UC Berkeley students rally in front of Wheeler Hall against proposed pay cuts, layoffs, and tuition hikes in 2009. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Beyond Criminal Justice Solutions

By: Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas, Founder of the Alipato Project

“[A]ntiviolence organizations have focused primarily on criminal justice solutions to ending violence that reinforce the prison industrial complex; in fact, many antiviolence organizations are now located within police departments.”- Andrea Smith in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

Concord's first police officer dedicated to domestic violence. Photo: Samantha Goresh, Concord Monitor
Concord’s first police officer dedicated to domestic violence. Photo: Samantha Goresh, Concord Monitor

At the risk of alienating my anti-authoritarian friends and domestic violence advocate friends alike, I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with the police. While I recognize and appreciate law enforcement’s ability to remove a batterer from an abusive household in times of crisis, I also feel the cramp-inducing and gut-wrenching fear in my stomach with the mere sight of a male gun-toting, baton-waiving, uniform-clad officer in my vicinity.

As a law student in 2009, I interned at the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland, which is housed in the Family Justice Center on the same floor as the Oakland Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit. I represented clients in domestic violence court and assisted them in requesting restraining orders against their batterers. The convenience of having police officers next door was tremendous. Not only did OPD’s DV unit provide police reports and evidence for a particular case, they also offered authoritative protection when batterers appeared unexpectedly at our door demanding to see their intimate partner.

Still, I couldn’t quite get fully rid of the fear that I was raised to have around law enforcement. This fear was particularly restimulated on November 2009 when my fellow UC Berkeley students occupied Wheeler Hall and confronted riot cops during a march down Telegraph into Oakland. I yearned to join the students’ protest against tuition hikes and budget cuts but I only joined in spirit because I had appointments with clients in need of restraining orders.

That day, in the Family Justice Center’s shared kitchen, I ran into three police officers from the Domestic Violence Unit dressed in semi-riot gear. I overheard one announce that he was ready to “break some students’ toes,” and the only response I had the courage to make was, “I’m a student too.” One officer laughed and dismissed me as one of the good students uninterested in causing a ruckus. I filled up my water bottle, left my food uneaten, and  debated whether to start a ruckus. (I didn’t.)

The next week, I saw the officers in the hallway again. This time, dressed less intimidatingly than the week before: calmer, nicer, smiling. I said, “good morning,” and our relationship as a partnership of domestic violence advocates thankfully returned to normal.

Cops at Wheeler Hall vs. UC Berkeley Students. Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP
Cops at Wheeler Hall vs. UC Berkeley Students. Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP

Still, it is this experience of a simultaneous relief and dismay in police presence that helps me understand why women like my mom, a Pilipino immigrant survivor of domestic violence, refrain from calling the police for protection. As highlighted in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, “[w]omen of color, who must address both gender violence within their communities and state violence against their communities, have been particularly impacted by the direction the mainstream antiviolence movement has taken.” -Ibid. (emphasis added)

I owe a lot of my professional experience and education to this so-called “mainstream antiviolence movement,” which has given me the resources and opportunities I needed to build the Alipato Project. I imagine that I’ll continue to work closely with police officers, district attorneys, and the NGO’s with whom I’ve worked in the past.

However, I am thrilled to also work within an alternative framework that allows victims of both gender violence and state violence a chance to experience another form of justice.

Indeed, for those who have been systematically targeted by the state and who have lived with a distrustful attitude towards the police, a civil action against their batterers might be more effective in obtaining justice than a criminal prosecution. This is also true for survivors who did call the police but weren’t believed, and for survivors who did assist in a criminal prosecution but did not succeed.

The Alipato Project plans to provide domestic violence survivors with solutions beyond the criminal justice system by representing them  in personal injury cases against their batterers. Please help us bring this plan to fruition by saving up to make a tax-deductible donation. (Our fundraising campaign is coming soon!)

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