James Burch: Policy Director at Anti Police-Terror Project

The Anti Police-Terror Project is a Black-led organization that seeks to eradicate police violence in communities of color. APTP empowers victims of police violence and their families to find justice in some form. Police violence is unfortunately all too common these days, and APTP provides families with the resources they need to overcome this trauma and advocates for policy changes that can put an end to police violence.

What inspired the formation of APTP?


We are an Oakland based organization. The roots of the organization were formed in the wake of the police killing of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station. At that time, the political climate was different than now. People weren’t marching in the streets like they do today. When Oscar was killed, that kind of response was overwhelming and new. It encapsulated the whole city and was a pivotal moment in the Black lives movement. The Onyx organizing committee was then formed to combat police terror. APTP came from Onyx. As an organization, we respond to police terror through mass mobilization and public accountability. Since we’ve been around for over a decade, our work now encompasses a lot of different areas.


How does APTP support victims of police violence?


When police harm someone, we get to the scene as quickly as we can. It’s critical to get as much evidence as possible before it gets in the hands of police, because that might be the only time we get access to the evidence. It could be viewing surveillance footage, interviewing witnesses, or getting witness contacts. We do everything we can to make sure the families can get justice for their loved one. Justice looks different for each case, but it always starts with the family of the victim. We can give them access to therapists, healers, lawyers, community organizers, or financial support. Many times, families need time to heal and can’t immediately return to work. They need their bills paid, they need support, and they need to feel safe.


What are some of the policy changes you are advocating for?


On the state level, we’ve passed bills that make it more difficult for police to use deadly force. We also passed a bill that allows California to decertify police officers who have committed an act of serious misconduct, like murder or sexual assault. Previously, there was no way to decertify a police officer in CA for committing these horrible acts. Additionally, The Crisis Act provides grants to community based organizations that offer crisis response services without law enforcement. On the local level, we’ve advocated for the “Defund OPD” campaign since 2016. It’s a public education campaign on municipal spending. There’s a disproportionate amount of funding that goes to police departments, especially in Oakland. If you want to reduce violence, you don’t hire 10 more cops. You feed all the kids in a neighborhood and you ensure people aren’t getting evicted. We give everyone all the data on how money is being spent.


Can you tell me about the MH First initiative?


MH First started with the question: if police shouldn’t respond to mental health crises, then who should? It’s an all-volunteer attempt to be that response system. It primarily functions as a call-in line on weekends in Oakland and Sacramento, and Sacramento has teams they deploy to answer calls. MH First locates people who are in crisis and works with them to develop a safety plan to stabilize them. The idea is to build a better way to respond to people in crisis. For example, there was an instance where police were called about a person asleep in their car with a gun. MH First stepped in and got in contact with the person’s mother, who was able to remove her son from the vehicle without any police intervention. The goal of MH First is to meet someone with care and compassion, not a badge and a gun.