watertown-shootings
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Will the Militarization of U.S. Police Officers Solve Our Mass Shooting Pandemic?

Last month, Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon became the 74th school shooting incident to take place in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012. With the rising pandemic of mass shootings and violence in our society – most recently, Reynolds High School, Las Vegas, Seattle Pacific University, Chicago, and Isla Vista, – one has to wonder: How many more lives will be lost before we as a nation take swift and collective action to address systemic violence? During the time that we’ve spent attempting to answer this question after every mass shooting, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have developed a response of their own by using “military-transfer programs” to receive surpluses of recycled military equipment at little to no cost.

By giving our police officers this equipment, we empower them as pseudo-militarized forces, laying the groundwork for individuals to disproportionately misuse their institutional power, especially over women and trans* people of color, urban poor youth of color, and other marginalized communities.

SWAT Vehicle

According to The New York Times, local police departments across the country have been receiving an upsurge of “former tools of combat,” such as machine guns, ammunition magazines, camouflage equipment, firearm silencers, aircrafts, and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles as part of “military-transfer programs” (NYTimes). In “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander shows us that these programs began in 1981 under the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Act, “which encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, intelligence, research, weaponry, and other equipment for drug interdiction” (77).

New York Times chart(Source: Department of Defense; The New York Times)

People in favor of the “military-transfer programs” argue that this military equipment is essential for police officers to always remain one step ahead of drug cartels and other violent criminals. Nowadays, you’re likely to see police officers wearing paramilitary-style uniforms, carrying bigger guns, and closely resembling U.S. soldiers. These changes in police operations only confirm the idea that the people are supposed to be fearful of police officers, especially if these people have already experienced the ramifications of a criminal justice system that unjustly favors specific groups of people over others. Moreover, police officers serve as extensions of this system by imposing their authority over the people, which must be seen patriarchal and oppressive because it draws power from the marginalization of people in society.

Militarization creates a police culture where the usage of excessive force, especially in urban communities, is not only normalized but also expected from officers. With the existence of racial, gender-based, and class-based oppression in society, it thus becomes easier to justify excessive force over individuals in marginalized communities. This same argument can be seen through the profiling and criminalization of women of color in urban communities in regards to crimes such as prostitution. Police departments use SWAT teams and other special units to conduct sting operations in urban communities to arrest female and gender non-conforming sex workers; however, most of the time, these daily conferences around the U.S. rarely receive major coverage from mainstream media outlets. All of this is to say that the militarization of our policing institution further perpetuates an oppressive culture where officers are extended more patriarchal power, which directly affects women and trans* people of color, youth of color, and other marginalized communities in society.

Although mass shootings are a pandemic in the U.S., we must recognize that the militarization of our policing institution perpetuates this hyper-masculine, male-dominated culture within the policing world, where the easiest solution to situations is to simply out-gun and one-up the other person(s). Yes, both carrying a gun and using it when one’s life is in danger are two requirements that future officers must consider when applying to the policing institution. However, allowing our police departments to use military weapons and equipment only contributes to the perception that police officers’ duties are defined by and limited to use of force, justifiable violence, and 24/7 crime fighting. Further militarizing our police forces will not only solidify the existing relationship between hyper-masculinity, justifiable violence, and the policing profession, but also continue to attract a specific demographic of applicants to police work that may not recognize the implications of their presence in marginalized communities.

In order to tackle the root causes of mass shootings and violence in society, law enforcement must recognize, at best, that militarization is a band-aid solution that continues to drive home the point that the appropriate response to violence is more violence.

There are alternative methods of addressing mass shootings and violence in society. What if the police were to divert their full attention to tackling the root causes of mass shootings, which we’ve demonstrated to be a misogynistic, oppressive culture fueled by hyper-masculinity and normalized violence. What if the police took more critical approaches when attempting to understand and address social problems in our society such as gender-based violence? What if individual police officers challenged their own militarized, hyper-masculine culture and instead focused on providing equitable police services that at best minimize patriarchal oppression?

Our police can have a tremendous impact in deterring mass shootings and normalized violence, but in order to do so, they must first look within to challenge militarization.

Musings

Official Urbina Family Statement – May 20th, 2014

Family Photo

May 20th, 2014

We would like to formally express our gratitude to Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory for their sincere apology and their efforts to remedy the situation. What happened to Jessica has caused tremendous pain, and while it should not have happened in the beginning, we sincerely appreciate the SHC administration’s willingness to change. We are grateful that we were able to work with the school to resolve this matter.

Being an open, loving, and compassionate family, we are all truly proud of Jessica and all that she has accomplished in her life thus far. Jessica has our family’s full support, and we stand by her 100% in who she chooses to be or what she chooses to wear.

That being said, we would like to thank the SHC student body, our family and friends, and the countless number of people around the world that bravely rose in solidarity with Jessica. You have all provided Jessica and our family with vast amounts of love, support, and inspiration. Your heartfelt stories and words of encouragement, struggle, and triumph have been sources of great comfort during this emotional time. To all of you, who showed the world the power of social media and passionate activism, we thank you!

 Sincerely,

The Urbina Family

Musings

Love and Community in 2013: Reflecting on the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Feminism 2013

2013 ends in less than 6 hours.

In the remaining time left, I would like to challenge myself to step back and reflect on the many blessings that this past year has brought me. Not only has 2013 marked the beginning of my online writing and activism, but also it has resulted in the creation of new relationships with wonderful people from all around the world. This past year, I’ve honestly struggled to find my writing voice, and sometimes, I’m left staring at my screen, carefully typing each word in order to avoid a misstep. My decision to create this website and focus my writing on race, masculinity, and pro-feminist men’s activism is a result of the wide array of passionate feminists in my life. In 2013, I met incredible activists from all walks of life, and they never fail to inspire me with their work. In fact, I am going to challenge myself in 2014 to be more bold, radical, and unapologetically pro-feminist.

My purpose for creating this website in May was to connect with other pro-feminist men and find community, even if it was a virtual community. More importantly, I envisioned a space where I could contribute to existing conversations on masculinity and feminism. After two months of testing the waters of online feminism, I decided to write 101 Everyday Ways to Be Allies to Women, which to this day has received over half a million page views. Thank you. Amongst a sea of negative articles written about my perspective on male allyship and pro-feminist activism, I unapologetically upset Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men, in addition to ruffling the feathers of The Amazing Atheist. Instead of dialoguing with two white gentlemen who are clearly anti-feminist, I chose to draw my attention elsewhere this past year. When I wasn’t writing research papers or studying for exams, I spent my time responding to people’s kind emails, reading my favorite feminist and social justice blogs, working for Everyday Feminism, and seeking community and relationships with other writers and activists. I’m still very new to this work, and I’m always looking for opportunities to grow as a person. So, thank you everyone!

Recently, I purchased “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love,” by bell hooks, and I can’t put it down. I’ve come to realize that as a pro-feminist man, I’ve been slacking in my everyday relationships with friends and family. I’m so obsessed with academic feminist theory and praxis that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have in-person conversations with people over coffee. I’ve been talking a lot about healthy masculinity and feminism, but I’ve been slacking in exploring my own masculinity as a pro-feminist man. This past semester, I’ve put so much time into work and school that I’ve failed to look at myself, my masculinity, my relationships, and the way I navigate the world. That being said, I am going to challenge myself in 2014 to love more, to focus on my relationships, to treasure the everyday moments, and to draw inspiration and strength from the people in my life. As an activist, practicing love is essential to sustaining my work and well-being. I need to love more: love myself, love my friends and family, and love other people. Practicing love is a revolutionary act, especially in a culture where I’m pressured to “Man Up!” and detach myself from my emotions. This is the challenge that I’m setting for myself in 2014: Love.

Love is power.

Power to the PeacefulCheers to 2013, a wondrous year filled with positive vibes and countless blessings.

Cheers to 2014, a promising set of 365 blank pages, just waiting to be filled.

- Michael

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Musings at the Crossroads Between Law Enforcement and Feminism

Lights

-Image Credit-

Can I be honest with you? I’m graduating college this coming May, and I truly can’t believe that pretty soon, this chapter of my life will be over. I will be starting a new chapter after commencement, and those blank pages, just waiting to be written, are starting to bother me. What will I be doing after commencement? What are my plans? I can’t wait till I begin hearing those questions more frequently as the day draws near. Well, as of right now, it’s too early to tell. However, I can promise you that wherever I end up after commencement, I will be happily trailblazing down a path towards my dreams.

As of today, my life has taken a small but very significant turn. I’ve been a police explorer for almost five years, and today, I turned in my badge and uniform, thus ending my time as an explorer. I began the police explorer program during high school, and my reasons for pursuing a career as a police officer were very superficial. Who wouldn’t want to wear a police uniform, drive fast cars, and carry a firearm..?! At that time, I thought it was the coolest thing! I was drawn to the idea of protecting and serving the people I cared about, even if it meant putting my own life in danger.

Well, time has passed and my reasons for pursuing a career in law enforcement have most definitely changed. They’re not so superficial anymore. I’m still drawn to the idea of protecting and serving the people, but maybe, just maybe, I was destined to protect and serve in a different, more conscious way.

I have embraced feminism with open arms, and I must say, it has been one the best decisions of my life. However, I still love the concept of becoming a police officer (with a slight twist) by using my privileged position to truly evoke social change in our world, not just arrest a few people and be done there. Law enforcement officers are exactly that: officers who enforce the law, who are best known for arresting people. How can we allow officers to exert power and control over a population that they do not fully understand? Call me idealistic and crazy, but I have higher expectation for our police officers. More importantly, I also have a higher expectation of myself, should I become one.

The prison-industrial complex continues to perpetuate itself (with peoples’ help) in the United States, and it’s definitely going to take time to dismantle it. Rather than contribute to this system by remaining ignorant, I strongly believe that officers should be held to higher standards by educating themselves around concepts like power, privilege, oppression, resistance, and so on. As “officers who enforce the law,” you would think that this level of understanding be a requirement… Nope, not yet at least. Sociology, Women’s and Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, Political Science, etc. You get the picture. Maybe a more diverse curriculum in the police academy is in order.

Imagine if our officers were well traversed in contemporary social problems. Imagine if our officers put forth active effort to understand feminism and LGBTQIA issues as they relate to the people they protect and serve. Imagine if our officers recognized their privilege (as enforcers of the law) and took active measures to incorporate this critical consciousness into their policing style, so as to eliminate profiling, harassment, and unfair treatment. That will be the police officer of the future, and I hope that one day, I’m luckily enough to join those ranks and help evoke social change. Of course, I’m generalizing… There are great officers out there who are currently doing this work. To all of them out there (and me in the future), stay strong and never give up. You are making a difference in someone’s life.

Until that day where I have the opportunity to join law enforcement, I will be here, working tirelessly and passionately to educate myself and be the best person that I can be at this time. Yes, college is stressful, but it is a rare opportunity that I have the privilege of experiencing. To some, college is not “reality;” it’s just a transitionary phase. I’d like to believe that college is more than that; it’s an opportunity to truly discuss global issues with people of completely different backgrounds and experiences. What could be more real than that?

We all possess the ability to make a difference in this world, regardless of our backgrounds and experiences. We just have to be crazy enough to believe that we can actually change something. For me, this entails continuing this work — writing, learning, and dialoguing around feminism and social justice — with the crazy dream of changing the world as a feminist interested in a law enforcement career.

Time has truly flown since my previous blog post. I apologize for the short blogging hiatus, but I have actually been extremely busy. For those of you who don’t know, I just started my final year in college, and I’m still trying to find a balance between taking five classes, conducting research for my thesis, interning with Everyday Feminism, being a Resident Advisor, and finally, finding the time to write. Writing is my muse, and every time life gets a little hectic, I liberate myself by sitting down with my Moleskine notebook or Macbook and trusting the writing process to set me free. Luckily, today was one of those days.

Indigenious Man from Ataco
Musings

Travel Post: Photographs From My Recent Trip to El Salvador

Last week, I came back from a 9-day trip to El Salvador where I visited tons of family and immersed myself in my beautiful, Salvadorian culture. The last time I went was 5 years ago in the summer of 2008, so I knew that this trip would be special and thought provoking. As expected, these past 9 days did not disappoint. In addition to catching up with my entire family, I got the chance to visit new places, try new types of foods, and speak to local people (more specifically, women) about their lives in El Salvador. I definitely lived the dream!

It was an incredible experience, and I’ll do my best to encapsulate my thoughts and feelings returning from this trip in a later post. Also, I plan on including first-hand experiences from Salvadorian women and their individual battles with inequality and lack of social mobility in the country. Expect this post very soon!

Now that I’ve returned to the United States, I would love to share their stories and my experiences with you. Here are some of my favorite photographs from the trip. Enjoy!Leaving San Francisco

Welcome Home!

Mirador

Volcano Near Sonsonate

 Local Art at Los Planes De Renderos

Ciudad Mujer

Pupuseria Owner in Izalco

Minutas in Juayua

Mercado De Artesenia in Ataco

Pupuseria Mural in Ataco

Arena Propaganda/Signage

Main Roads in Ataco

Local Man from Ataco

Local Vendor

Worker's Rights Center

On Our Way Up to Cerroverde National Park

He Makes the Best Minutas!

Oscar Romero's Resting Place

Oscar Romero's Resting Place

Local Store in Izalco

Old Signage in Sonsonate

What a Beautiful Sight!

I will never forget this trip to El Salvador. Cheers!