The recent NJ.com report on police pay should have everyone questioning how our money is being spent. As modern policing grew out of slave patrols in the south, union busters in the north and enactors of Indigenous genocide in the west, police budgets mushroomed accordingly.

If our spending on police brought safety, we would be the safest country in the world by leaps and bounds. But we’re not. Our society is highly individualistic, and the pandemic has frayed what thin lines of connection we may have had; more than ever, people are feeling vulnerable and isolated. We at Montclair Beyond Policing believe safety comes from people having what they need, including strong community ties. We can intentionally forge connections in ways that keep each other safe and do not perpetuate harm.

One year after Montclairians demanded a review of our massive police budget, The Montclair Police Department applied for and was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice for an “Anti-Hate Task Force.” Mayor Sean Spiller has preemptively noted that many community members will be involved. But when the solution is rooted in policing, we cannot repair or prevent harm. Police react to harm; they cannot prevent or heal it. And their reaction is violence, whether it be physical force or simply shuffling people in crisis out of sight with their needs still unmet. The Township Council can choose to reject this grant and reallocate funding from the police department toward truly community-based methods of combating bigotry.

The task seems daunting. But once we as a community commit to making real change, we’ll see that people who have been doing this work for generations have left us many tools. Engaging in bystander intervention training through iHollaback.org is one approach to creating a safer community for all. Another is reflecting on and defining our own personal safety networks, or our “pods” (a term coined by the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective): “Your pod is made up of the people that you would call on if violence, harm or abuse happened to you; or the people that you would call on if you wanted support in taking accountability for violence, harm or abuse that you’ve done; or if you witnessed violence or if someone you care about was being violent or being abused.” It is a process of forming an intentional community of people who will show up for you when you need it most.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the need to be intentional in creating and maintaining our community supports. It takes work and commitment; we need to forgo the easy outsourcing of our crises and conflicts to an institution that approaches all problems with a hammer.

Montclair Beyond Policing is offering a free workshop to help you organize your “pods” or networks of support. We will meet virtually on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. to walk through the process of mapping our pods. Register to join at bit.ly/MBPpodmapping or contact us at montclairbeyondpolicing@gmail.com.

Lily Cui and Anneliese Scherfen
Montclair Township


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