I know. It’s an inflammatory title, and easily disproved. I am sure there are many cops out there who wouldn’t execute a kid in cold blood for walking in the street.
But i want to talk solutions, and all the ‘good cops’ in the world didn’t save Michael Brown. They didn’t save Eric Garner. Or Terrance Franklin. Or Oscar Grant. Or Kelly Thomas. Or John T. Williams. Or any of the other 400 people/year who are murdered by police in the United States.
The truth is that when we’re looking for real and deep solutions, the ‘good cops’ don’t matter.
The police as an institution exist to enforce a social order that is by its nature profoundly unjust. And they always have: modern policing in the United States evolved from yesterday’s slave patrols, and these white supremacist roots matter as much today as they did then. We can’t ‘reform’ away the very core of an institution. Nor is there real justice or freedom possible under capitalism, a system that requires many underclasses of people.
I want a world without cops, because they harass, brutalize and murder every day in defense of an inherently unjust system. But even among people who share a desire for change in the world, that goal is met with resistance based on the pragmatic idea that sometimes the cops serve a useful function, or the belief that we can’t come up with anything better.
So let’s talk about building a world without cops. These conversations, if had honestly, are hard and long and complicated. But they are needed. We can and should talk about the ways that police make many people less safe, but let’s talk also about the reasons people call the cops or want them around, the other reasons they feel unsafe. Let’s talk about what happens when the cops show up, and why sometimes they don’t. Let’s talk about the tangled web of social relations that puts us in different positions of privilege and oppression, and what that means about when and why we call the cops, or have them called on us.
As an anarchist, i run in circles where people are generally pretty glib in dismissing any reason a person might call the cops, any argument for retaining a force of armed men on call to ‘serve and protect.’ Personally, i have never called the police, though not for lack of opportunity. And i believe that in the majority of police-involved conflicts, what they introduce into a situation is worse than what they’re supposed to address, or at least no better. For evidence of this, one need look only to the trend of mass incarceration plaguing the US today: a reality that devastates entire communities, with no measurable positive impact.
But I’m not going to pretend that there are never times when doing so is a person’s- any person’s- best option. I think we can hold space for nuance in acknowledging that there are times when a person’s safety or well-being is threatened, moments when we radicals don’t have great alternatives. Instead of ignoring or glossing over those situations, let’s admit how far we have to go and start struggling to get there.
In the meantime, let’s refuse to give an inch when it comes to the police. At work, at home, at protests and on the streets: If you can handle a problem safely on your own, don’t risk the violence of the police. Don’t invite them in, don’t promote their agenda, don’t help build the myth that there is a place for the modern-day slave patrols in the world we want to build.
If we want a world without cops, we have to build empowered communities of people committed to relating to each other in just and caring ways. If there’s a productive place the anger and energy following Mike Brown’s murder can go, it’s towards the work of real social, racial, economic and environmental justice. That is, towards addressing the root causes of all those problems that make people unsafe, that threaten our ability to grow and thrive, and that reduce us to daily survival.
I know that building a world where we don’t ‘need’ cops sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s at least as realistic as the idea of ‘reforming’ the police. If we’re dreaming, let’s dream of something worth fighting for.
If you’re interested in supporting folks who’ve been arrested in the Ferguson uprising, you can donate to a bail fund here.
For further reading on the topics above:
- Resources for Addressing Harm, Accountability, and Healing: Toolkits, Reports, and Guides, Critical Resistance
- Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, Kristian Williams
- Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency, ed. by Kristian Williams, Lara Messersmith-Glavin and Will Munger