We recently published Christy Tending’s brilliant “Not Legal Advice.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) It’s so lovely, what you do with the voice here — it goes from something almost like a wise mentor giving advice to revealing the personal, the real place this narrator is coming from. It makes for such a great character reveal! When you were writing this story, did you always have it in your head that this character was speaking from a place of experience? Or is that something that grew as the story developed?
I actually train people in knowing their legal rights as activists as part of my work as an activist. And this is often what it looks like: we train people in the theory of what we’re supposed to do in these situations, but there is always the personal story or experience that informs and adds dimension to the theory. I had this in mind from the jump. This is what it’s really like to be an activist. We know the rules and understand the theory, but it’s a whole different thing when you’re going against all of that cultural conditioning when confronted with police. It’s different when you insert your humanity into the situation. This is also why so much of this is written in the second person: these are all situations that really could happen to you, the reader.
2) One of the most powerful moments in the story for me is when the window is broken. “And yet, the cops will avenge these symbols more readily than they would a child’s life.” That speaks so much to what we are seeing from so many people right now — that symbols are more important to them than other people, than children. I’m sorry, but this is a hard one to answer — do you think that is ever going to change?
In the United States, in the way we currently conceptualize police and policing, I don’t think it will change. I am openly a police abolitionist, and that’s because I don’t believe the current police and prison system can be reformed. Nor would I really want it to: I don’t want a kinder, gentler version of what we have now. I want to live in a non-carceral society.
My answer, really, is in this line: “They cannot protect you because that is not how this country’s history fashioned them.” Police and policing in this country originated in slave patrols and shifted its work into enforcing Jim Crow laws once slavery was abolished. Those are policing’s origins. It doesn’t know how to be anything else because that’s how it was designed. This is a system that has always seen some human beings as property and is rooted in protecting white supremacist capitalism.
The Supreme Court has ruled that cops have no legal responsibility to protect citizens from harm. If we understand that piece of the story, we can see: All that’s left is for them to harm and incarcerate us. That’s their function. And we can’t finesse that into something that works for the benefit of the people.