Anti-Racism 101

20 Alternatives to Calling the Cops


“We’ve all been there. Your neighbor is setting off fireworks at 3am. Or there’s a couple fighting outside your window and it’s getting physical. Or you see someone hit their child in public. What do you do? Your first instinct might be: call 911. That’s what many people are trained to do in the United States when we see something dangerous or threatening happening.

At this point, most of us understand that, in the U.S., the police often reinforce a system of racialized violence and white supremacy, in which black people are at least three times more likely to be killed by the police. For years now, we’ve heard the nearly daily news of another unarmed person of color being shot by the police. When the police get involved, black people, Latinx people, Native Americans, people of color, LGBTQ people, sex workers, women, undocumented immigrants, and people living with disabilities and mental health diagnoses are usually in more danger, even if they are the victims of the crime being reported. Police frequently violently escalate peaceful interactions, often without repercussions. In 2017, the police killed over 1,100 people in the U.S.

So what do you do? When you see harm being done, when you worry for your safety, when you feel your rights are being violated? What do you do instead of calling the police? How do you keep yourself safe without seeking protection from a system whose default is still surveillance and erasure of others?

We start by shifting our perspective. We start by learning about the racist history of the police. We start by saying, an alternative to this system should exist. We start by pausing before we dial 911. We start by making different choices where we can. We start by getting to know our neighbors and asking them to be a part of this process.

The following is an in-process list of resources on alternatives to policing, which range from the theoretical to practical. It starts with a series of best practices and guiding questions I have developed in the last two years of nurturing this document in conversation with many people.”

“White people: most of us have been taught, however subconsciously, that the police keep us safe. And the thing is, they usually do. But that often comes at the expense of people of color. We are called to rewrite our story about the police, so that we define safety as including not only ourselves but also our whole community.

This can be painful and deep work, especially for those of us with other marginalized identities (white women, white queer people, etc). Our cultural autopilot reinforces the idea that standing in true solidarity with people of color puts us at risk in some way – socially, psychologically, economically, or physically.

As it arises, notice the instinct, however subtle, to prioritize your safety at the expense of another. From which old pattern does this originate? Is it an autopilot belief that it’s not your job to protect people of color? Is it a fear of getting close to people who are different from yourself? Is it the pain of past experiences where your needs and boundaries were violated? Say to yourself, as often as you need: In service of a safer world for myself and others, I am willing to see this differently. I invite a new perspective. –Aaron Rose

Many helpful links about alternative community resources at the end of this article:

“Calling the police on black and brown people, for [mental health issues or] any reason, puts them in serious danger of physical harm and death. On top of that, you are giving people huge medical bills they might not be able to pay when you call an ambulance for them. If they are hospitalized, they might lose their jobs and then get evicted because they can’t pay rent. It goes on and on. Even if your intentions are to get them medical help, in most places, the police show up too, and you’ve effectively criminalized their mental illness. Know your local resources that are not police/911, reach out to others in your community, etc.” –Shannon Benaitis

Four young Black boys who were playing in a Minnesota park this week had guns drawn on them, were handcuffed and tossed in the back of a squad car after being the victims of a racial attack by an older white teenage boy.

The white boy was wielding a knife and a garbage can lid at them while hurling the n-word. Then the boy’s girlfriend called 911 to make a false report.

The responding officers arrived assuming it was true and reportedly jumped out of their vehicle waving their guns, terrifying both the boys and nearby children of a family who had tried to come to their aid.

The white boy and his girlfriend were long gone by the time the racial terror they unleashed on these boys began. A good samaritan who had seen the earlier altercation prior to the police arrival had the good sense to let the camera roll. Brianna Lindell describes the incident and the scene in the video: children, handcuffed sitting in front of a police car, one of them begging for the police to let him put his shirt on because he’s being ‘eaten alive’ by mosquitoes. The footage is beyond disturbing. My nephew is almost their age and imagining the panic he would feel bring tears to my eyes and makes my blood boil with rage for what these boys endured.

About halfway through the video, Lindell wonders with another woman off-camera why the police showed up in the first place, guessing accurately that it was the aggressor who called 911.” –Rinku Sen

“Calling the police to report an actual crime that the police overact to is not the citizen’s fault, no matter what color they are. I’m talking about the hundreds of cases—that we know about—every year, where white Americans actively and knowingly use the police as an extension of their personal bigotry yet face no consequences.” –Jason Johnson

Article about a lawyer stopped for strolling with his son while black. At the end is an excellent, simple flow chart illustrating when to call the cops and when NOT to call them: