‘End police brutality’ T-shirt got your attention. Now …
The T-shirts I wear aren’t for comfort. In fact, they are meant to do the opposite: create discomfort.
About 13 years ago Gustavo Gutierrez, a longtime labor organizer and indigenous rights leader, had a simple message for me: “As an organizer on any given day you must wake up and dress as if you’re meeting with the governor or a farmworker. It’s up to you who you’d rather make comfortable.”
This is why I choose to dress the way I do.
Growing up in Arizona, for part of that time undocumented and at times criminalized and under a constant feeling of not being wanted or accepted, I have nothing to lose. I would much prefer to dress for clarity with a demand on my chest than to dress for the comfort of those who disagree with me or my existence.
That’s why I have worn a T-shirt to Phoenix City Council meetings that says “end police brutality.”
I’m used to the jokes and the threats
Over the holidays, a couple of my colleagues on the council decided to make a joke about it, gifting me an “I Love Phoenix PD” T-shirt.
I have no ill feelings about it. I am used to it.
However, what I will not get used to or be complacent about is police brutality, regardless of being made fun of, critiqued or threatened in the form of hundreds of hate messages we receive weekly at my city council office. I will continue to demand police accountability and transparency.
Brutality is defined as “savage physical violence; great cruelty.” That is what the smaller print on my shirt reads and what I am determined we put an end to in our city.
As elected representatives, our job is to look out for the people of Phoenix. Ignoring police brutality is sanctioning the death, the trauma and the harm caused by it. We need to be doing the opposite.
Police aren’t the only way to provide safety
As city council members, we have a responsibility to see the broader context in which police brutality occurs. This country has a long history of atrocities towards people of color, built on fearmongering about brown and black bodies.
This has made people of color into the enemy and drained communities of resources. That mentality has left many people believing that police are the only way to provide safety.
OTHER VIEWS: Who cares if Garcia wears that shirt? | He’s wrong to wear it
Far too often, elected officials sacrifice investments in public education, welfare and community development in order to continue building up the police. Racism, patriarchy, homophobia and our unbalanced economic system are rarely taken into account in discussions of overall public safety conversation, let alone addressed.
Our society teaches us that police, as the sole protectors, can do no wrong. However, this threatens everyone’s safety, and undermines our shared values, to believe that anyone – whether it is the police, the wealthy or elected officials – can do no wrong.
Phoenix needs a civilian review board
The manner in which each of us decides to express our freedom of speech or demonstrate discomfort varies, but regardless we must all examine how we have gotten to this level of crisis. The impunity of the Phoenix Police Department has led us to become the deadliest police forces in the country.
This is not an opinion. It is based on empirical data of shootings, the infamous incidents caught on video and the millions of taxpayer dollars we have paid in lawsuit settlements.
Community accountability and transparency are the first steps toward fixing the Phoenix Police Department. We must create an independent, investigative, community-driven civilian review board that assures the people of Phoenix that we care about fixing the problem.
It would give a clearer avenue for the survivors of police brutality to report it and an open process for how our city government will hold the police department accountable.
This is everyone’s responsibility
The creation of an accountable and transparent process alone will not guarantee an end to police violence. Nevertheless, with strong community engagement, it will create a sustained checks and balances process that can expose abuse when it occurs and serve to delineate the changes needed to reduce it.
For this process to be successful, we must gain the trust and participation by those most impacted by police violence. That doesn’t happen by making light of an issue that creates grief, loss and distrust, or by getting upset if I wear words on a shirt.
It happens when we all hold this responsibility and work together to create a Phoenix that cares for us all.
Carlos Garcia is a Phoenix city councilman representing District 8, which includes south Phoenix. He is also executive director of Puente Arizona, a migrant justice advocacy group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter, @PhxDistrict8.
Published at Sat, 25 Jan 2020 05:21:00 +0000