Founders of the Black Visions Collective — a nonprofit based in Minnesota that advocates for Black empowerment — spoke about their local organizing work and the defund the police movement at a Harvard Kennedy School event Wednesday.
Moderated by Kennedy School criminal justice professor Sandra S. Smith and sociology professor Christopher Winship, the event was the latest in the ongoing “Reimaging Community Safety” speaker series, which the Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management launched in response to the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Wednesday’s virtual event brought Harvard professors in conversation with the organization’s co-founders: Oluchi Omeoga, Kandace Montgomery, and Miski Noor.
The Minnesota-based collective launched in late 2017 to bring attention to issues concerning the intersection of Black and BGLTQ people. The group, which is active in racial justice protests, has been part of lobbying efforts to defund the Minneapolis Police Department and divert its budget to other programs.
Omeoga said the collective is dedicated to advocating for Black people “most at the margins.”
“We actually have to center those most at the margins. It’s not rocket science to know that a Black woman both faces racism and sexism, and then we take a look at trans folks, that transphobia is also included as well. When we take a look at disabled folks, ableism is also included as well.”
Per Noor, policing in America is marred by racism and thus “irredeemable.” She said the original purpose of police in American history was to catch and return runaway enslaved people.
“The police — as a Black person, I know — have never really been here for me,” Montgomery added.
Achieving a “police-free future,” according to Montgomery, requires bold change at the legislative level. She said the collective has begun collecting signatures to change Minneapolis’s city charter, which she said prioritizes the local police department as the only required department within the city.
Instead, Montgomery said her organization believes Minneapolis should operate a “Department of Public Safety,” which would take “a holistic, public health-centered approach to safety in our community.”
In an interview after the event, Omeoga said she believes defunding the police is a way to prioritize safety and wellbeing.
“To defund — it’s not even just taking away something, it’s like, what are we putting in place of that, right? How are we investing in not just yourself but the people around you?” Omeoga said.
Montgomery acknowledged effective activism involves accepting that “we don’t have all of the answers.” To determine what safety looks like for the public, Montgomery suggested holding “people’s movement assemblies here to gather folks from all different types of communities to come together through political education.”
According to Noor, though the Minneapolis City Council diverted $1.1 million from the police’s budget in 2018 and $8 million in 2020, Minneapolis “continues to invest in police.”
“In order to prepare for the trial [of Derek Chauvin], they actually spent $35 million militarizing our city,” Noor said.
Once the media’s coverage of police in Minneapolis decreases, Noor said Black Visions Collective will continue to advocate for issues that affect Black people.
“When all the shiny stuff goes away, there are organizations who are really holding it down until that next big moment when we have to push things a little bit further again.”