Uruguay: We Don’t Need the Police

In the midst of the Uruguayan election campaign and a coming plebiscite on expanding police and army power, our desire is to live without fear. We will not let them campaign with murdered women, we don’t want more police, we don’t want more guardians. Together, we want to live, to be free, without police. We stand against fear, we reject the proposal to militarize our desires and our collective capacity to look after each other.

Every time there is violence done against a woman, so many things are said about us: that women exaggerate, that women dress a certain way, that whatever. We’ve worked to shine the spotlight elsewhere: it’s not us, it’s you. It’s you and your patriarchy, and we’ve said it over and over again. There’s other things we never say, but they want to put into our mouths. We march after every femicide to name the problem, not to ask for more punishment. We make our mourning public not to shame, but so that we can feel our own our capacity to struggle, and so that that capacity is felt. We do all of this together, among women, so that they know that we’re not alone, and so that we ourselves know that we’re not alone. We do it to remind ourselves that we can look after one another.

Let’s shift the spotlight again. We don’t want to talk about cleavage or miniskirts, we want to talk about what it means that someone goes through life in an army or a police uniform. And we’re not just talking about the boots, but the tanks and the full green uniform, we’re talking about navy blue, and handguns and police cars. How did Uruguay go from total rejection and the popular understanding that “a soldier is a soldier” (“un milico es un milico“) to thinking that as long as they don’t go overboard, we need them to keep the peace?

My friends look after me, not police. Image: @BrujasFemMX.

We stand against fear, and we’ll say NO to the constitutional reform that seeks to expand police and military powers. But we’ll also take advantage of the debate that’s been opened, so that we can speak to the bigger problem. How did we come to think that more police would make our lives better? How did that become part of the way we think? How are we going to get out of this way of thinking that destroys our capacity to look after each other?

Our feminist practice has taught us to listen to our bodies. Our bodies tell us that those who instill fear are police and soldiers. We fear them every time we cross the street, or when they watch over our mobilizations (from a distance, at least for the moment). It’s a historical fear and it’s shared, because we know what state forces are capable of when they’re allowed to indulge in sadism, and even more so when their fury falls on women, like our compañeras who suffered terrible sexual abuse at the hands of the state forces.

But we also fear them because there’s complaints about them in democratic contexts as well, here and around the world. Among those who have committed femicide, there’s a high percentage of police, some of them even use their duty gun. We’re afraid because there are harassment complaints, like that of three years ago in a shopping mall, or of rapes, like in Durazno last year or in Maldonado before that. This isn’t something that only happens in a distant and militarized country like Mexico, it happens in Uruguay too. If police and soldiers have more rights, they will only do more damage. We must stop the reform, but we must also follow the thread of our intuition, and take our critique even further.

We know that, with regards to violence against women, securitization is linked to at least two issues. First, it renews guardianship over us and does little to remove the impunity of the aggressor. Second, it relies on a pathologizing and individualist paradigm that ignores how our relationships have been broken, and that we need to rebuild.

Naming the problem of femicide is not the same as asking for punitive solutions. The experiences of feminists in other countries have taught us about the impacts of carceral feminism. Over the last years in México, a Gender Alert declared by authorities has meant more police in popular neighborhoods. In the 1970s, Black feminists in the US and England denounced how complaints about violence by white women were used to justify repression against young Black men from popular neighborhoods.

From our own struggles, we have learned that there are other ways to look after each other, without police. We have done so in every case of violence that we’ve accompanied.

Let’s go back to the first example again, and again shift the spotlight. Why is a woman in an abusive relationship put under watch if it’s already known who her potential killer is? Why is it that if she leaves a relationship in order to be more free, she is the one who’s movement is restricted, and not that of her aggressor? Why are they always thinking about controlling women, as if controlling the patriarchal fury of a man’s body is unthinkable? What other ways can we invent to stop violence against women, murders of women, and all kinds of violence?

Anti-fascist Cumbia

We don’t want more soldiers. We want to think about the problem globally and understand how we arrived at this point, which seems so hard to come back from. There’s a question hanging in the air all the time in the frenetic days of election campaigning. While organized popular movements promote a No vote, the political debate has normalized not only the function of the police, but also the place of progressivism in reinforcing police power. How has it become normal that a leftist electoral campaign promises “more police” and holds building up the police as one of their three main achievements, saying proudly that the police used to have to buy their own bullets, but they don’t anymore.

Fear isn’t the way forward, but there’s always the looming threat of another 2002 and the social and economic crisis that was so painful for us. We cannot allow militarism to advance out of fear, nor can we think about the country we want to live in through the prism of fear. From a place of fear, we only think about the worst: we can’t imagine how much more of a dignified life we deserve to live, and how much remains to be taken back.

Though the campaign against the reforms has ended, there’s many questions left to ask. When will we talk, all of us together, about the increase in complaints of police violence against poor young men? If the shadow of conservative, military fascism continues to advance in Uruguay as it has in the region, who will we hold responsible for the bullets stored up by previous governments and the increasingly repressive conditions we live in?

If we start by facing our own fears, how do we proceed in a way that doesn’t diminish the fears of others? How do we have conversations with others that allows us to consider our own fears without making assumptions about the fears of others? So much energy has been invested in campaigning against the reform, and we recognize all of these efforts. But we also want to insist on pushing towards questions that take us beyond anger; and so that the distance between us, the people from below, doesn’t grow.

We don’t like evangelists, and we don’t want to end up as atheists who preach. How can we have a conversation with somebody and convince them that we don’t want more soldiers if the government has already bought more bullets and cop cars, increased police and military budgets and put off the reform of military pensions?

How do we undo, in a single poster or written on a wall, the logic of fear in a city where people have become used to living with security cameras and surveillance software? How do we re-weave networks of neighborhood solidarity if poor neighborhoods are already stigmatized filled with police? How do we get hope back if every attempt to say what we don’t want and what we do need is criminalized and sometimes even repressed?

In the popular feminism we are building, we start from a double movement, a permanent effort to reject and affirm, to challenge and to create. We take the saying “we strike to create new worlds” seriously. And this new world isn’t navy blue or army green. We must know how to say basta, we must know how to put on the brakes. But we also have to learn to create what we want, we can’t just say no. To create a new world, we have to undermine everything that supports the current combination of capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.

In the midst of a feminist uprising, the questions don’t stop coming. We ask what a different justice would look like, non-patriarchal justice, justice that’s not fed by fear or filled with jails. We ask how we can continue repairing, weaving. These questions can stem from difficult moments, but they’re the questions that allow us to stay mobilized, to break paralysis.

We are learning to value what we know and what we’ve learned. We are sure about some things. The police do not look after us, our friends do, our compañeras. Those who look after us are those who we look after. But we come from broken social relations, we work too much, our time is limited. Taking care of each other takes time, and it takes our bodies, and that’s hard.

Making our networks more dense isn’t easier, but that is the way we will live more freely and not under state guardianship. Again we yell that we don’t want more police, we don’t want more soldiers, we don’t want more tutelage. And while we’re imagining and creating ways of looking after each other, we will keep dancing anti-rati (which would translate loosely as anti-rat cumbia, a reference to police) and anti-fascist cumbias. Because what we know is we don’t need the police.

This article was originally published by Zur, Pueblo de voces and translated by Toward Freedom. Click here to learn more and listen to anti-fascist cumbias, suggested by the author of this story.

Author Bio

María Noel Sosa González is a member of the feminist collective Minervas and the collective media Zur in Montevideo. Born in Durazno, Uruguay, Sosa González is based mostly in Montevideo. She’s a serial traveler who is currently studying in Mexico.