Intersections of Police, Racism, and the Environment

Updated: Jul 15

 For some context, check out this article, White Privilege in the Environment, from our former Development and Communications Director, Briana Villabolos. In it you will find some bedrock for this discussion: what intersectionality is, what white privilege is, and the necessity of social justice in the environmental movement.

Late last week, EPIC released our statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and made a pledge to further intersectionality in our own environmental community by providing educational resources, platforms for these discussions, and concrete actions. One of the small actions we took within our statement was to endorse certain California legislation for creating improvements on the ground in our state without police intervention. While we endorsed these reforms, we also wrote in support of the eventual abolishment of the police and carceral system as a whole. 

However, some might not find an obvious connection between environmentalism, racism, and policing. Where does this connection begin and how does abolishing the police and carceral system pertain to environmentalism?  As a whole, the history of police brutality, intervention, and imprisonment within environmentalism is long and complex—so much so that we cannot get to the entire history or validity of these connections in this post and instead will continue to examine this in more depth in the near future*. For now, I will provide a (very) brief overview of where these connections arise currently and historically. 

DAPL Protest 2017. Photo by Peg Hunter, Flickr.

First of all, the origins of policing in the United States arose from racism, resource extraction, and economic control. The creation of policing in our country arose from the needs of landowners and owners to maintain economic order in their labor sectors. To be more blunt, the earliest found origins of police in the United States were the Night Watches and Slave Patrols, which were created to uphold the economic order of slavery by recovering and punishing slaves for their owners. This is obviously a simplistic version of a long history of policing but regardless, it remains the same: policing originated through one of the most racist policies of all, slavery. Police have been protecting and upholding economic corporate rights over the civil rights of human beings since their very creation.

Secondly, those most violently affected by policing in this country have been Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color who are most often at the front lines to protect their communities from environmental degradation, as they are disproportionately the ones that bear the brunt of industrial production and waste placement. This