Kalapuya Land, Umpqua National Forest, March 2023. Photo by Alexandra Kaul.

  • Abolition—The cop bares his teeth at us. Abolition is a word I hear sparsely in Oregon, but now there’s talk about dissolving the whole police department—an official recognition of their failure to keep us safe. No more jail, no more city court on Thursdays. No more loud negotiating in the hallways shared by most city employees and the police station, the voices of secretaries booming out parole orders as the men become more and more agitated and embarrassed. I keep my eyes on the ground. When they look at me I smile, finally figured out how to do that with a mask on. Word is: they fucked up so bad they’re taking the entire department away. That’s why all those sheriffs have been all over town lately. Four out of seventeen gone on admin leave from last Thursday to last Friday. The ones I thought most violent are still on the force, the ones my interlocutor filmed this past September beating a local young man with mental illness in front of the bookstore on Main street, in the middle of a sunny summery day, on the most surveilled corner in Cottage Grove. A passerby joined in, after the four were already piled on top of him. The surveillance video shows the man shaking hands with the cops after. Getting rid of our cops wouldn’t really be abolition at all though, downtown would just be home to a sheriff substation. Agitation often appears along this chunk of the I-5 corridor, at the truck stop, the raised shoulders, the strung out girls with bright pink lipstick, and the men close by but never close enough for them to appear together, unless you know what human trafficking looks like.

  • Biometrics—Oregon and Washington are blue states, but house the lowest hospital beds per capita in the nation. We have three ambulances for twenty thousand residents, but the woods are scanned and sprayed by helicopter. It’s mostly glyphosate now, but before that, it was also DDT and Agent Orange. Don’t eat too many fish from that river, you hear me? The scales of time and rhythms of work are different, but like sugar cane, slow growing thick trees are a cash crop.

  • Borders—Closer to Canada than Mexico, we are home to a large-ish Guatemalan community. Oregon is a sanctuary state, but one of the things our cops are on the hook for is extra-judicial cooperation with ICE (the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This doesn’t surprise me, from what I’ve seen in San Diego and Oakland and San Francisco and Chicago. Border Patrol and ICE have as many volunteers and accomplices as they have agents. We don’t fall on the official list of sundown towns in Oregon, we are only marked “suspected.” We guard our secrets well here, right out in the open. All I know is, I’ve seen the city budget and the line item for informants.

  • Conflict (as it relates to, and departs from, violence)—When we go to their meetings, at the library, the right-wingers rush us. Later, I watch back surveillance tape and see a man who loves me standing behind me growing taller and taller, as they try to lock down the library, and I hear the word terrorist.

  • Epistemic violenceAt the houseless camp where we organize, the woman from the Catholic street outreach hands my Indigenous-appearing friend a rosary. A certain type of recognition also does the work of the colonial encounter. Then there’s the present erasures of a small town and sticking together through the eddies of rumor and knowing it all and then knowing nothing, just cutting down two nooses in the same barn, one season apart.

  • Ontological violencePeople keep hitting unhoused folks on the streets with their cars, but they don’t dare to say a thing to the cops, knowing how the cops treat them when no one is watching—or even worse on that day in September in broad daylight, where a passerby joined in and participated in the beating, shaking hands with the four officers afterward, blood and three teeth still on the pavement.

  • Practices of apprehension and perception—In addition to the police baring their teeth at us, a cadre of volunteer neo-Nazis follows us around. We can’t afford the MRI machine so after the “vehicular-related incident,” I am given a ride by ambulance to the trauma center at the big hospital up north. When my friend saw me, the first thing they asked was “Did he come for you on purpose?”

  • Redaction—In the hills, people love to listen to the scanner, to see what’s going on. We can only hear fire and paramedics—the police hired someone to encrypt their scanner years back, a suspicious amount of tech for a small town department. At his most recent briefing, the new interim police chief tells us that our data management systems are a mess, data functionally unreliable, everything from evidence to jail records to the number of 911 calls. A couple months back, thanks to the video from September, a filming denying the official report’s attempt at redaction, the city council approved body cams for the department. We contracted Axon [NASDAQ: AXON], the biggest name in the business for body cams and tasers for U.S. police personnel, with headquarters in Seattle, Scottsdale, Tampere, Sydney, Amsterdam, and Ho Chi Minh City. We get a five-year contract bundle deal with a department-wide taser upgrade thrown in. Body cams will automatically activate if the sirens go on, or the gun or taser is pulled from the holster. The policy will be to film any “official police business” but whether to deploy the camera at each moment without a technological triggering event is still up to the presiding officer. When asked why they can’t be on the entire shift, the official line is once again the problem of too many servers, too much tech for a small town government to handle. Meanwhile, lawsuits from all the police misconduct threaten to raze our budget further and further.

  • Sensing technologies—The weather forecast is consistently wrong. A new study comes out and suddenly everyone is talking about microplastics. It’s not even winter yet, and the hummingbird feeders with the sticky sweet sugar syrup freeze over in the night. After a couple weeks, I notice the hummingbirds avoiding the plastic feeders, only drinking out of them if it’s really cold, and the glass ones are already empty. They weigh less than a penny. They know what to do.

  • Transformation—After two years of this, I don’t see everything as so inherently unstable. She shows me places where the forest was completely razed over, one hundred or sixty years ago. She says look at it now, she’s fine, it’s just us that won’t be.


Alexandra Kaul is a writer, anthropologist, and community organizer currently based in rural Oregon. Her work focuses on memory, trauma, police violence, ecology, and white supremacy in Germany and the United States. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley and Master's degree in Anthropology from The University of Chicago. She was born in Germany and raised in Germany, Malaysia, and California.