearm assaults. Unadjusted analyses of vacant lot remediations demonstrated statistically significant reductions for firearm assaults and all assault (P < .001), although not for nonfirearm assaults.

Calls for police reform, not to mention police abolition these past few months were countered with references to the rise in “firearm assaults”. What is the cost of seeds, dirt, a few rakes. How many rakes can be bought for the price of the standard issue taser, shotgun, or tear gas canister? The Atlanta Police Department proposed budget for 2022 is $207,259,853, an increase of $15,220,364. How much dirt and shovels and seeds would $1,000,000 buy? How many lives and how much peace? Those of us having the privilege flocked to Home Depot and Lowes for our gardening projects

Of course, you don’t need well designed research to know and feel the benefit of green space. There are urban gardeners nearby where my grandparents and godparents lived on Atlanta’s West End among them Truly Living Well Farms or The Garden Queen, or Westside Gardens. My grandmother, who lived not far from where Rayshard Brooks was murdered by police, grew garlic and pecans, probably collards. The garlic I remember well.

I learned the other day a researcher discovered massive lead poisoning on Atlanta’s West Side while conducting soil tests for Westside Gardens. WABE reported that the area for the remediation has expanded. An area covering where I went to College, Sunday dinners with my parents, the quiet street where my uncle Dexter baked rich chocolate cakes for our birthdays, the park where we had dances and barbecues. Not safe for gardening

Area of the EPA Westside Lead Cleanup, a superfund site

If y’all grew up or went to school in Atlanta, y’all are thinking Washington High (the main high school of the segregation era), Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown College, the Citizen’s Trust Bank, Washington Park, Simpson Ave. The center of one of Atlanta’s signature Black enclaves.

The EPA study hints at the sources of the lead, foundries that supported the railway. Many of the Black folk worked on the railroad — my grandfather and great uncle were Pullman porters in the day. I’m thinking of how the environmental racism and policing intersect in profound ways. How is violence linked to the myriad impacts associated with lead poisoning? Over generations?

Now one antidote that that is being researched by the Emory researchers is something called phytoremediation — the use of plants to absorb and remove heavy metals contained in soil. Sunflowers — the same flowers that were grown by the Indigenous inhabitants of these lands since at least 2,000 BC — are especially good at phytoremediation.

Helianthus annuus absorbs heavy metals

I’m not saying that sunflowers are the answer to policing and lead poisoning, but they are among the millions of alternatives available if the problem is building a world that sustains life.

What is the problem which policing and prison are trying to solve? If the problem we are trying to address is harm, then there have a lot more effective solutions available. If the goal we want to achieve is a safer world, once which values and sustains Black life then there are many kinds of seeds that we can plant while we wait for our city or state to catch up.

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