Jamie Garcia: Oral Histories of Surveillance
What you need to do is attack its legitimacy, because what it’s trying to do is use science to legitimize something that has been created—I almost beg to say is almost a lie, like a fabricated lie—that policing is something that is a natural phenomenon. This is something I’m still working out, because we know it’s real. It has a material consequence. We can measure its consequences on people. But it’s not like the wind. It’s not like blood. It’s not something natural. It’s something that was created to dominate people.
Our Data Bodies (ODB) is excited to present a part series of oral histories from organizers, writers, and cultural workers whose work has been steeped in resisting discriminatory surveillance technology and racialized surveillance capitalism, and has illuminated strategies for abolition and abolitionist reform. This oral history features Jamie Garcia, a registered and practicing nurse and long time organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, based in Los Angeles. The transcript, which has been slightly edited for clarity, follows below.
Mariella Saba: This is for me a special interview and a conversation—I think a much needed one, too. You’re a gift to the movement and the work you’ve been doing that I’ve been able to be alongside and witness is amazing, it’s powerful. Where are you coming from? Just give us a background about the work that you do.
Jamie Garcia: This is a question that I have, like, two answers that eventually intersect and come together. First and foremost, I am a registered nurse. I work at a hospital in Los Angeles, White Memorial—that’s super close to Skid Row so folks kind of get an idea of where I’m at—and I’ve been there for about 11 years. I work on the medical surgical unit and I also treat oncology patients—so, cancer patients—as well. I’ve been doing that for 11 years—Pretty much just floor staff. I’ve had some supervisor roles—Charge nurse, have had education roles before but have pretty much maintained that component of my life really kind of [as a] baseline and that’s primarily because of the other work that I do, which is I’m a part of the Stop LAPD Spying coalition.
I’ve been with the Coalition for about 10 years almost now as an organizer and as a coordinating team member. I’ve been a part of multiple campaigns and have watched the coalition grow in amazing ways and I feel like we’re stronger than ever right now. I have been a part of campaigns around various types of surveillance technology but also just analog surveillance, where it’s just the ways of understanding how a police officer watches you and gathers information on you. Currently, I’m helping to lead the Data Driven Policing Working Groups, which has two components: One is looking at land and policing and modern-day digital settler colonialism, and the second piece [is] looking at the new programming Data-Informed, Community-Focused Policing, because I did help facilitate our latest win when we were able to dismantle two predictive policing programs. The work that I have fallen into now is really looking at these iterations of data-driven, evidence-based, intelligence-based policing.
Just to kind of add a little twist to this—Because of the pandemic right now, I have chosen to switch my focus to completely supporting the nurses in the hospital so this interview is kind of timely for me because it’s a moment for me to reflect on everything that’s happened in the coalition in my lifetime because I’ve kind of handed the reins off to people in the last week and am tying up some loose ends. The situation that we’re in in the hospital requires me to have complete and full attention, supporting my fellow co-workers, and being present for people in the hospital. So this interview, I was really looking forward to it because it’s gonna be a nice time for me to reflect but those are the two main hats that I wear in my life.
Mariella Saba: We can get into the intersection of those two hats. I think that’s a very special perspective that you bring as a nurse and organizer. I want to bring you into this interview more personally—What were your first encounters with surveillance in your community?
Jamie Garcia: In my community, I think there’s several ways that you experience surveillance, whether it’s culturally where you are feeling like you’re constantly being watched, right? I mean, as a young child, I was taught Catholicism so there was always somebody that was watching me I was taught. So that was, like, my first experience of knowing that something is supposedly watching my every move and it created almost like a pathology in my thinking where I was constantly apologizing. So that’s one component of it.
I think my first kind of experience with that was a very personal kind of experience, and I don’t know why this is coming up for me because when I think about surveillance, I think about policing right away. I think about its intervention in your lives in times of crisis because there’s such a dependency on police to intervene and they ultimately are our overseers, you know? They’re monitoring and watching us and watching our behaviors and intervening when situations are difficult or situations become confusing, situations can become violent, and they’re the ones that intervene. So, as a young child there was an inter-communal dispute in my household and because of that things were getting violent and people were doing harmful things and I was tasked with calling 911. I was probably 11—maybe 12 or 13—and I remember picking up the phone and feeling like, “I can’t do this,” because I knew instinctively what was going to happen: Police were going to show up. I was torn between wanting to help but not feeling right about this kind of help and when the operator asked me what was going on, I said, “My family member is acting weird,” and then I hung up the phone because I didn’t know what to do.
What’s so interesting looking back was that power of resistance was already there, but that knowledge that what was gonna happen wasn’t going to be good. Of course, it ended with police showing up, people being in handcuffs. But I even look back and now, seeing more and more about how police murder people—There was a narrow hallway that the police officer had to go down and intersect with the family member and I’m so thankful now that that family member was not injured because it was such a narrow hallway that that police officer with a gun could have gotten scared and shot, you know? Those things happen. So I think back and I’m just like, “Oh my God, what a dangerous situation.” Like, no wonder I was like, “No.” That was kind of like my first experiences with the system of 911 system, what happens with these situations in our lives that are confusing, they’re harmful and how we intervene, but instinctively knowing that, you know, nothing really happened. They hand cuffed and then they released and they went on their way and we were still left with the trauma of not knowing what to do and knowing that we had a situation. What was interesting is that when other family members got home, there was a family circle and people talked about it. These officers, all they did was come in and hand cuff and decide that they weren’t gonna do anything and then they left. The real addressing of the harm was done within the family.
Mariella Saba: Thank you for sharing that. Where were you when you first decided to organize against the police, surveillance, etc? What moved you?
Jamie Garcia: This is such a great question. I think I always had this real resistance towards police—I got pulled over one time and they were asking me what my ethnicity was and I went into the whole concept of indigeneity. [laughs] My friend was like, “Now’s not the time. Now is not the time, Jamie. Do not lecture them on what indigeneity is.” So there was always this resistance, right? But it was very liberalized because I think—This is something that I see in movement work, too, where, when we’re directly impacted, there’s this almost collective memory that has to surface because it seems like sometimes people can have amnesia and in our desperation to fix the system, we think that we CAN fix it, right? Until very late in my life, I had my personal experiences with police but always felt like they could be fixed—And never got past that; Never thought past, like those kinds of things. I think it’s really important that we as organizers admit that moment in our lives. I work, we work with families who want to fix the system. They’ve had children murdered by police and they want to reform. So, I think the more we can talk about that experience of believing that a system can be reformed, the more people will relate—Like, “Oh, you were there, too,” and, “Yeah, then I did this and I realized, no.”
That moment really came for me at Occupy LA. I was organizing the medical tents. I was a young nurse at that time and I was running the medical tent with another artist—Which was so funny, because nobody would volunteer at the medical tent because we were dealing with… it wasn’t, like, sensational or romantic or sexy. In LA, you were a stone’s throw away from Skid Row and there’s tons of people that do not have homes that live in downtown. So, they saw us and they’re like, “Oh, cool. Food, medical care.” People were hanging out, chillin—Or we were responding and finding people who were ill because they’ve been living on the streets. That was our jobs, so we were constantly tending to that and nobody really wanted to be a part of it. It was myself, who was a nurse, another artist, and then there was an ex-veteran who had served in the second Iraq war. He was a veteran who basically was like, “I’m against war now.” It was with him that this learning about staging and learning about this kind of—The city council had approved our encampment. They said, “Oh, the occupiers can stay, we support…” I was like, “Oh, my God, what’s going on?”
Mariella Saba: I didn’t know that.
Jamie Garcia: Yeah, so they supported it. That’s when I started noticing police officers would come up to the tent and they would ask me who I was. I’d see them walking around through the encampment and firefighters coming up to the tent all the time because there’s that really gross correlation between first responders always including law enforcement, so there was this eerie manipulation for participation and partnership, so I was being confronted with that. Simultaneously, I was going out with this vet and we would go for marches—because there was marches constantly happening during that time—and we go out early and he’d be like, “Let me show you,” and he’d start showing, “That unmarked car. That’s a cop. That, over there.” He would teach me the stripes of officers—”That’s a sergeant. That’s a line officer.” He would show me the non-lethal weapons and be naming things and making me see things that I had not seen before because I was going as a medic—Like, “Oh, I’m gonna go. We have our first amendment rights. We can march. Blah, blah, blah,” you know? Happily skippy liberal Jamie, thinking that everything is going to be great. All of a sudden, I’m like, “What the fuck?” We would go blocks away from the march and there’d be more setup and he’d be like, “See? This is called staging,” And I was like, “Holy shit.” So that was happening.
I’ve told you about the manipulation that was occurring, and you would see it with folks who were running the—What did they call it? I hated it, too, because it was always just white folks. Occupy had this forum they would do to make decisions. I was never part of it because I wanted to just always—I never felt good in that space. Anyways, they were getting manipulated to kind of participate with police. Leadership in that—or whoever was leadership—was starting to get manipulated, then they were all having their disputes, but it was pretty much white folks.
Then, the second thing started happening, where unhoused folks were very present and staking their claim in that space and anti-state violence workers were intervening and saying you can’t participate with cops, like, “What are you doing?’ and so these arguments were starting to happen where the economically-driven people who wanted to be there were very much outing anti-state violence organizers. Literally outing them and ratting them out to cops. Then, they were wanting to force out the people who were unhoused. Then they came for the medical tent and said that we weren’t allowed to be there because we were just social workers. So, I was like, “What the hell is happening?” So, there’s all these intersections that are occurring and my little liberal bubbles bursting in front of my eyes.
Then, one day in front of the medical tent, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition does a presentation. I think it was Hamid [Kahn, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition’s Campaign Coordinator] and Ken Montenegro [Co-founder of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition]. Now, Hamid Kahn and Ken Montenegro are actually in front and I just decided to go join. So I’m sitting there—My first degree is in history, and I was very fascinated by Communist revolution, East Germany, thinking about Nazis and oppression and secret files, so there was a layer of that already for me. I only say that because Hamid [was] talking about suspicious activity reporting, and these are secret files that cops file on you that are surveilling people that they deem to be engaged in terrorist or criminal activity.
So, he’s talking and then he’s showing this video on a little laptop and we’re all huddled trying to look at the video on the laptop—And I get my mind blown. I start raising my hand and I’m like, “So you’re saying they’ll take your name, too?” and he’s like, “Yeah.” So now I’m flashing back to all the cops that kept coming up to the tent, all the firefighters that are coming and asking me who I was, asking me where I work. I was trying to be like, “Oh, my name is Jamie, da da da,” and I wouldn’t give a lot of information. I have a nursing license to protect, too, so there’s a certain way that I’m allowed to practice, right? I was just like, “Oh, my God,” and then just like, “Wow. Whoa. Surveillance is happening everywhere.” I was thinking about the marches and everything started to intersect about race, poverty, state violence, surveillance and then the last kicker was the Occupy crew calling me a social service person and that I wasn’t really truly necessary in that movement.
I started realizing there was just so many people with these really outlandish thoughts and ideas, and I just couldn’t get grounded in anything substantive, where there was research, there was back up, there was a place for me to learn, a place for me to express, and a place for us to build community—With everyone. Because, as a nurse, it’s everyone. It’s not some here, some there. It’s the sickest of the sickest, the most that are in need of healing are included and necessary and that’s who you show up for and I found my way slowly through connecting with different people that were also kind of getting disillusioned. I found myself at LA CAN, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, one day and it was there that the journey of starting to work with the coalition and understanding the intersections of race, poverty, surveillance, and state violence—How it all came together. I can’t be more thankful for that as a nurse and to further my nursing career to understand those things. They’re so essential in that I spent 10 years of my life instead of pursuing all these degrees and certificates in nursing. like I said, I kind of stayed a baseline floor nurse because I was so busy learning about state violence and how to fight it.
Mariella Saba: It sounds meant to be. I’m also noticing that you were paying attention and that’s a skill. That bubble you mentioned got popped, and you also allowed it to. I’ve seen you jump right into organizing and ask questions and just absorb so much information and use it to build power, build community. You’ve been able to pass on the work and make sure folks can continue it and I think that’s such a skill, too, and a responsibility as organizers not to hog the information, not to have the skills so that generations ahead can keep going.
I’m excited for you going into nursing with this perspective. I feel like it adds another layer of protection for patients, too, and then you’re also able to work with folks—like you did in the medic tent—outside of the hospital, when the hospital itself can be a police state and a dangerous place instead of a helpful place. Having folks like you who know how to navigate both of these systems is really special. What was or is a typical surveillance encounter that someone in your community experiences or has experienced? What is the typical day in the life of surveillance in the hospital, in the streets, in your line of work, or in the spaces that you navigate?
Jamie Garcia: We’re a part of multiple communities. I think that police surveillance and policing, because so much of policing is surveillance and is a monitoring and the attempt to contain and control and regulate our behaviors instead of addressing root causes of violence on all levels. What is the root cause of our inability to self-actualize and our inabilities to build community? I think when we answer that question, I think it’s really important to think about the framing that you put up of what are the spaces, or the hats we wear, or the different communities that we are involved in? Because I think we are involved in multiple communities. I think of not only working in the hospital as a registered nurse, but I think about where I live, specifically my apartment—For some reason that came to mind right now, like living in the apartment space. I also thought about my street corner and my community in Long Beach where I live and what type of surveillance is experienced there. Then, also, I’m an organizer—currently taking a pause right now because of the pandemic and working at the hospital quite a bit—but there’s, you know, levels of surveillance that happen there.
In the hospital, I was started off thinking about what does the patient experience, but I’m going to try to merge that with what is a nurse experience as far as surveillance and being watched. As a nurse, it’s a military-style, the way they set things up and you are only allowed to take orders. You can assess, see, report back and then you have to wait for orders from the doctor, because the doctor is the one that tells you what to do. There’s a certain level that you can engage, that you can make decisions based on your own assessment of what you feel needs to happen—And most of the time you are doing that, especially nowadays considering what’s going on with the pandemic. So there’s a certain level of like watchfulness that the hospital has on your documentation, on the time that you spend for lunch [and] how that’s documented. They have algorithms on your work activity, so it’s actually at the base of your charting, you’ll see this kind of wavelength that moves up and down and it will determine when you’re most busy and when you’re not busy. There is monitoring of patient capacity in a hospital. We’re close to a 300 bed hospital, so they’ll see how many patients are in the unit that I work in—the floor that I work on—and they will see, ‘Oh, there is 27-bed capacity, nurses are at a five to one ratio. The census right now is 22, there’s three beds available, who can admit? Take them now.” So, there’s that kind of surveillance, of watching.
Then there’s the surveillance of there’s a discharge order and all of a sudden that ticker goes up on that same—We call it teletracking. The timer will start and it’ll show how long that patient has had a discharge order, and they’re waiting for you to discharge them within the two hour limit. If you don’t make that two hour mark, then the supervisor starts calling and starts asking, “What are the barriers? Why isn’t this patient out? What is going on?” Even when you have admission from when a patient enters into the ER and goes up to the floor, there’s a ticker that starts that says, “Why hasn’t the patient gotten into bed? Why isn’t the nurse taking report? What is going on?” There’s this constant surveilling of your workflow. It’s funny, the words are “teletracking,” like they know that they’re tracking you.
Then there’s the monitoring of patients. You have your labs, your blood work that they do that give numbers to different kinds of molecules and substances in your blood. Then you have chest x-rays, then you have documentation from doctors, you have vital signs, your blood pressure, your oxygen saturation—And all these numbers appear in a computer. So we bring all that together, and the reason why I think it’s really important and why it’s so correlates to what surveillance, is that the hospital use those numbers, those frames, those markers to determine what to do next. They use the algorithms, they use those markers to determine what happens next. Why isn’t the nurse taking the patient? She needs to take the patient now. She’s at a one to four ratio and she’s supposed to be at five—She needs to take report. Okay, she can’t take report. The charge nurse has gotta take it. She submits the patient now. The patient needs to be discharged. The white blood count, which regulates your immune system, is down. There’s no other signs or symptoms of infection in the lab work. The patient says they don’t feel good. Well, the lab work says they’re fine, they need to be discharged, the family needs to come get them… now.
The context of what is going on gets completely evaporated, gets disassociated, gets decontextualized and who you are gets recontextualized through numbers and through data that’s collected by these systems. So, it doesn’t matter if I just had a code blue and a patient died and that’s why didn’t pick up the phone for the nurse and get report. It doesn’t matter that I may be hanging blood for two other patients, running chemo, or a family member is on the phone and they’re really upset and they’re having all these problems. I need to take report. I need to accept that patient. I have two hours to get that patient from ER to my unit—It doesn’t matter what happens to me. I have two hours to get that patient out. It doesn’t matter that the patient is saying, “I don’t feel well,” because everything is based on the data.
That’s why when you think about surveillance in the context of criminalization—This is almost like criminalization right here. If you can go, “why aren’t you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?” now all of a sudden, your productivity as a nurse is being questioned because you’re supposed to be meeting markers that data from before says should be the average marker of when a patient should be admitted [and] discharged. There’s algorithms based on how patients who get pneumonia should be treated within three days, discharged on fourth day. When they keep staying longer than the insurance is saying, “Hey, that’s out of algorithm. Why is that patient staying longer? You need to justify that patient being in the hospital.” There’s no context to anything. So, when you think about health surveillance, it de-aggregates us, creates all these little data points from where a face was, where a license was, where we were taking photographs to if we were arrested, if we had an FI [police field interview] card on us, if we didn’t move off the sidewalk. All these things have no context, but they re-aggregate them into, “You are a chronic offender. You’re in a hotspot in a neighborhood.” The data is what they’re trying to do to make it more precise. They want to give this kind of facade of scientific precision.
With the hospital, they want precision because a, hospitals aren’t funded. Healthcare isn’t funded. Health care isn’t seen as a right, a privilege, a priority. So this is how they fine tune what they can maximize in profit and stay afloat, get profit, and service a certain amount of the community. Police do this to justify their violence and their subjugation because what it allows them to do is say, “Well, we’re not going to target everybody, but this data is gonna allow us to target the really, really bad people.” That’s what the problem is when we reform these systems, because right now they want us to reform them. They want us to see, “Yeah, the data will make it better. All the surveillance data will make it so we precisely get the right person and we don’t just bulldoze houses anymore like we did in the 80s. We’ll just bulldoze the right house. We’ll just get the right person. We have all this data that decontextualizes all the reasons why a person is where they are, at the time, the place—whatever’s going on in their life—to prove why that person or that place is the target.” Those are the different ways that my community members experience surveillance. So, as a nurse, but even in Long Beach… I have a corner right here where a lot of my neighbors without houses sleep, and so they’re constantly being watched in front of that corner liquor store. Police constantly in there watching people. For me, that’s what we’re experiencing.
Mariella Saba: That breakdown is so powerful. I’m really grateful that we’re documenting this for more folks to understand. It reminds me one of the main findings in our work with ODB is the dehumanizing and that de-contextualizing when we’ve just data points and there’s no humanity, there’s no complete story. That’s a threat I see in surveillance.
Jamie Garcia: The decontextualizing allows them to hide. It allows the injustice—the long history of injustice of systems of domination—to hide. That’s the problem. That’s why context matters so much. Why, for example, in East LA are there close to 200 COVID patients at White Memorial and I talked to someone on the Westside and there’s only 75 in their hospital? The context of what is going on on the Eastside in Latino families, in households that are all in one in these neighborhoods—The context is being hidden and not being talked about. Context is so important to everything in our lives, because we are humans with stories that have histories—long histories—from the places and the lands that we are from, and from the systems that were imposed upon these different areas and people’s ability to engage and be involved and just, like, live. We don’t even know all our histories and that’s, that’s why there’s so much confusion and so much—especially for Latinos, especially for Latinx folks, especially people of color, mostly—to unearth why are things the way they are?
Mariella Saba: This erasing of our stories is a big weapon that has been used against us throughout time, and I like that you name that it creates confusion in us—In our psyche, in our bodies, and not completely understanding why. Who have you organized or are you organizing against? Can you tell me a story about what that has entailed and what has been the outcome? Stories are great to get a good understanding and maybe an opportunity to share some outcomes of the work that you’re doing.
Jamie Garcia: My first [response] would be I’ve organized myself and I’ve organized with friends who are now I feel family that are all over the city of LA but mostly find home in Skid Row. I’ve organized against the Los Angeles Police Department. [That] has been the biggest, biggest, you know, obvious thing with Stop LAPD Spying. That has radically changed my entire perspective on the world, on healthcare, on everything that I touch. My favorite story is the story around predictive policing. So much of my work in the last four years in the coalition was around predictive policing, but it kind of bleeds into everything. I think the best thing about that whole story was how it began.
The idea of predictive policing and what it was was extremely daunting and confusing—Algorithms and figuring out what an algorithm was, how it worked, risk assessments, figuring out what they were and how they worked. Simultaneously, learning about the criminal justice system and its history and how it works and how it’s always worked. The best thing was these first little meetings in LA CAN—The freedom room had not yet been built, so there was a couple lights that we had in there and it was an old, concrete room and it was cold and we just put up a slide show and we went through some main points of articles. Like, literal news articles that were written by reporters and other people and just broke them down and said, “Okay, then they said this in the next paragraph. Okay, then this came up in the next paragraph.” Literally, highlighting the paragraphs and trying to figure out what the Hell they were trying to say. What was funny is, by the end everyone was like, “This shit is the same bugging and shit they’ve been doing forever. This is nothing new and this is where the word ‘pseudoscience’ was coined and ‘crystal ball policing’.” It just was so relieving to be in a room with people saying, “Fuck this.” You know? Like, this is all the same. Nothing is new here.
It really disarmed the whole—Lawyers who were writing article after article, citing reports about predictive policing, trying to understand all this lingo and language and academics doing all this stuff, and was able to really come down to earth and be like, “Okay, wait. I’ll read that article again. I’ll go through that academic’s report again,” but right here, this is where it’s at—People. People are very clear about what this is. That really propelled this urgency to realize that we needed to fight it, because it was trying to coax this kind of reform of policing that was ‘science driven,’ and more precise, and more accurate, and was being validated by science. That was the urgency that needed to be addressed. It wasn’t that policing had changed or policing became something robotic and Robocop. All this technology is coming in, but that harm and who it’s targeting and what it’s doing is something that’s very familiar. You don’t need to know how facial recognition technology works to understand what kind of harm it’s going to create, who its going to target, who its going to put in a cage—Because that’s the end result.
What you need to do is attack its legitimacy, because what it’s trying to do is use science to legitimize something that has been created—I almost beg to say is almost a lie, like a fabricated lie—that policing is something that is a natural phenomenon. This is something I’m still working out, because we know it’s real. It has a material consequence. We can measure its consequences on people. But it’s not like the wind. It’s not like blood. It’s not something natural. It’s something that was created to dominate people. Now, it’s kind of like the same thing as when they when doctors used to say that the illness of a slave running away was like a mental pathology that the slave had and that you could cure it and keep the slave subjugated, and this is how you do it. Well, policing is now trying to say, “We can use science to prove that we can get the right person, and all this algorithm, and all this technology—We’re using it to make our policing more precise, more accurate, evidence-driven, data-driven,” and, it’s like how are you using science on a phenomenon that is fabricated for domination? That doesn’t work. As a nurse, science drives a lot of what I do, because it’s part of it. Understanding how I get COVID was important through science, because now I know how to protect myself and I can move through a COVID room and a COVID patient. It just fascinates me that policing is attempting to legitimize itself, just through science—And it always has. We went all the way back to slavery, where they were trying to say a slave trying to run away was a mental pathology. They were trying to use science to show why people were trying to get free, saying, “Oh, that’s a pathology. I’m gonna use science to do that.” That was the biggest thing that came out of some of those early meetings, was that we had to get away from the pseudoscience and show this is not even real science, like this is fake.
So, we built this intense culture of resistance and this intense, multi-faceted approach. Not only were we hosting these community meetings where we were making graphics and art to explain the different programs—because it was important that we understood the programs—we were running focus groups, talking about this type of policing that attacked the person, because they were making lists to go after people who could be criminals, that were pre-determined to be criminal. They were doing these hotspots in these neighborhoods that were more precisely going to be criminal because of all the data they had. We were doing these focus groups of people going, “How does it feel to be targeted? How does it feel to see your community targeted?” Then we were at the police commission raising the alarm, people giving testimony, and so that way we were just owning that space. That’s the thing with the police commission right now—They know that they only have cover for so long, because they know the minute we’re back in that space that they just did not have control. We owned that space. It was direct action every Tuesday morning, and it was beautiful.
Then we had a legal angle going, as well, working with our community lawyers. The process was so community driven, and that was beautiful. We wrote the PRA [public records act request] together, we went through the documents together, we told the lawyers what to write, then we told them when to file—They were even like, “Whoa, we don’t even know how far we’re gonna take this,” and we were like, “Take it all the way. We don’t care. This is a political battle. We don’t care.” Then we wrote a community-based report that was written by, like, 10 people with the Coalition’s name on it, nobody tried to get a silver star, no one trying to get a gold medal. It was this big, like, mush pot of people just coming together and building that momentum and building that momentum.
We forced a public hearing and we pushed them to end these programs—Operation LASER, part of that program, the person-based component of it was actually suspended right after the public hearing that happened. They didn’t tell us—of course not because they didn’t want to give us that kind of power—and eventually it was terminated completely. What was the best part of this is that we didn’t like clap and go, “Yeah, we did it!” We turned our backs on these motherfuckers in the police commission meeting and we did the Assata [the chant “It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win.”]. I was like, I don’t want to cheer. I don’t want to clap. I don’t I don’t want to scream. I don’t want to yell. I want to act like they don’t exist. They don’t matter. I want to neglect them. I want to not even put my energy into them. There’s video from it and they’re just like, “Stop! Stop all this. Stop the meeting!” Perfect. Leave. Get out. That’s exactly what we want you to do is just leave. It was beautiful. It was beautiful.
Everybody just felt so powerful and the best part about it is that the win wasn’t the win—The win wasn’t that the programs ended, the win was the energizing component of it. Because abolition means all of it gets destroyed, means all of it comes down. It doesn’t mean that some programs don’t target everybody, but they target only a few. It means none of them. So, the win was the resistance that we built because it reverberated and people were like, “Oh, shit, yeah. We can take this shit down.” Then our Black siblings with the Black Lives Matter movement were powerful and we were just colliding, colliding, and colliding with each other and building and building this resistance. That was what was the win. That was what was so beautiful. They’re gonna “reform” and “redo” and all this stuff, and the fight is still going. But when you feel in your heart, like, “Fuck yeah we can do something.” That’s the win.
Mariella Saba: And no one can take that away from you. It just builds so much hope when it’s needed and momentum and power—Like, that’s real power building. It makes me excited about what’s to come and what we can do. If you had a song to describe the vision that your communities are working towards, what would that song be?
Jamie Garcia: I heard this beautiful rendition of Nina Simone and it almost brought me to tears the other day driving to work just because of everything that’s going on with COVID right now, too. Then I was thinking about during that time when Nina was alive and was fighting along the side and creating songs of freedom for us—It’s Nina Simone’s rendition of My Sweet Lord + Today Is A Killer. It is the most beautiful, the most beautiful.
Mariella Saba: Is there anything else you want to add?
Jamie Garcia: So much of the work that I want to move into in nursing has a lot to look at other systems and how other systems of surveillance work and bring in the idea of abolition and the components and the concept and that whole framework into nursing. What does that mean? What does that look like? How does that start to move?
Mariella Saba: Thank you for sharing that, and may it become fuel and wood for the fire.