Abolish the police – Labour Article
After the lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the council members agreed to abolish the police department. Defunding, and eventually replacing, policing should happen in the UK too.
Minneapolis already tried reform. George Floyd’s murderers probably had already received ‘implicit bias’ training from the Obama era reforms that funnelled millions of dollars into the department. To stop police killings, you do not punish the killers and increase department budgets. Instead, you should decrease the number of interactions that the public has with police offers. There is not a single social justice movement that would not benefit today from adopting an anti-carceral outlook.
This is because modern policing originated from an explicitly colonial endeavour designed to control an emerging working class. The violent and repressive role they have today is because they assume this historical purpose. Indeed, the origins of our current capitalist economic system wouldn’t have been possible without the dispossession of peasants from land that was once held in common. Additionally, without the so-called ‘primitive accumulation’ from the slave trade or even the witch trials.
Policing’s birth must be understood from the violent context that gave rise to the industrial revolution and the transformation of capitalism into a world economic system.
The common understanding of the police as existing to prevent crime, with only an occasional ‘rotten apple’ thrown in the bunch, could not be further divorced from reality.
As brilliantly told in this webcomic, the worlds first police force, the London Metropolitan Police, have their origins in colonial Ireland. This has come to be known as the ‘imperial boomerang’ effect where colonial possessions become incubators of methods that are ‘brought home’. This incidentally, is where the term “bobby” for police officers comes from. It was Robert Peel who used his time as Irish Secretary clamping down on agricultural uprisings to develop the Metropolitan Police force we know today.
Across the world, the most marginalised, the most despised people who make up the “wretched of the earth”, understand the true purpose of policing. This is the reason why many African Americans sometimes argue that they are a colonised people. It is why the police murder of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem is a much truer representation of the work policing actually involves compared to our perception of it.
It is because the police were designed to clamp down on ‘undesirables’ through controlling the lives of working-class people. This is also done through the protection of private property. Protecting New York real estate, for example, is the reason why Bill De Blasio has struck a moderate tone with the NYPD and their $6 billion budget.
I began this article with a history lesson to explain the poverty behind calls for police reform. The history of policing and the lived experience of oppressed groups in society show why reform is completely tone-deaf and inappropriate to call for. It is why the misguided “8 can’t wait” campaign was almost immediately responded to with the much better “8 to abolition”.
‘What about crime?’ I can hear you ask. ‘Who will track down my stolen bike/XBOX or protect my honest family business?’ Well, for starters 99.6% of crime is never dealt with by criminal justice. Furthermore, 80% of victims of sexual assault do not report to the police, and with most women who are killed, the perpetrators are their ex-partners. People who are often highly at risk from sexual assault and rape at work such as sex workers, often report that they are more fearful of the police than anyone else. The way that you stop violence towards women isn’t to punish the offenders after the fact, it is to dismantle patriarchy.
Lastly, what happens when the police are no longer around? Well in New York for example, when the police went on strike to protest the treatment of the police murderers of Eric Garner, crime actually went down.
While in the UK, some types of crime have been decreasing despite the fact that police budgets have been impacted by austerity. For centuries before the birth of policing, communities dealt with crime through the practice of “hue and cry” where it was incumbent upon anyone nearby to pursue and apprehend criminals. This shows that the police are not necessary to stop violent crime.
Abolitionists accept that some roles the police perform such as investigating murders and even occasionally the limited confinement of people who are at immediate risk of harming others will be needed after the end of policing. However, much of what the police does today can be taken upon by social workers and mental health professionals. Ending all criminalisation of drug policy would also seriously reduce the need for the police force.
Abolitionism isn’t a new demand. In fact, much of the intellectual and organising work has been done for decades, particularly by black women such as Angela Davis. As the grassroots 4front movement that works towards supporting communities at risk of violence put it, we need to create “environments that provide the necessities people need to live healthy, happy lives… Only then will we be able to talk about ‘safety’ and ‘peace’ in a way which is meaningful and substantive”.
The UK is not innocent. We also have a problem with white supremacy and institutional police racism. Body cameras can be shut off, police can lie and cover up misconduct. What we need is to steadily defund and replace policing as we know it and transform our understanding of justice away from a carceral approach towards transformative justice. The only good police officer is one that isn’t doing their job, although I might allow Officer Hannibal Buress to be the exception.
Written by Labour Writer, Jack Walton
Point of Information
It’s reckless to throw out a broken toy, it’s better to fix it – a Conservative response
In light of recent events, people across the globe are trying to come up with constructive solutions as to how to address the issue of police brutality. But should we be going as far as abolishing existing law enforcement? I’m sceptical.
I understand that people believe that radical action is needed. However, I doubt this is something that would prove popular amongst the general public. Ipsos Mori confirms that 57% of those surveyed opposed the idea.
Considering that a lot of people are watching the carnage that is unveiling in front of their eyes, be it statues being pulled down, Minneapolis police unit being dismantled, or an anarcho-communist Autonomous Zone ‘CHAZ/CHOP’ that was created in Seattle, I doubt this sends the right message. Suggesting that the idea of abolishing the police will result in a decrease in crime is hopeful at best.
Recent events must surely be a proof of it, looking at the damage that has been caused to civilians (who were often black!) as well as the number of shootings in the area. The average citizen watching all this would rather have even more police on the streets.
We need to have a greater understanding of the core differences between the UK and the US. In the UK, we have neither a written constitution nor the 2nd Amendment. We don’t have a castle doctrine, which allows citizens to defend their property.
In the unlikely event that the police would have been abolished, American citizens can still defend themselves. People would end up forming their own community militias. We don’t have such laws in the UK. Police provide safety. It may be flawed, but the idea of abolishing the police is like throwing out a broken toy instead of fixing it. I doubt many people would feel safe by calling a social worker instead.
If you want to know my overall opinion on this issue, head to the ‘The Calls to ‘Defund the Police’ are an affront to our officers’.
Written by Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka
Reform, not abolish! – a Liberal response
Firstly, I want to say this is possibly one of my favourite articles Jack has written at POI. There are a few areas I disagree with him on, but I read this and knew it would be extremely tough to reply to. I will try my best.
I generally believe we are reaching a stage where reform is needed. Institutionally, I think the police have lost a lot of what it was meant to be; they are of the people. It is why bobbies never carried guns. However, with their ties with colonial oppression, it has reached the point where reform is needed.
Abolition is dangerous. Part of being in a democracy is the benefit to be a bystander. You can be in a democracy without being involved; the police allow that to happen. It also allows for the subduing of far-right riots as we saw a couple of weeks ago, something I’m sure Jack would agree with.
However, I feel the biggest weakness with his arguments is his example of prostitution. Sex workers are afraid of the police because of out-dated laws, not the police themselves. Therefore, both need reform; law and police. Not to remove the police completely, they still have an important and valid role, but major reform is required. Something I think Jack’s article suggests more than abolition.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
My beliefs in libertarian socialism were adopted gradually. Since a child I was immersed in the language of social justice and liberal politics from my membership of a progressive Jewish youth movement.
My name is Dinah Kolka and I am going into the first year of Journalism at Napier University in Edinburgh. Recently, I graduated from Edinburgh College with an HNC in Media and Communications. This ignited my interest in politics and journalism.
I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.