Response to Ferguson from the Shanti Sena Network:
Whether or not you believe that Darren Wilson is guilty, no one can deny that trust in the American police force is really low. This trust is especially low in communities of color and low income communities. A list of demands from Ferguson protestors included: a plan to end racial profiling, more diversity in the police force, investigating criminalization of communities of color, an end to over-policing and criminalization of poverty, and a representative police force and intentional officer training. In regards to the last demand mentioned, it was written,
“We believe that a police force should be representative of those citizens that it is designed to serve and protect.”
Can we really reform the police? While there may be a place for reform, most people are not aware of alternatives to the police. For those involved in the Shanti Sena Network, the idea of ‘peace teams’ is the cutting edge of alternative community security that is just beginning to take shape.
What are Peace Teams? The idea for peace teams (or Shanti Sena) originated by Gandhi who believed that in order for true peace to reign, societies must have trained groups of people dedicated to nonviolence and nonviolent conflict transformation. The job of these teams or armies would be the same as the police or military, with one caveat: their brand of serving and protecting would be 100% committed to nonviolence and only use nonviolent methods. While peace teams have been sent overseas with a high success rate for international conflict intervention through such organizations as Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, and others, domestic community based peace teams are a new development that organizations such as Meta Peace Team, DC Peace Team, Emergency Peace Teams, and others are exploring.
What is UCP? “Unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) refers to the use of unarmed civilians to do ‘peacekeeping’. Peacekeeping is about preventing, reducing and stopping violence. Unarmed civilian peacekeeping is a generic term that gives recognition to a wide range of activities by unarmed civilians to reduce violence and protect civilians in situations of violent conflict.” -from Nonviolentpeaceforce.org
Why are these things relevant to Ferguson/police brutality?
Protestors can fight for police reform, and they may see some changes (President Obama recently announced he is setting up a task force to see how to improve modern day policing, and met with activists along with Vice President Biden and Eric Holder). A few changes here and there do not address the underlying structural violence of the police that seems built into a system that not only targets communities of color and low income people, but also seems at times to enforce unjust laws and suppress constitutional freedom, thus contributing to the continuation of the cycle of violence; think, for example, of the cruelty perpetuated in the prisons. So if we want to move beyond small reforms here and there, how can we harness the energy of recent protests and use it for concrete action towards our goal of major structural change?
We want to actually address the conditions that cultivate criminal acts, and thus get to the source of the problem, so we can have REAL long term change. That is why it is absolutely important that we empower ourselves with the tools of nonviolent de-escalation, conflict intervention, and restorative justice practices so that local communities can learn how to transform their own conflicts and be responsible for their own security. We are passionate about safety, justice, peace, courageous action and humane treatment of all.
Building this alternative to the police is in line with what Gandhi called ‘Constructive Program.’ We seek to create new structures that run parallel to existing structures. This way we do not have to only spend our energy in protest and demanding reform, but we can be actively engaged in creation of a new infrastructure that truly fits the needs of each community.
So if you share the passion that the protestors feel and desire a change, we invite you to become involved and learn more about what we believe might become the future of security.