by Tanya Brannan
is edited from a speech delivered on October 21, 2000 in San Francisco,
California at an event called "How to Radically Transform Policing:
An Intimate Dialogue." The event, sponsored by Prison Radio, featured
Tanya Brannan of the Purple Berets, and Ron Hampton of the National
Black Police Association.)
an activist for more than twenty years, working in an array of
revolutionary and social justice movements. If there's one thread
that has run through all of that work, it is holding government
accountable for its atrocities, whether those atrocities are committed
against union organizers by Salvadoran death squads, against environmental
activists by the FBI, or against domestic violence victims by
the Sonoma County Sheriff.
I helped to start the Purple Berets, a radical women's rights
group. We very quickly got drawn into a local rape case
the David Noles case. Noles was a Petaluma chiropractor who had
virtually bought Marķa, a Mexican immigrant woman, then locked
her away and raped her repeatedly until she was able to make her
was a guy who'd done this before to numerous immigrant
women over many years and had always gotten away with it.
But this time, only because women refused to let it happen again,
the doctor went down. We were in court every time he was, we brought
press attention to the case, we pressured the DA to prosecute.
Because of that, David Noles is currently doing 38 years in prison.
I'm proud of that. Who knows how many women would have been victimized
over the next 38 years otherwise?
we've worked hundreds of such cases, advocating for women and
becoming experts on how the criminal justice system from
the responding officer to the sentencing judge responds
to crimes of violence against women. And I'm here to tell you
that if you and I, as leftists/progressives/revolutionaries, if
we intend to tackle the complex issue of policing -- the role
of police in our communities and our need and our right to control
their behavior if we're not looking at how police handle
violence against women, we're only looking at part of the problem.
racism, failure to discipline officers for misconduct, holding
certain communities hostage all these manifestations of
police repression and misconduct have been the stuff of organized
campaigns and sometimes daily demonstrations both locally and
around the country.
day women in our neighborhoods our sisters, our daughters,
our classmates, our comrades are beaten, kicked, spit at,
threatened with death or the death of their children or other
loved ones, thrown from moving cars, raped, sodomized, urinated
on, shot, stabbed, their every move surveilled, cut off from family
and friends, not allowed to work, drive or talk on the phone,
threatened with deportation or loss of custody of their children,
run down in cars, or murdered and literally thrown in garbage
dumpsters. These aren't exaggerations these are all women
I have worked with, gone to court with, gone to their funerals.
one-half and one-third of all calls to police are domestic violence
calls. And every day law enforcement turns its back on these
women fails to make an arrest or even write a police report,
fails to prosecute the perpetrators, threatens and bullies the
victims. Many women tell us the responding officer threatens,
and often carries through on that threat, to arrest the victim
if she insists on pursuing justice. Marķa Teresa Macias, Mina
Arevalo, Heather Moore, Melissa Tarantino, Nancy Lynch, Gina Barnett,
Liz Toleson and her daughter Lisa, Carol Madeira, Loretta Whalen,
Patricia Gustafson, Brenda Martini, Patrice Dodson, Jewelle Emerald
Weatherspoon, Paulette Moore for all of these women, that
law enforcement failure was fatal.
the local and national police accountability movements ignore
these cases completely. Other than the Purple Berets and a handful
of other violence against women organizations, no one marches
or holds press conferences, no one demands justice, no one calls
for national civil rights hearings. In fact most progressives,
justifiably outraged at brutal cops and the racist and classist
prison-industrial complex, think it scandalous that we would encourage
women to bring police into their neighborhoods, even to save their
own lives or the lives of their children.
of the Same Coin
If we are going
to get serious about taking on the police about reining
them in, holding them accountable, making them serve our needs
then we have to be smart enough to hold two truths in our
heads at the same time. Some communities particularly communities
of color are oppressed and brutalized by over-policing.
Women, however, are oppressed and kept down by under-policing.
For where else are women to turn for protection from the violence
against them but to law enforcement? Are you willing to stand
between a woman and her rampaging batterer a man who's
high on meth, heavily armed and filled with the self-righteous
rage that only entitlement can foster? What should we tell this
woman to do as her partner holds her baby in one hand and a 9MM
in the other and says, "DO WHAT I SAY OR ELSE?" Can I give her
your home number? I assure you, I don't give her mine.
So it's not
as simplistic as "Stop police violence!" or even, "Let's just
get rid of cops." The question is, how do we get at the kinds
of structural changes that will do away with both the racism and
brutality and the refusal to provide law enforcement to women?
about it, there are no miracle cures. We're talking revolution
here, not reform. It will take a full-on assault on policing as
we know it, completely overhauling not just recruitment, hiring,
and promotion, but also the internal investigations procedure
and training from top to bottom, completely rethinking the idea
of police work as a "career path." And it will mean firing a huge
number of cops cops who are brutal, cops who sexually harass
female officers, cops who fail to enforce crimes of violence against
women and children and the ranking officers who have condoned
will only come as a result of intelligent, strategic, and relentless
community organizing. And one thing's for sure: we'll never be
able to bring forth that type of community pressure for change
if we continue to ignore half the problem, and thus half of our
contact the Purple Berets call 707.887.0262, or click