By Ines Namuth PZ ’25
On Sunday Feb. 20, students across the Claremont Colleges eagerly gathered to hear Andrea Ritchie speak at Pomona College about her activism against state violence and police discrimination.
Invited by the Prison Abolition Collective, Ritchie said she was happy to return after serving at Scripps College last year as a visiting professor and giving the commencement address to the class of 2022. According to Ritchie’s website, she is a “Black lesbian immigrant survivor who has been documenting, organizing, advocating, litigating, and agitating around policing and criminalization of Black women, girls, trans, and gender nonconforming people for the past three decades.”
Ritchie spoke about her book No More Police; A Case for Abolition co-authored by activist Mariame Kaba.
She opened the conversation to the audience with the book’s beginning question, “When did you first question police brutality?” Answers ranged from well-known tragedies in the United States to student’s personal experiences. One audience member mentioned witnessing a drug bust and an arrest, and others expressed concern of responses to mental health crises. The sentiment remained clear; the basic need for safety that all of humanity requires cannot be provided by a system rooted in maintaining the racist status quo.
Ritchie discussed how police brutality has been met with increased surveillance and training. Yet, even the “gold standards” of police reform often mean less discipline, Ritchie added, since people worry for their safety if they say something against the officers.
Ritchie defined policing as the muscle of capitalism, the deadly failure of society’s imagination, and ultimately a mode of worldmaking. Defunding the police, a movement led by queer Black women like Ritchie, has been considered a leftist project and rarely is discussed in the mainstream. However, it is a step in reimagining a society that meets people’s needs.
When police respond to abolitionist movements with, “but you need us to stop violence,” Ritchie clarified, there really is no basis to the statement. On the contrary, study after study shows that restorative justice and redistributing supplies like housing, healthcare, and education are cornerstones of reducing violence.
Defunding the police and imagining an abolitionist state is no overnight process, she explained. As both a lawyer and activist, Ritchie showed that experimentation, failing, and refining can be achieved with and without the same legal systems that hold law enforcement in place.
Small brush strokes, says Ritchie, will prove that cops’ jobs can be allocated towards more living wage vocations that do not require violations and surveillance like park workers, healthcare providers, educators, ganetors, service workers and more.
A society based on cooperation, mutual care, and conflict resolution and aware that stability depends on not being in conflict can be drawn from the Tongva people, Richie explained. Before beginning her speech, Ritchie paid homage to the Tongva people whose land we are unjustly in possession of. To end her speech, she mentioned their way of conflict resolution, which avoids violence at all costs and instead focuses on songs and ritual stomping.
The United States stands out among global rates of police brutality, but abolition requires an international perspective, Ritchie added. This will frame the U.S. as an extractive economy that relies heavily on foreign capital. In this zero-sum context, Ritchie explained, we can never settle for an egalitarian society in the west that continues to rely on extractive oppression globally.