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139 An immigrant to the United States told me she awoke one night to the sounds of someone trying to gain entry to her apartment through the back door. She was scared and alone, so she called several friends. “The next day,” she remarked to me a bit sardonically, “I learned I was supposed to call 911.” Part of becoming acculturated, it would seem, involves learning to rely on the police. I was struck by how, even in this moment of urgency and potential emergency—catching an intruder trying to gain entrance to her apartment in the middle of the night— she had no impulse to call the police. It is not that she considered calling the police and decided not to; she did not even contemplate it. She relied instead on friends. A common rationale in the United States for calling the police, even for people generally skeptical or suspicious of the police, is for crisis intervention—for example, when someone is breaking into your house or when you are in imminent threat of bodily injury. It did not even occur to this woman. I take this story, and my own initial surprise, as signaling something important of U.S. culture with respect to the law. It suggests the strong, almost instinctual turn many have to criminal law and law enforcement as the response to violence against women. The turn to the law is taken for granted in many cases. For many, especially for many born outside of the United States, this is not always self-evident, necessary, or natural. Such a posture is instructive. People in the United States are often ambivalent about law enforcement (cf. Coker 2001). In communities of color, the police are often treated with suspicion, as a source of harm, or even, as James Baldwin remarked of the police in Harlem, as an occupying army. In some communities, a person may face repercussions from neighbors, such as being shunned, if he or she calls the police (I discussed an example of this in an earlier chapter). While some directions in radical feminism have always maintained a critical distance from the state, these days many projects to stop violence against women are involved with the state, either because state or federal monies fund the Tentative Conclusions and Small-Scale Solutions CHAPTER SEVEN 140 structural violence projects or because they were created, regulated, and/or limited by state and federal legislation (see Gottshalk 2006 for extensive analysis; also Bumiller 2008). Nevertheless, feminist critics have made trenchant criticisms of state participation in the antiviolence movement. Susan Schechter’s landmark (1982) book, Women and Male Violence, and the more recent work of legal scholars like Elizabeth Schneider (2000), Ann Romkens (2002), and psychologists Michelle Fine and Lois Weis (2000), chart how the government has imposed outside controls on shelters and hotlines, requiring credentialing of workers and advocates, and subjecting feminist projects to the caprices of government cut-backs. A deeper, or more radical, critique sees the state as responsible in many ways for the violence perpetrated on women (see, e.g. Mills 1999, Bhavnani and Davis 2000; Ritchie 2006). “Over the past couple of decades, the public has become more familiar with the reality of domestic violence, but too often people see the government and law enforcement as the answer to this pervasive problem. But can a government/state which is based on violence, which wages continual war against other nations, and here at home imposes the violence of poverty, miseducation and policy brutality on communities of color—can this government be expected to genuinely oppose domestic violence?” (Fire Inside 2004). Sue Osthoff of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women echoes this critique of depredations by the state, particularly in communities of color: Unintended consequences are surfacing from over-reliance on the criminal legal system. Twenty-five years ago, women of color were saying that we should not turn to the criminal legal system. But we put all our eggs in one basket without seeking other creative ways of community intervention. The battered women’s movement has contributed to the increase in the police state and the increase of men in prisons. We are telling battered women to turn to a system that is classist, sexist, homophobic, arbitrary, and not unlike the batterer. (Cited in Bhattacharjee 2002a, 15) Prominent legislation such as the federal Violence against Women Act tends to fund law enforcement solutions—buying equipment for police or other measures in favor of prosecuting...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438443454
Related ISBN
9781438443430
MARC Record
OCLC
817565684
Pages
208
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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