Cat Brooks

Executive Director

Organization: Anti Police-Terror Project

Location: Oakland, CA


“I dream of a California—a world—where activists like me are no longer necessary and oppression is something my great-great grandchildren learn about in history class.”

Leading Edge Vision:

Cat’s vision is to revolutionize public safety in cities across the state by engaging visual arts, theater and organizing to imagine and  implement abolitionist solutions to effectively respond to community crises with care – not a badge and a gun.

What is your vision for your community? For California?

I dream of a California—a world—where people like me are no longer necessary and oppression is something my great-great grandchildren learn about in history class. My vision is to capitalize on my long history of successful artivism and the momentum of this particular political moment to upend the crisis of violent policing as we know it, institutionalizing transformative justice and abolitionist practices for generations to come. My intention with all of my work is to radically disrupt the current cycle of violence by police as first responders so that communities of color live self-directed, peaceful, healthy lives.

I envision a future scenario where a father tells his young son a story about the protectors of long ago, who sacrificed it all so we could live peacefully. Legend is the protectors are now out of sight but never gone—the babas who keep us safe. The father explains: “We fought for this: for community ambassadors, for trauma centers, to destroy the lie of racism, to end prisons, for community control over public safety, for a healthy earth, relevant and quality schools, living-wage jobs and socialized healthcare. We fought, and they died, so you could be free.” The young person looks out over the expansive sky – so clear even in the middle of the city – he can see forever and tries to imagine that life was ever any other way. He cannot. Because we won.

Can you share a story, either personal or from a directly impacted person, that exemplifies the problem you are trying to solve?

Police murder someone everyday in this country and shouldn’t be the ones responding to many community crisis, like mental health, in the first place. I do this work because of my personal experience. I was born into a mixed-race, working class, union family in segregated Las Vegas, Nevada, and learned what it means to fight from my mother, who was on the forefront of the domestic violence movement, and from my father, who was incarcerated for substance abuse.

I am also a survivor of abuse and domestic violence. When my partner beat me particularly badly one night, I was laying on the floor and heard him call the police, saying that he needed help and that I had attacked him. The next thing I know, two white officers show up – I am Black, and my ex is white – and, even though I was clearly battered and bleeding and he was fine, the police decided that I was the primary aggressor. The district attorney did not care to hear from me, a battered Black woman; he did not care.

My story is one of many. Yet, instead of implementing a holistic response to community crisis and personal trauma, we are investing in a carceral state which continues to exacerbate the cycles of violence.

What progress have you seen thus far in your work?

When the Anti Police-Terror Project was first formed, we were clear and intentional about communications being a strategy not a tactic, and being essential to our work as an organizing practice. We’ve seen the impact of the level of awareness about these issues and have been able to leverage public pressure to push for shifts in policies that we never thought possible 10 years ago. There has been an explosion of this as part of national conversation around alternatives to policing and how we respond to community crises with care, not policing.

We have also been able to be more intentional in our inclusion and development of power in the communities we work with, and even become co-sponsors of state legislation.

Finally, I’ve seen an increase in white allies, who I hope will become white accomplices and be more willing to follow the leadership of Black and brown folks.

What remains to be done?

Ultimately, we need to dismantle the system as we know it and build something that is generative of public safety, making the alternative models the norm. We need dramatic shifts in city and state budgets, and more acknowledgement in how current allocation of dollars are perpetuating white supremacy and what we classify as crime instead of addressing the trauma our communities live with daily.

What barriers have you faced, or continue to face, in achieving your vision of change?

The first thing is the brutality with which the state fights back. We are watching a national disinformation campaign with a mission to destroy the momentum of the defund and reimagine movement and our call for self determination.

The second is that all of us, regardless of class or race, are indoctrinated with the idea that police keep us safe. It will take a lot of ground work to change that narrative, and one of the only ways we can do that is to give folks alternate solutions and a vision of what’s possible.

How will the Leading Edge Fund fellowship help?

I am the walking definition of burnout. Being able to take some time to rest is one thing I’m excited about. The other is to actually be able to sit, dream, read and study, and get my written work into the world.

Who needs to hear your story and what is your call to action for them?

People not only need to hear my story, but our collective story. I hope my personal story is inspiring to people whose future should look nothing like my present. They should not have to endure the things I’ve endured and overcome. And, I hope that our collective story inspires people to act. I work in a particular field, but when we say abolition, we mean all of it. It should inspire you to fight for all the folks who are being impacted by state terror or are food-, housing-, or education-insecure. My call to action is for folks to find what they’re passionate about, and get in where you fit in.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

This cohort is fire, and I am incredibly excited to be in partnership with the folks who are part of this year’s formation and are walking the walk. I am grateful for the thoughtfulness of this fellowship, and humbled to get to be a part of it.