The murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, has renewed national discourse on gun control and police training. This has led to conflicting demands as advocates, politicians, organizers, educators, and parents discuss the most effective ways to prevent gun violence, even as the country has seen 35 more mass shootings since then, as of June 8. To resolve some of the contradictions between calls for increased criminalization of weapons and reduced public funding for law enforcement, we need to assess Uvalde in the context of the state’s political conditions and genocidal legacy. By recognizing that expanded criminalization fails to undermine the power matrixes that produce mass shootings, we can see how Texas makes the case for abolition.
Despite the massive amounts of funding dedicated to policing at every level in Texas, each day since the Uvalde shooting has produced a new element to the timeline and nature of the atrocious police response during the incident. Reports have highlighted how police threatened to arrest a parent whose child was in the school, changed the timeline of events over 10 times, and failed to prevent the shooter from entering the school, as well as how the presence of immigration officers potentially deterred parents from being present at the school at the time of the shooting. The school district for Robb Elementary has its own police department, like many school districts in the state, while Uvalde police have their own SWAT-like force. Most recently, Uvalde police have refused to cooperate with the state’s investigation of their response during the shooting. As many have already pointed out, the seemingly infinite conglomeration of sheriffs, marshalls, constables, SWAT teams, private enforcers, prosecutors, and CBP and ICE officers in the county and state did not prevent what happened in Uvalde, but potentially exacerbated it.
Uvalde is not a unique place in Texas, which has been at the center of major political maelstroms in recent years, a bellwether for how states’ rights can be deployed to preserve the white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal, and settler legacy of the U.S. through militarization and criminalization at every level of government. The state has enthusiastically adopted xenophobic federal immigration policy, going so far as to sue the U.S. government for the right to continue Title 42 while expanding the state’s sweeping border crackdown in the form of Operation Lone Star and reopening cages for migrant children. Texas was the first to effectively outlaw abortion, introducing bounty-hunting clauses now being copied by other states. In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott made Texas one of the first states to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in K-12 public school classrooms, and in 2022, he declared that the provisioning of gender-affirming health care for trans youth was “child abuse.” And of course, historically, Texas has led the country in strengthening public access to guns, while expanding state, county, and city correctional and law enforcement budgets. County police departments in the state killed 29 people in 2021, and at least two counties are currently seeking funding to build new jails.
On a state and local level, Texas is already one of the most militarized states in the nation, by the will of its leaders. The primary target of this matrix of white supremacist violence have been Black, migrant, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities, many of whom are doubly and triply marginalized by the overlapping criminalizations impelled by these laws. The police response in Uvalde directly contradicts law enforcement narratives about the need for more training and resources, revealing these demands to be part of a shell game geared toward expanding police power. By failing to direct funds away from paramilitary forces toward community needs, Texas political leaders have sustained collusion between border police and county law enforcement while maintaining an arms culture that responds to violence with militarization. Demands for more police training, more resources for improved police response, better collaborations between federal, state, and local police, and expanded criminalization—knowing who is targeted by such demands—are concessions to genocidal copaganda that do nothing to curb the power of the white supremacist politicians and profiteers behind weapons proliferation in the U.S.
Many firearms in Texas are in the hands of law enforcement. As recently as 2021, the state passed eight new laws to protect weapons in the hands of school marshalls, in school parking lots, and in foster homes where state-appointed guardians can openly brandish guns at children. Legislating away guns from civilians will not take them away from the domestic military force of the U.S., the size and breadth of which are meant to protect and serve a white supremacist culture of militarization that goes all the way back to colonization. Without guns in the hands of civilians, hundreds of thousands of people would still be armed to the teeth. It should come as no surprise then that in Texas, where those with the power to wield military force are valorized and bankrolled, others wish to wield that power. The desire for that power does not have to do with guns alone, nor can it be addressed by police with better “implicit bias” training. To acknowledge this does not constitute an implicit argument against limiting the use of weapons, but a request to understand the state’s monopoly on violence—who has the authority to wield deadly force? Who wields it most often? And against which communities?
Activists, advocates, and progressives need to attack power-driven political relationships at their core by challenging the police and prison-industrial complexes as the primary enforcers of a white supremacist status quo, and dedicating time to developing material alternatives. Instead of chewing our own feet, we can foreground demands that direct resources away from “the elaborate set of relationships, institutions, buildings, laws, urban and rural places, personnel, equipment, finances, dependencies, technocrats, opportunists, and intellectuals in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors that synergistically make up the PIC,” as written by the Black abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore. We cannot risk a narrative that suggests that more surveillance, more money for police training, more body cameras, and more reasons to send someone to jail or to deport them are part of ending a longstanding epidemic of shootings by both police and civilians. Already in Texas, as in many other states, law enforcement and politicians have seized on growing threats of white supremacist “domestic terrorism” to expand programs like Countering Violent Extremism, which disproportionately continue to target Black and Muslim people. Without thoughtful demands grounded in disciplined organizing, concerned communities risk enabling the ways in which law enforcement swallows up public resources to legitimize itself as the solution.
Accepting a position that we need to simultaneously seek to abolish the prison-industrial complex, while utilizing public resources for community wellness, can position people to organize in ways that undermine the omnipresent white supremacist, militarized, misogynistic culture. Knowing that expansive criminalization feeds a system that props up arms investors and profiteers because policing is directly antagonistic to community well-being, we must become as strategic as possible to affirm the attitudes, practices, and implementations that preserve life.
What took place in Uvalde can be understood in the context of carceral hypertrophy in Texas. “Carceral hypertrophy” refers to the unending growth and scaling up of the state’s “muscle” and capacity for violence through that “elaborate set of relationships” that constitute prisons and policing. It exists on a continuum of violence enabled and facilitated by the state, a continuum that includes all of the ways Texas seeks to eliminate, shorten, and destabilize the lives of Black, Indigenous, migrant, disabled, and trans people. Even when the shooter is not white, as in the case of Uvalde, the system underpinning a disregard for the lives of non-white children is white supremacy. There is ultimately little effective difference between migrant children in cages and 7-year olds hiding from a shooter. Only with such a level of carceral hypertrophy could you have a situation as that in Uvalde, where three different law enforcement agencies have nothing to offer toward anything resembling “safety.”
Texas makes the case for abolition by demonstrating the abundant contradictions of relying on border, state, and county law enforcement to resolve the manifold failures of the state’s deliberate reliance on criminalization. Uvalde shows us that the failures of policing must be understood in a totalized manner, rather than a piecemeal one.