Tuesday, June 30, 2020

This is what the abolition of the police might look like

Getting rid of the police force, which is now the goal of many of the more radical defunders is probably not going to work. For evidence, you only have to look at the experience of Seattle's "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" (possibly now called "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest" until they can come up with a better acronym), a specifically un-policed region of the city.
The zone has now seen four shootings amid the supposedly peaceful protesters in just the last ten days. Openly-armed "watchemen" now patrol the area at night, and the whole zone is classified as "not safe for anybody". Not a good advertisement for the cause.
Abolishing the police has never been done, anywhere, to my knowledge, not even in the most progressive reaches of Scandinavia. Even the much touted dismantling of the police force in Camden, New Jersey, in 2012 (ostensibly due to the corruption in the old force, although as a result the city was one of the most violent in the country) was not actually an abolition. Likewise with the Republic of Georgia's police "dismantling" in 2003. Basically, they just dismantled the old police force and then reconstituted a new one (including many of the old officers), with better rules. This is otherwise known as "reform", albeit a radical one. There are definitely lessons that can be learned from this experience, though, and Camden NJ is certainly a much pleasanter place today than it was eight years ago.
People who want to abolish the police say that reforms have never worked in the past, why should we expect them to work now? It's true that minor reforms have only had minor success, and in the meantime other aspects of policing have got worse. But if we think big and look at major reforms - and there is now an appetite and a will for major reforms, I think - there could be major successes.
The author of this abolish-the-police piece says that, "We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing healthcare, housing, education, and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place." While this shows a touching faith in humanity, I think that faith may be misplaced. Call me cynical, but just because housing and healthcare improves, drug dealers, gang members and rapists are not suddenly going to change the habits of a lifetime, and mental health issues are not going to just disappear. And all those noise complaints, parking and traffic citations, drunk and disorderly tickets, etc, will still be there and need dealing with, however many jobs are available.
These ideas sound appealing in the abstract and, when I was younger and more idealistic, I would probably have been right behind them. As I got older, I became more cynical, but also more realistic, I think. Now, I just find that kind of idealism misguided and even annoying. I would love to be proven wrong, but I'm still waiting.

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