Police: To Alter or Abolish?


Unknown-1When people ask me, ‘Who will protect us,’ I want to say: Who protects you now? —

Mychal Denzel Smith


Is It Time to Abolish Our Nation’s Police?

I first ran into the idea of police abolition when I was a beat cop in Minneapolis. At the time, I was attending graduate school in sociology and reading Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and others. It’s not a new idea. As I recall, it was first proposed by Malcom X, then the Black Panthers. Is it an idea whose time has now come?

As a cop, it was difficult for me to comprehend a world without police. Weren’t we, who were the police, appreciated? “Who will protect you if not us?” we asked people of color. I remember the answer to this day: “You don’t protect us now!”

That caused me to dig deep inside. Of course, the kind of police I argued against were those kind of police — those who don’t protect people of color; who were a danger to black and poor people. For years, I argued against a dominant style of policing which oppressed people of color and the poor; which benefited whites the power structures of our city. And when it became my time to lead police, that became my mission — to create a style of police intended to fairly and respectfully police the poor and communities of color using force to a minimum.

We began calling it community-oriented policing. Over the years, however, “oriented” seemed to have disappeared and we were left with an amorphous “Officer Friendly” idea called that today is called “community policing.”

At the time, those of us who saw ourselves as reformers should have been more definitive; more community-oriented and kept on stressing its about orienting the police function to the community for their benefit — not the sole benefit of police.

If I had to do it over again, I would have proposed that Community Policing was a confusing term – let’s try C.C.P. instead — Community Controlled Police and then discuss  what such a police would be like, what they would do, and how they would be oriented, focussed on helping the community.

Whether you agree with these proposals to abolish police or not, modern police leaders should be able to answer the questions of those proposing this idea and be able to understand and correct the problems in the community which caused this talk of abolition.

To simply “blow off” critics and not be responsive to their concerns will be a tragic mistake. There is usually always some truth in the arguments of our critics.

The following is an example of what some folks mean when they say, “Abolish the police.” It comes from a 2014 article in “Rolling Stone.” The author takes on the concept of police abolition by proposing six “practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing.” They are worth considering — and responding to.

Policing is a Dirty Job, But Nobody’s Gotta Do It: Six Ideas for a Cop-Free World

By José Martin

“…The moderates in this debate typically qualify their rhetoric with ‘We all know we need police, but…’ It’s a familiar refrain to those of us who’ve spent years in the streets and the barrios organizing around police violence, only to be confronted by officers who snarl, ‘But who’ll help you if you get robbed?’ We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still lacking creativity down here on Earth.

“But police are not a permanent fixture in society. While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the ‘disorderly conduct’ of the urban poor. Like every structure we’ve known all our lives, it seems that the policing paradigm is inescapable and everlasting, and the only thing keeping us from the precipice of a dystopic Wild West scenario. It’s not. Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing:

  1. Unarmed mediation and intervention teams

“Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts. This is real and it exists in cities from Detroit to Los Angeles. Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. While police forces have benefited from military-grade weapons and equipment, some of the most violent neighborhoods have found success through peace rather than war.

2. The decriminalization of almost every crime

“What is considered criminal is something too often debated only in critical criminology seminars, and too rarely in the mainstream. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage… To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is ‘less.’

3. Restorative Justice

“Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process…

4. Direct democracy at the community level

“Reducing crime is not about social control. It’s not about cops, and it’s not a bait-and-switch with another callous institution. It’s giving people a sense of purpose. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place. A more healthy political culture where people feel more involved is a powerful building block to a less violent world.

5. Community patrols

“This one is a wildcard. Community patrols can have dangerous racial overtones, from pogroms to the KKK to George Zimmerman. But they can also be an option that replaces police with affected community members when police are very obviously the criminals. In Mexico, where one of the world’s most corrupt police forces only has credibility as a criminal syndicate, there have been armed groups of Policia Comunitaria and Autodefensas organized by local residents for self-defense from narcotraffickers, femicide and police. Obviously these could become police themselves and then be subject to the same abuses..

6. Mental health care

“In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed up the last trauma clinics in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. We have created a tremendous amount of mental illness, and in the real debt and austerity dystopia we’re living in, we have refused to treat each other for our physical and mental wounds. Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.

Read Martin’s entire December 16, 2014 article HERE. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/policing-is-a-dirty-job-but-nobodys-gotta-do-it-6-ideas-for-a-cop-free-world-20141216

CLICK ON some other recent discussions which propose the abolishment of police: