“It’s not only that it is impossible for us to imagine a world without police; we are trained to a point of being unable to do so,” the author points out.
Once again, the deadly measures of the police and the impunity which allows it have been met with justified anger. I understand the rage, and I share the anger. If not surprising, the lack of consideration for Black lives is still shocking. And yet, I hope that this time our repeated demands for the police to stop being police will be heard.
How is it possible that the police continue to kill people, notably Black people, with complete impunity? When asked like this, the question is simply inadequate. To fulfill its role, the police must be racist, patriarchal, ableist, homophobic and transphobic. To perpetuate a capitalist, white supremacist and cis-hetero patriarchal state aimed to target, control and contain certain groups. When looked at like this, the paths are limited: We must ask better questions and better formulate our demands. And both are within our reach, just like the possibility of abolishing the police.
How to make sure that the police stop killing with complete impunity? Such a reframing of the question opens up the possibilities. We could begin by reducing the interactions between the police and the population. We could also reduce police budgets and invest in our communities. There it is, a constructive question that opens up more.
Are people shown a representation of public security that doesn’t include the police? If the response is no, why? There is something profoundly dangerous about the fact that abolishing police is unthinkable for so many people. It means that the police have so skillfully colonized and besieged our thought processes that we are incapable of imagining a world in which they don’t exist. Yet, the police haven’t always existed. What makes us think that they will always exist, or that they should always exist?
Trained Not To Imagine
It’s not only that it is impossible for us to imagine a world without police; we are trained to a point of being unable to do so. Police TV series and other forms of propaganda for the forces of law and order are critical in the naturalization of the police. Children’s books, cartoons, comic books, Lego, the police presence in schools and other past and present aspects of popular culture condition us to be incapable of thinking of a world without police. Police are portrayed as heroes; they are celebrated with monuments and memorials. It teaches us that the police are the wall between order and total chaos. It is hard to think of another trade that puts such effort into public relations. There is no TV series showing the value of the work done by childcare workers, even though they are essential to the workings of modern society. Why do the police need it so much?
Law enforcement agencies constantly work to preserve their legitimacy. They reinvent themselves, they reposition and constantly reimagine themselves in new roles. The fact that the police continually justify their existence suggests, however, that their role in our culture is perhaps more precarious than it appears, and that they are in fact vulnerable to social mobilization and pressure.
This offers us a real window of opportunity for our abolitionist strategy. We have to aspire to reduce the interactions between police forces and the population without increasing the legitimacy of the police. The objective should be to reduce wherever possible the work of the police in all its forms and to stop legitimizing the use of the police as a response to different social problems. For example, we cannot demand reformist advisory committees and commissions of inquiry that reinforce police power. We can no longer demand the replacement of police by social workers if they are given the same mandate of surveillance and coercion. A strategic abolitionist mobilization intends to remove the prison and police complex alongside its legitimacy.
When prison and police abolitionists call for the elimination of the police, people respond immediately and aggressively by telling us to come up with an alternative way to ensure public safety. They ask us to replace the police. But no single entity should replace prisons, the police and surveillance. I think about what Damon Williams, an activist in Chicago, wrote, which I read recently: “When I see the police, I see a hundred other employees condensed into a single person with a gun.”
The police are currently the catch-all response to every social problem, while the state continues to reduce public services. Different problems require different solutions. And an intrinsically violent institution, an institution that is the one and only source of authority and liberty to which the state permits the use of violence, should not be part of that response.