Over the past few weeks you may have heard calls to ‘abolish the police’ or ‘defund the police’. Now, these statements are not quite as radical as they may seem. Apart from a limited number of anarchists, nobody is seriously suggesting we should go without police officers and law enforcement. What is usually meant by these calls varies, different people have varying ideas about what it should entail, and different areas have separate problems with the police. However, we can explain some of the most common ideas behind these slogans.
Firstly, especially in the USA, police are given a vast array of different resources and powers with which to enforce the law, they are also expected to deal with a wide range of problems they are not well suited to address. Many people think it would be better if a large proportion of the funds given to the police were redistributed to social programmes aimed at helping the community, which would also take over some of the current police responsibilities. So, for example, as a result of this fund redistribution, police might not be called upon to deal with noise complaints or other minor issues in the community, which would hopefully lead to fewer scenarios in which police ended up using unnecessary force. This is the main idea behind the slogan: ‘defund the police’.
Furthermore, many people believe police actively seek to convict people on weak grounds to justify their finances, and the police in the US have become more and more militarised due to anti-terrorism funding. All of this has led to an increase in the ‘us versus them’ mentality within the police force. It is also worth noting studies have shown the more weapon options police have, be it tasers, guns, batons, or tear gas, the more likely they are to use one of those weapons in a dispute. By taking away a large proportion of their funding, it is hoped police will scale back both their armaments and their tendency to manufacture or overreact to crimes.
Secondly, the calls to abolish and defund the police also stem from the failures of attempted police reform. Many feel any change to the system dependent on the police themselves to enforce is doomed to failure because the current system is designed to protect corrupt or brutal police officers. The tight-knit gang mentality of the police force has led to many criminal acts by police being covered up by their fellows, and the police unions are equally fierce in fighting for their member’s jobs, regardless of what those members have done. It seems the only thing to have a real effect on the way policing is carried out is radical change, even if this means a complete abolition of the current police force and the founding of an entirely new form of police, as this is something many people are now willing to support.
In my opinion, all of this is understandable and much needed. The police have continued to brutalise minority groups for decades and it must stop. Police reform is desperately needed, not only in the US but in many other countries across the world: policing where the police are part of the community, serving the people, not policing against the community, as nothing more than the apparatus of the state.