color photograph of an outdoor protest at night. close-up shot of someone holding a cardboard sign that says "abolish police" in black letters with pink outline around "abolish" and blue outline around "police"
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 13: A placard states "ABOLISH POLICE" during a march to protest the death of Daunte Wright on April 13, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

My father is a Mexican immigrant who spent nearly two decades in the U.S. undocumented. I also come from a larger mixed-status family and a community in Southeast Los Angeles that’s home to countless immigrant and first-generation families. As a child, I couldn’t have explained who or what la migra was—but in my bones, I knew they were something to be feared; something that sowed sadness in communities like ours. 

Now I know all about la migra. I’ve covered the immigration system for well over a decade, and, unlike the gut feeling I had as a kid, my instincts are now guided by facts. Like any honest immigration reporter, I can easily produce rigorous, evidence-based reporting outlining why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a bloated and dangerous agency that should be abolished. But I haven’t always felt comfortable publicly sharing these insights. 

Journalism used to be inhabited by reporters who, like me, lacked formal education and came from poor, working-class backgrounds. But a majority of those reporters were white men, and that is not the industry that women of my generation inherited. A Latina without a college degree who is a full-time, salaried reporter is an anomaly. Many outlets already treat the work of BIPOC reporters covering injustice as questionable. Editors assume we have unspoken agendas or that we’re merely “activists” posing as reporters. I wanted to be taken seriously, and I didn’t want to lose out on opportunities to tell important stories.

But if you stay in journalism long enough, it becomes clear that objectivity is a total myth. Those who claim to adhere to this objectivity only contribute to reporting that lacks meaning, context, and understanding of the consequences faced by communities that cannot afford to remain neutral.

Since the latest rash of public executions by police—including the killing of Tyre Nichols—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my trepidation as a journalist to publicly embrace abolition. The conclusion I’ve reached is that I’m afraid of having an imperfect analysis as I grapple with new ideas and new ways of thinking and being. I also came to journalism deeply steeped in my familial role as the fixer, the information gatherer, the advocate—the person who can help make sense of the complicated, bureaucratic bullshit that impedes loved ones from getting things they need to survive. As a student of abolition, I fear being unable to provide all the answers about the exact ways our country will operate without police.  

When I close my eyes and envision a world without police, I feel anxiety creeping up my chest. This fear stems from spending the entirety of our lives conditioned to believe that the police are necessary for our safety, though we have little evidence of this. My own industry is largely responsible for this conditioning because the copaganda churned out by colleagues in my field has been very effective—even when it flies in the face of hard evidence and anecdotal experience. 

Statements from law enforcement agencies have been proven to be unreliable. A 2021 review of California cases found that law enforcement “frequently publish highly misleading information about people they’ve killed.” An examination this year of seven prominent cases found that the initial statements made by authorities turned out to be lies. Publishing self-reports from police without first performing due diligence to confirm basic facts is deeply irresponsible—especially when it involves the death of a community member. When Nichols was murdered, the original statement from the Memphis Police Department described two confrontations followed by the claim that Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath.” Notice there was no mention that officers pepper-sprayed and beat the young man to death.

I would certainly not characterize any of my interactions with the police as good or helpful. When my girlfriend and I were teenagers, a cop pulled us over just to sexually harass us. When I called 911 to report that my mom had died unexpectedly in our home, one of the officers who showed up alongside the ambulance banged on my bathroom door—where I had gone to fall to pieces privately—and demanded I come out and remain in his “field of vision.” My father, brothers, and best friend have all been held at gunpoint by the police. My brothers and I have all gone to school with someone who was murdered by the police. One of the first stories I reported on closely as a cub reporter was the killing of Michael Nida, who was out with his wife when officer Steven Gilley claimed to have mistaken Nida for a suspect wanted in an armed robbery. An innocent, scared, and unarmed Nida allegedly fled from police three times before Gilley shot Nida in the back with a submachine gun. 

Cops do not keep us safe. This is an experience many communities across the U.S. share and one that data easily supports. Still, envisioning an alternative world that is fundamentally different from the only one our current generations have ever known can feel scary and overwhelming. But we can’t let fear continue to keep us in line. As journalists, we have an important role to play in abolition—as imperfect and bumpy as it will likely be. A fundamental part of our job is to respond to the public’s needs and make deeply complicated information and ideas accessible while not removing any of the necessary and critical nuances. Therefore, it is also our job to address the questions and concerns readers may have about abolition and how to keep their communities whole, safe, and accountable without prison and police. Another world is possible, and we have plenty of sources to draw from to guide the way.  

As cliche as it sounds, knowledge is power. I am actively working to fill in the information gaps I have so that I can fully envision and fight for a world without police and confidently be the abolitionist journalist I want to be. I am reading interviews with abolitionist organizers and activists. I’m diving into the work of Mariame Kaba, Andrea Ritchie, and Victoria Law. I’m reveling in the efforts of the abolitionist journalist Lewis Raven Wallace, who is providing resources to help reporters veer away from copaganda and instead produce reporting that focuses on transformative and reparative practices to shift the narrative around policing and criminalization. Soon, I will also work with incarcerated writers. 

I understand there is a large segment of the American public who wants to funnel more resources to the police, and there are many journalists who parrot police talking points as part of their daily work, likely not even realizing they are on the fearmongering beat. This piece is not for them. This is for journalists who, like me, reject the police in theory and are eager to learn how to reject them in practice.

I am lucky I am employed by an outlet that has made it its mission to disrupt harmful narratives. I get to work alongside colleagues like Tamar Sarai, whose focus on crime, reform, and abolition is changing the way journalists report on crime. I understand most reporters are deeply constrained by their newsrooms’ social media policies and so-called ethics. Most newsrooms will never embrace abolition because their existence is interwoven within oppressive power structures, but every newsroom should grapple with the role that they allow police to play in coverage. 

There are ways in which I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to publicly embrace abolition and to truly internalize the chant I’ve heard in migrant justice organizing spaces for years: La migra, la policía, la misma porquería. Ultimately, the path we take to get to abolition journalism matters less than the work we can do together: to correct the public record on the police and report the world we want into existence. 

Tina Vásquez is the editor-at-large at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers' rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.