They were rushing to get home early. Walking slightly faster than the other moving feet on the pavement, moving out of synch, awkwardly pacing past. They were keen to get home, to get this work off them, to brush the day from their teeth. To sip a cold glass of beer and survey their windowsill plants. A flash of blue light to the left drew their attention. Police. They tugged on their headphone wire gently so they could hear better and the sound of clanging sirens poured into their ear canal. People scattered as two more police vehicles came out of nowhere. It was impossible to see who they were going for. Confusion. People looking darkly at each other, trying to make space and also back away. It wasn’t clear who they had come for.
As the chaos settled, the police clustered around a single figure. A young thin thing. Not white, not not-white. You couldn’t tell their ethnicity under the blue light and adrenaline. Eyes stretched and shying from the light focused on them. Everything would change for them now. This was the pivot moment. You could see past present and future time flash across their eyes. A chapter ends, a new one opens. And at triple speed they were gone, the single white figure washed in blue light swept away, and the crowds of moving feet pushed on home, back over the cleared section of pavement like nothing had ever happened.
Later that night, as I watched the night city from my fire escape, I thought about what my life would be like if I were to be targeted. I’d never been into serious crime, but lately things had been getting hard. I was under pressure to look out for my people, it was getting harder to let them down. Too many of us had been taken, plucked and beaten out of existence. My parents, the ones i loved most, my neighbour. Too many to name. I couldn’t get caught, I needed to support them and their families. We had to stick together now. I dropped my glass in the sink and lay on my bed with all my clothes on, wriggling off one sock and then the other. Tomorrow I had to sell a bunch, better get to the office. My two jobs might just keep us going. What if it wasn’t enough, what would I do? My mind chattered as I lay there. But now for sleep.
They never made it to work the next day. Black clad humans in the service of the state slipped into their room whilst they slept. A silent cloud of sedative gas ensured that they remained unconscious and unmoving, while their body was moved from bed to trolley, from trolley to vehicle, from the street to .. somewhere else.
Unconscious moments, lost forever, held for you by strangers. They would never know the care with which the oldest of the takers tenderly made sure that their sleeping hands didn’t bang into the walls on the way out. They’d never know that they replaced the knocked over rubbish bin in the kitchen, that they made sure to leave water out for the cat.
And just like that, their life was altered, their trajectory changed. Shifted from one state of society to another, with, in all likelihood, little chance of return. They never got to say goodbye, to that apartment that had hosted pirate radio stations, addicts and thieves, people running from their harms. Those walls had been a haven for both those struggling to support each other in the ways they could, and those suffering under the shame of failing to do so.
Crime. [n] ‘a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority’
‘Crimes’ meant a different thing today. Crimes done at your hand, these were the crimes of society, not yours to hold alone. “The consequences of your harms, are not yours, these are the crimes of society. No shame.” Billboards paid for by the ‘No Shame’ campaign, whose mission had been to try and provide care to those who needed it the most. An amnesty on bad behaviour they called it. A truce, a collaboration between the harmers and the harmed of the world is what it was. They did great work, starting a movement around these ideas. They seeded the words in peoples’ minds, that humans are nothing alone and thus we are collectively responsible for each other, both the good and the bad. As these ideas grew, as they became fodder for dinner conversations and hashtags, so did the outrage at how we dealt with those that commit harms.
And then. Twelve years ago, the people occupied New York City police department, held siege on the city. They delivered their demands on day two:
“It has long been known that NYC police department endorses the use of predictive policing. The use of machine learning to predict the people, places, times and crimes, that will occur. The people see you. We see you arrest these humans. We hold your offices today, we threaten you with violence this day, one last time. To demand that you, keepers of the peace, do not use this information to arrest and punish individuals at risk of committing harm, but instead pledge to give them the care that necessitates their recovery, and true harm prevention.”
Angry crowds led by two elders and a gaggle of younger black bloc, following orders, occupied the offices for five whole days and five nights. One Tuesday evening at 6.30pm, just as the sky began to darken and retreat, the governor of NYPD emerged, flanked by protesters. The crowd remained silent but you could feel the roars that wanted to rip forth from each and everyone of them. A thousand cries, for those enslaved, incarcerated, put to death, for those who lived their lives caged, for the families and loves torn apart. Tears dripped from the side of open mouths, brows furrowed. Some lost in the pain of the past, others flying in the freedom of the tomorrow that suddenly lay tentatively before them.
As the governor stepped up to the microphone, the crowd narrowed it’s gaze. “Today,” they began, “we engage the full force of the greatest police system in the country, the system which is served us, but is tired and ready for a moral upgrade. Today this great system, shall be used not to detain punish those who commit harms but instead to identify those most likely to commit harm to humankind, and employ all of our expertise training and resources to deliver these humans the best care and support that we could offer them. This shall serve as an acknowledgement that their crimes, belong to all of us. It is the system that have let them down, there is blood on all our hands. Today we begin to wash those hands clean together.” The crowd remain silent, they should have roared, that’s what would have happened in a movie. But the people were in shock. No protests, no sieges, no occupation had ever lead to any actual success against police violence. The moving speech, left them with a feeling of unease. What was the catch, what was the trick?
The governor paused. “This process will take place beginning today. Over the next six months predictive policing will be replaced by Predictive Care, with transformative justice held deep at it’s core”. Sensing their disbelief or distrust perhaps, the governor looked to the elders for a sign of camaraderie. The elders gently stepped forward and raised their hands in solidarity, and the police officers that had been held hostage began to pour out of the building, helped and supported by protesters. Officers and black bloc walked together for the first time in history.
I woke up in a wooden cabin, sunlight streaming in through a partially open door. As my eyes cleared, I saw wooden walls and paisley curtains, greenery. Unidentifiable insects flying through the morning light outside. I thoughts of colours and I smell the smell of coffee brewing. Someone came to my bedside and told me that morning meditation is starting soon. I’ve been in the Sanctuary for a month now. I wasn’t held against my will, I wanted to leave to get back to my apartment, to those that needed me. But I also never experienced the world like this. I was being held by the world, in soft palm. I didn’t need money I was fed well given exercise, therapy has started in my first week. What kept me there that first day, was that the letter that I had received in writing. “On behalf of humanity, we apologize that this world has let you down, that we didn’t provide for you, that you were forced into a life of harm in order to survive, to defend yourself from the harsh realities of your existence, forced into battle to survive. We invite you to change the very system that created you.”.
They told me that I would be given everything I needed. Everything I needed to become a person that could really change the world of those that I loved. Give it a few months they said, if I wanted to return to my old life, I could. They sent money in boxes of food to my partner so that my people would be looked after. I developed. I began to heal. I learned to move my body in ways that help me let the anger out, and the fear simmer away. I learnt to observe and identify emotions, and to act in ways that acknowledged those sensations inside of me, but did not transmit them to others and the world around me. I started to learn that emotions didn’t have to control you. They gave me books. I read about how trauma can be passed from generation to generation, and each time the origin of harms done getting further and further lost, leaving us carrying the pain but not knowing its origins and how to relieve it. I learnt about oppression and the history of class domination. I learnt about human behaviour and the nature of power. They taught us and we taught them. In morning shares, we downloaded our worst darkest experiences, moments of helplessness strung together on a lifeline of despair.
Together, we got strong. I felt the pain leaving my body with each three second held breath and I felt the desire to change things replace that deep well of fear. Today was the last day of a working group. We been charged with critiquing the ways of the world and together as survivors of disaster, we were asked to build alternatives. It was a powerful group. Humans from some of the biggest and most treacherous walks of life were present. Most had spent their entire lives alone without love and care. Many had been forced into a life of extreme violence, socialised to transgress social boundaries in such heartbreaking ways. Learning that reconciling harm done by my own hands, knowing deeply that my hands, my weapon, are the same hands that could change the system that created me. This was the greatest freedom I could know. The world had failed us, and we took lives from others as a consequence. We truly knew the consequences of letting people down. We had been forced to face the consequences of our own harms and those done to us, like no other. And yet, each day we gathered around the table, and together we spoke aloud the words of a famous architect and futurist “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” We were called upon to question everything about human society and to brainstorm radical solutions. We questioned not only the nature of the human species, but the impact of attitudes held on each other. In the mornings we talked about how our families had left us damaged and in the afternoons we designed alternatives. Humans who had raped and assaulted so many times focused on rape culture and where it came from by day, and by night they formulated systems to change the power dynamics that serve rape. We we charged with building new and improved approaches to family, child rearing, love, ownership, power, sexuality, gender, economics, race, governance, nation states and freedom of movement, the ethics of space and deep sea exploration for the expansion of the human race, colonialism contrasted with colonisation. Under the unwavering gaze of a tribe of transformed humans, nothing was left unexamined.
We worked feverishly now. Three months in and none of us were anymore questioning that this is what we should be doing. We seen others take their ideas out of the program and out into the real world. And the real the world was listening. Last week one of the more experienced groups proposed that the state needed to create and maintain the ability to move freely through the world and for each human to experience a range of social structures, even if some of those seemed harmful. People need to be able to exit the world in order to truly opt in. ‘It will be chaos!’ I said. ‘Yes it will’, came the response from the elders, ‘but humans need to be able to know deeply and experience all the greener and less green grasses on all the sides of the fences, in order to really be able to opt into a way of life that they believe in, that represents them. Trust us, trust in the process.’ And the world just did it, they listened. Islands of autonomous zones are being laid out in every major city. Any one could propose a social system of their choosing and it would be created and tested. And they were their own guinea pigs. We spoke, the world listened and acted. We, the most harmful people, the most harmed people, were asked to get into the driving seat of humanity.
They lived back in their old apartment but only through choice and a desire to not forget where they had come from. In the eight years since they had been taken into predictive care, they had risen to the top ranks of the Socially Conscious. Their proposals for society have been some of the most popular and successful the state of New York had ever seen. Their life was well-stocked, they were cared for and so were all those that they loved. No one could have imagined the changes that would be in acted under their guidance. Pseudo-democracy was dead. State controlled everything was being dismantled. Laws were changeable, such that each generation could update them accordingly and truly consent to those laws that truly upheld their young values. The right to thrive, not just to survive, with held dear — the idea that keeping people alive without the means to thrive was no longer acceptable. Housing, food, healthcare, intimacy, were provided for you by your community. The Predictive Care program had produce unsurpassed reductions in harms done, and after a few iterations and despite some slip ups, had produced some of the most diverse and utopian programs humanity had ever seen.
But this world came with its own struggles. Socioeconomic classes were a thing of the past, as the right to ‘thrival’ not just survival, became a core value of humanity. Yet in its place, was another shadow. Hierarchy is a shapeshifter, and it revealed itself in unexpected places.
Now there were the drifters. They walked alone, in a meandering existence, the blank stares and nice hair, remnants of their history trapped in the present. These are the people who, unseen by the Predictive Care program, never received the transformative care of the state. They never did anything bad, but they never did anything good either. While those of us who suffered at the hands of society’s deepest injustices, had healed, learnt and transformed and began to build a future, we had failed to notice those that got left behind. The forgotten class. They had access to all they had ever had of course, education, wine bars, brunch, golf, weekend trips to the country. But somehow no one ever noticed them falling deeper and deeper into a relentless and pervasive averageness. A condition that seemed more and more entrenched with each passing generation. Young drifters would gather at the mall and work on their appearance and social media presence, snapping insta-filtered photos of their lives relentlessly sharing them in the hope of generating some kind of stimulation. Suburbia was filled with families of drifters, wafting to and from the shops, dutifully upgrading their upholstered furniture once every 4 to 5 years and selling lemonade to others. They weren’t in pain, they were doing just fine. Days went by just like seeing a friends holiday photos, one after the other. Smiles, nice hair, good teeth. “Kids, help me get the bags from the trunk, darling, do you have to work so late, I just can’t believe that Janine wore that dress to the christmas party, can you believe it?” The chitter chatter of an ancient normality was an eerie thing to bear witness to for visitors to these regions. But come they did. Predictive Care would send buses of us to come and experience this phenomenon. It was on my team to investigate this issue. Was it ethical to leave this group in this manner? They didn’t want to be freed, was it even our place to free them? Should we assume that we were free and they were not? Was there another way for people to experience agency, without experience suffering and transformation first? So many questions lay ahead for us.
Sometimes a random occurrence would catch one of them and pull them back into the socially conscious world. A car crash, illness, watching someone you love die. These experiences would sometimes be enough to slap them into existence, the rapture would push them to use their anger to commit some violence. If their struggle was hard enough, they would be caught by the Predictive Care’s algorithms and be prepped for working on the transformation of the world. But often not. Seeing the alienation and isolation of these lives was a painful reminder that we have a long way to go to saving all of humankind. Yes we made headway towards reducing suffering. We achieved nothing if not that, but they were vast populations of people, who despite no suffering were left without meaning, without passion. And without Predictive Care, they were left with no agency, or desire for change. The experiential under class.