Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Defund the Police: Five Steps to Peace

In this article I will explain what the slogan "defund the police" means. These points largely align with Campaign Zero, which provides a massive, detailed body of research to back up these claims. However, I have chosen to emphasise five points in a different order and manner than that organisation.

These points are made largely within the context of the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement. My personal experience with police forces in that country is limited but certainly not reassuring. It's important to note that many, though not all, of the points made about policing in the USA are relevant to other countries. As in other spheres, the Usonian situation acts as a warning of where dangerous ideologies can lead, a limit case if you will.

First, one should understand the historical context of police forces, facts that will come as a surprise to those who believe the mythology of policing that has been promulgated by the state. Fundamentally, police forces were not created to fight crime, but to protect the property rights of the moneyed classes. While there was social equality, police were unnecessary. But between 1825 and 1855 policing (as we know it) was created to fight "disorder." Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was defined to occur only among poor and working peoples, so it is those communities who were targetted.

Given this history, no-one should be surprised at contemporary events. The murder of George Floyd, the shooting of children and pregnant women, indiscriminate use of force against protestors, and other events are not aberrations, but align with the purpose of policing from day one. Therefore no weak calls for "reform" or rooting out the "bad cops" will change the current situation for the better. Indeed, these attempts have always failed in the past.

Here are five steps that must be taken to de-escalate violence, prevent unwarranted killings, and move towards a fairer, more peaceful society.

1. De-militarise the police
Remove all military equipment from police forces, cease use of chemical weapons, de-emphasise so-called "non-lethal" guns. Scale back the use of deadly force, stop high-speed police chases, stop SWAT style home invasions. These over-reactions regularly lead to the deaths of innocent civilians and do nothing to fight crime.

2. Stop policing minor crimes
"Stop and frisk," "three strikes," the "war on drugs," and other punitive measures do not reduce crime, but instead specifically target African Americans and other minorities. Studies clearly demonstrate that disorder does not lead to crime, so any methods justified along those lines are suspect.

3. Represent communities
Police should be sourced from the community in which they operate and must represent the diversity of these communities. Police forces must not be allowed to govern themselves, nor investigate their own misconduct; instead, community panels should provide oversight. Rather than getting a free pass for violent acts, police officers should be held to higher standards than other citizens.

4. Emphasise social solutions
Public safety is improved by the provision of affordable housing, healthcare, meaningful employment, youth programs, shelter from abuse, and other social services. De-stigmatise the poor, the addicted, and the unwell. Police have no place in any of these activities.

5. Defund the police
Reducing budgets will reduce police activities to the minimum required. Money can then be re-allocated to social services, though this will require further acts of political will, and changes to the selfish ideologies that permeate the USA and other countries.

The will and empathy of many people is needed to make this happen. Centuries of injustice will not be rectified overnight. But now is a good time to start.

Black Lives Matter.

Further Reading

Day, Meagan. 2020. "The best way to “reform” the police is to defund the police: interview with Alex S. Vitale," Jacobin [website], June 2020. link

Mathias, Christopher. 2020. "New Yorkers said ‘f**k the police,’ so the police rioted," Huffpost [website], 3 June 2020. link

Potter, Gary. 2013. The history of policing in the United States," Police Studies Online [website]. link

Vitale, Alex S. 2020. "The answer to police violence is not 'reform'. It's defunding," The Guardian [website], 31 May 2020. link

Whitehouse, David. 2014. "Origins of the police," Works in Theory [website]. link


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