Abolish the police?

Abolish the police, yay or nay? – A debate more of us should be having and why you might want to get into it.

Personally I’ve previously found it hard to truly stand by the idea of abolishing the police, in part because I’ve been raised to fundamentally believe that the government has every ones best interest in mind at all times (a lie), but most of us have also been told that there’s some things we just couldn’t possibly understand as commoners. For me it’s also due to the fact that I never really heard anyone suggest an option, aside from maybe chaotic anarchy, which was presented as an absurd joke to underline just how important the work of police really is (as in, if we’re left to our own demise we’ll revert back into wild animals and start killing each other). However one of the things these few weeks of heated online debate has taught me is that there’s an entire body of literature dedicated to this very subject. Aka what do you do when the organisation set in place to stop people from hurting and killing each other is doing the hurting and killing? I saw a tweet by @neontaster that read:

And I thought – Or in many black peoples case, something you shout at the top of your lungs when your family and community is falling victim to a government sanctioned body with a monopoly on violence. Nonetheless, whether you’re on the for or against it (or some sauce inbetween) side of this debate, this phrase has turned into an echoe with most of us unsure of what this would actually mean, so here I am writing about this, in hopes of pushing the commoners debate (myself included) past this phrase into actually discussing in real-time what it could mean. Somewhere along the way we settled for ‘humans can’t take care of themselves, they’re stupid and irrational, somebody has to keep them in check, hmm… a group of humans will do’. I don’t know what happened here, I guess it’s like how democracy is the worst way to run a country, except for all the other options.

Let me bring up a classic example touching on human behavior in positions of power, or in any ”fundamentally good vs evil”-debate: The Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971. One of the most well known experiments in the history of psychology. The purpose of the Stanford Prison Experiment was to examine the impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. To quote Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist behind the experiment.

”Suppose you had only kids who were normally healthy, psychologically and physically, and they knew they would be going into a prison-like environment and that some of their civil rights would be sacrificed. Would those good people, put in that bad, evil place – would their goodness triumph?”

Philip Zimbardo

To sum it up briefly goodness, did not triumph. The experiment was supposed go on for 14 days, but got cut after 6 days since the guards got abusive and the prisoners showed signs of severe anxiety and stress. Interactions between guards and prisoners were hostile. Guards became aggressive and prisoners became passive and depressed. Even the researchers themselves got dragged in, Zimbardo himself, head of the experiment, posed as warden and overlooked the abusive behavior of the jail guards until a student pointed out the horrible conditions and argued it morally wrong to continue with the experiment. Conclusion, when placed in positions of power, humans tend to behave differently than they normally would, leaning towards the evil, with very few exceptions. It’s worth noting though that the experiment has been criticized for being unethical, and for it’s unrepresentative sample of participants (white middle-class males). These last two factors has made the results difficult to apply to other scenarios and a wider population.

Alright, now let’s talk police, alternative solutions if we were to abolish it and what to do with the unreliability of the human mind.

From what I’ve been able to find out, many of the theories for an alternative to police revolve around changing the way in which we police people, as well as dividing the bracket of responsibilities that the police carry in most societies today. This can be hard to imagine, when I was initially posed with the question, my first thought was what could policing be other than what it is today? However reading through this stuff It became apparent that it’s really not that make-believe at all, especially if we center the question around what the police are supposed to be doing, which is protect people.

So, think of it like this, we have psychologists, to dissect and offer guidance and support for ”lost” human minds, rehabilitation centers for various forms of addicts, cameras, security numbers and systems for surveillance and help lines for victims of abuse. We have specialized people for these tasks, people who study for years in their respective fields, yet a cop is supposed to be able to handle all these various kinds of situations on the daily, preferably without issue or fail. They’re also armed, trained in combat, and expected to be ready on site within minutes of call. A huge responsibility is placed on one single organ of society, as well as a whole heap of physical and legal power in terms of weapons and ”passes”/leaniancy regarding the law they were sent out to represent and uphold.

Let’s be real here, these expectations sound rather unrealistic, inefficient and high-risk in terms of failure. Of course running a society isn’t easy, and there are always details the human factor tends to miss, regardless of if you’re an elected and respected politician or a random woman with some questions and an internet connection. So what do these people who’s work I’ve read suggest we do? Well, simply put, we de-fund the police, and put that funding in all the other organs of society responsible for handling all that stuff I mentioned earlier, these same places who probably suffered from de-funding themselves due to a need for more police, or a summerhouse. As a bonus, when the responsibility is split, so is the power! Or well, it has to be, for it to make sense. (Sidenote: Most people call for de-funding as a first step towards abolition, not as a solution to our current problem, de-funding alone wont cut it since the issues and desired solutions require a full revamp of the our policing-narrative, a clean sweep.)

What else do we need to take into consideration? Well, let’s look at a modern day example of what a society can look like without our version of police: Rojava. This autonomous self-governing state located in the north-eastern part of Syria, has established a system of it’s own where they have two separate groups of people responsible for different instances of safety in society; The Assayish who are responsible for the ”city” and the HPC (Civil defense forces) who are responsible for the ”community”. The Assayish are responsible for watching the borders, arresting criminals, guarding government building etc, whilst the HPC on the other hand consists of volunteers from local neighborhoods who receive basic training in security and only patrol their own neighborhood. The dividing of responsibility, encouraging everyone to help out aswell as proximity to whom they protect reduces the risk of de-humanization and hierarchical behavior. Close-knit neighbors and family protecting each other helps maintain the delicate power-balance.

So we need to take this with us into the equation too, proximity, inclusion and divided responsibility lessens the eventual hierarchical/power-crazed behavior.

Next thing to, connected to what we mentioned earlier, is that people tend to commit crime when they’re desperate, low income, bad housing/healthcare is directly linked to criminal activity, thus some of the money taken out should be re-invested in increasing the living standard for the people at the bottom of society and improving social services. This sounds like some imaginary utopia, and with how our society is built and running today, I absolutely agree, it is imaginary. Personally I fear it’ll get turned on it’s head and provide another market for big companies to capitalize of, like they capitalize of the privatization of prisons and hospitals. Yet, that shouldn’t hinder us from arguing for steps in the right direction. There’s always gonna be stuff to improve, and we shouldn’t normalize calling a cop if the issue is mental health, because then we’d just be overlooking and covering up the actual issue. The people that end up taking the hit for the higher ups falling out are marginalized and oppressed groups at the bottom of society. We can’t have that.

The stuff I’ve read about abolition is based on the american police and prison system, but I’d still urge the Swedish government to push for the same kind of reform, people are having issues with their police everywhere in the world. All because somewhere along the line it went from supposedly serving to protect all lives at any cost to defeating imaginary bad guys and taking your made up law into your own hands by throwing and wrestling a pregnant black woman to the ground over a subway-ticket (Sweden) or rushing into (the wrong) black woman’s house to shoot her in her sleep (USA). Clearly it’s time for something new.

I realize the actual reform is going to be more complicated, and there’s a myriad of ways in which we can implement it, some people have been suggesting everything from drone-surveillance to specialized elite forces and a market for professional assassins, (this is another reason for why you might want to get in on this lol, although if it comes to it, maybe we wont have a say in drone surveillance or any of the other, see Omniscient). Nonetheless, yes, this topic is huge and I’ll be linking some statistics around anti-brutality methods recently implemented that’ve failed ex. police body-cams, as well as issues with the social construct of crime itself – at the bottom of the post. I’ll also link some alternatives to calling the police that you can use in the meantime that can be applied basically anywhere.

Our world is an un-equal and un-just place, but it’s also an incredibly intelligent, globalized and highly technological place, so let’s urge our leaders to reform and improve it whilst also pushing for change individually. The system is clearly long overdue for an update, too many people have died and continue to get killed.

So I agree, abolish the police.

Links I’ve used as sources, plus more info on abolition:

How to Abolish the Police: Lessons from Rojava

Camila’s Abolition Reading List – A collection of texts and information (e-books, articles etc) (by @kuh_mila on twitter) about abolition.

Why is this happening? – Great podcast episode with guest pro-abolition educator Mariame Kaba.

The Reader: Guide to police abolition – Another collection of links and resources on abolition, serves great as an introduction

The End of Policing by Alex Vitale – A book that was linked and referenced in every single thread I found on abolition. I started listening to the e-book (free 30 day trial, a win)

The social construct of crime – an interesting twitter thread from a law school student

A randomized control trial evaluating the effects of police body-worn cameras (plus a this twitter thread with more information/links about other trial methods to lessen police brutality)

The Police Were a Mistake – interesting article about how today’s police have become the standing army the (racist) american founding fathers feared.

Why Ta-Nehisi is hopeful – Podcast episode with author Ta-Nehisi Coates on police violence and protests.

12 Things to do Instead of Calling the Cops – Title speaks for itself


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