By Claire Liu
Police abolition. It sounds crazy. Extreme. Radical. Being able to call the police in cases of emergency has been the norm since we were born. However, we know there is a problem with the current police institution — they racially profile people, use excessive force, and are heavily militarized. I say “they,” not because there aren’t good people in the police force, but because they are part of an institution adhering to racialized practices and policies. That’s a separate argument. Whether or not cops are “good” or “bad,” something needs to change, and most people point to reform.
Organizations such as Campaign Zero and Obama’s New Era of Policing highlight policy reform as a productive way to reduce violence and change policing. Now, before discussing the outcomes of these policies, I want to clarify that #8cantwait and police reform do not go hand in hand with defunding the police. In fact, some policing reform requires more money to go towards police departments for implicit bias training, more body cameras, and community meetings. Also, Campaign Zero’s proposed policy changes aren’t new — they mirror President Obama’s task force on 20th Century Policing, which have already been applied in some cities.
Here’s some evidence I’ve gathered on why these policy reforms aren’t enough.Source). However, from 2005 to 2007, 75% of NJ police traffic stops were direct at LatinX or Black people even though the department made the procedural changes the DOJ required. Even with training, the police were still disproportionately targeting LatinX and Black POC.
2. Limit Use of Force
Citing the same article as above, the DOJ and local Cleveland police made an agreement to stop high speed chases or shooting at moving vehicles. Though the Cleveland police now had a policy “prohibiting officers from shooting at fleeing vehicles unless there was an immediate threat to life,” police killed an unarmed driver after firing 137 shots in May 2014.
3. Community Representation
Community policing is meant to allow the communities being policed to bring their concerns and work with police to find solutions. However, there are two immediate problems with this. First, the residents who attend community meetings are doing so for free. When their efforts are not appreciated, they do not continue to attend (Source-72). Second, bringing community problems to police makes everything a police problem, where solutions are more arrests and more tickets (Source), exacerbating for-profit policing.
4. Training for Implicit Bias and Procedural Justice
Unconscious biases are woven into every person as they grow up. Our biases frame our worldview, and how we perceive and interpret people’s actions. There is no concrete evidence that training can reduce implicit bias. There is no objective information. The only certain thing is that the police would need even more funding to conduct this training.
5. Requiring officers to wear body cameras
Several studies show body cameras have no impact on an officer’s use of force. The “quick fix” of recording has not held police officers more accountable, and requires more funding.
Now, I acknowledge I didn’t refute every single policy reform under these categories, and I even agree with some (mental health response teams), but there’s a clear pattern here where certain policy reforms are implemented, officers do not follow them, and then are not held accountable. The fact that Minneapolis implemented various procedural reforms such as duty to intervene, implicit bias training, and body cameras, and then had officers standing by while Chauvin used excessive force on a Black man, shows this policing reform does not effectively prevent police violence. Procedural justice reforms do not work because there is no fairness in the system when racism is rooted in the system itself. If you need more explanation about why some reforms don’t work and don’t defund the police, I found this helpful graphic.
So, what’s the alternative? Can we meet in the middle? The reason I wanted to write this article in the first place was to persuade myself abolition was the answer, or find some sort of compromise along the way. I’ve proven to myself (and hopefully, to you) that the police reform we are seeing has not worked, and it’s not productive to mobilize under reforms that will not eliminate police violence. We need a new framework to advance and change the system. At first glance, police abolition seems to be no police at all. But, abolition is really a mindset for prevention, intervention, and transformation. Instead of hearing “no police,” I like to think of it as alternatives to the police and ways to address the root causes of crime. It also is not eliminating the police all at once. Let’s keep in mind that this change will be gradual, and slowly reallocating traditional responsibilities of the police and reinvesting those funds will push us towards communities where people can feel safe. Because, if you think about it, the safest communities aren’t the ones with more police patrols, they’re the ones with the most resources.
Here’s how I can start rationalizing police abolition (maybe even in this order):
2. #DefundthePolice and shift resources to community programs
There should be mental health professionals on call for “crazy” people disturbing the peace in public areas. There should be social workers to help people experiencing homelessness sleeping on a bench. There should be more counselors in schools instead of police fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. Community organized CeaseFire in Chicago intervened in street violence and promoted better ways to solve conflict, which led to reductions in gang violence and shootings.
3. Create safe spaces
When there is a hate crime, or violence towards a specific group, the police will come and try to catch the perpetrator, and charge them. While there is justice in that, it is just a band-aid solution to hate crime and something similar could happen again, to the same marginalized group. The focus should be on figuring out why the perpetrator committed a violent crime, the circumstances leading up to it, and how to prevent it in the future. The SOS Collectivefocuses on tackling the root of the problem, and works to create a safe space for the queer community, preventing future violence. Also, it doesn’t make sense to me that police are called for domestic violence when 40% of police families experience it compared to 10% of the general population. Police don’t prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, or abuse, so we should fund programs that do.
4. Call your neighbors and friends, not the cops
In the 1970s, the Citizens Local Alliance for a Safer Philadelphiasuccessfully organized a community action model to prevent theft and crime in their neighborhood. Using flashlights and freon horns, neighbors were able to signal to each other when a crime was happening so other neighbors could come out with their horns. Residents felt safer and more comfortable outside and there was a 75% decrease in crime rates compared to adjacent police districts.
Now, What about the dangerous crimes and the dangerous people? When I look at the FBI’s violent crime data, the number of offenses scare me. There are a little over 16,000 murders, and almost 140,000 cases of rape. I wonder, where would the perpetrators go, if not prison? Can we live in a world where people aren’t punished? Punishment does not seem to be a huge deterrent for people. Anyways, I know these numbers are not put into context, and I sometimes question the criminal justice system because it doesn’t hold everyone accountable. How many of these murders were at the hands of police? How many rapists were acquitted and not included in these numbers? What about clearance rates? Could any of the violence have been prevented with a community-led strategy before it escalated to someone’s death? Abolition as a strategy and mindset starts to tackle the majority of crimes — both violent and nonviolent — through investment in community health workers, social workers, mediators, and counselors. As we implement community-led change, I want to see where the police and world are before I tackle alternatives to edge-case violent situations. And to be honest, right now the police aren’t approaching rapists and murderers in a way that is preventative. Sure, it might not be police responsibility to prevent crimes, but that’s exactly why there needs to be investment in alternatives which attempt to address root causes. I want people to acknowledge that the current system for dealing with crime has several shortcomings, and disproportionately impacts BIPOC.
Abolition does not go against all reform, or immediately remove all police. I see abolition as a way for people to start thinking about new systems to gradually implement instead of constantly trying to fix the current one. Calling the police shouldn’t be our only option, and I’m excited to see how the abolition movement grows and how we can creatively find ways to make safe communities for everyone.
Organizations we can support to defund the police:
Reclaim the BlockReclaim the Block began in 2018 and organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the…
www.reclaimtheblock.orgHome - MPD150Toward a police-free future.
www.mpd150.comCritical ResistanceOur Mission Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by…
Disclaimer: I’m no expert on this, and I’m just scratching the surface of abolition and the abolition mindset. Defunding the police is part of a larger prison abolition movement to change the processes, structures, and institutions traditionally used to tackle the problems that the prison industrial complex attempted to “solve”. Here is a comprehensive list of resources if you want to contextualize and learn more.
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This blog evokes the spirit of UC Berkeley -- the home of the Free Speech Movement. The Global Heath Soap Box provides a platform for GlobeMed at Berkeley chapter members to explore and discuss their thoughts on relevant public health issues. Whether it's an expansion on what we discuss in ghUs or a topic of interest--The Global Health Soap Box covers a wide range of topics.