by Brett R.
On March 3, 2032, the police were called when Najee Seabrooks, an anti-violence interventionist with the Paterson Healing Collective, was experiencing a mental health crisis. In his moment of greatest need, he pleaded for his mother and begged fruitlessly to see his colleagues from the Paterson Healing Collective, who were on-site and trained to intervene in just these types of situations. Instead, the police met his crisis with mockery, laughter, threats, and tragically, a hail of bullets.
This was a police execution. Paterson Black Lives Matter leader and North Jersey DSA member Zellie Thomas described Najee’s murder: “After cajoling Najee to exit the bathroom, police behind anti ballistic shield with protective gear, shot Najee with live ammunition and killed him.” Thomas noted that “you can only justify that if you do not value human life.” In the aftermath of Najee’s murder, and in acknowledgment of a long history of a murderously violent and entirely out of control police department, the Attorney General of New Jersey took the unprecedented step of taking over the operation of the Paterson Police Department (PPD).
In a listening session in Paterson, AG Matthew Platkin was surprisingly straightforward, acknowledging that Paterson residents were justified in having no trust in the PPD. When he said that some officers will probably need to be removed, the crowd pushed back, asserting that the PPD is not just “a few bad apples” but a thoroughly rotten basket. Platkin then acknowledged that indeed there may be a more wide-spread problem. While Platkin mostly said the right things, and seemed to genuinely listen to community concerns, we should not hold our breath and expect to see a bright new future of police and community collaboration on the horizon. We have to go beyond reforms and ask what the police are for in the first place.
It is easy in the aftermath of a horrific police killing to scrutinize the particulars of a situation. To say, why wasn’t the Paterson Healing Collective called in to help Najee?
To ask for so-called “less lethal” interventions to be considered before re-sorting to bullets and chokeholds. To say that this or that police department needs more training in dealing with mental health crises.
While any of these things MAY have saved Najee Seabrooks life, or Michael Brown’s life, or George Floyd’s life, or Breonna Taylor’s life, we misunderstand the function of police in our society if we accept the premise that police exist to provide safety to citizens. Police exist to protect and preserve capital, and the system of racial capitalism that protects and grows the fortunes of billionaires.
As abolitionist scholars Mariame Kaba and Andrea Ritchie make clear, police are “violence workers” who “don’t promote safety, they prevent it”.
The struggle for black lives, the fight against the violence of the police state, and the push for abolition of police and prisons is an inherently socialist struggle. So too, we must see that the road to a socialist future is inherently intertwined with the abolitionist struggle. As Joshua Clover and Nikhil Pal Singh wrote:
“It is difficult for us to imagine an emancipatory politics in the current moment that does not run through the precinct house, the national guard station, or the military base, those sites of local, national, and global police power whose voracious demands on budgets, public priorities, and political imaginations have shaped the broad organization of US society over the past half-century, if not longer.”
It is our obligation as the largest socialist organization in the country to wholeheartedly join the fight against the violence of the police state. In this country, it is both a historical and contemporary truth that the most meaningful movements for liberation have been rooted in struggles against the chains of slavery, segregation, police, and prisons as a part of struggles against white supremacist capitalist exploitation. We must commit ourselves to this ongoing struggle in Paterson, across North Jersey, the US, and the world.
We will not allow the murder of Najee Seabrooks to be swept under the rug. We cannot permit Paterson to make cosmetic changes before resuming violence as usual. We must commit to justice, accountability, and to the long abolitionist struggle.