What we need instead of police

October 4, 2017

Richard Putz considers what could replace an institution that claims to "serve and protect," but which really maintains "law and order" in an unequal society.

ONCE AGAIN, the police have proven themselves unfit to be society's problem-solvers in the recent killing of Charleena Lyles.

After responding to an emergency call from Charleena, who wanted to report a suspected burglary, police entered her home and murdered her in front of her 1-year-old and 4-year-old children. Her 11-year-old son was also at home in another room.

As if this by itself was not awful enough, Charleena was not only pregnant, but two of the seven shots fired by police entered through her back. This raises questions about how such an elevated use of force could possibly be justified--and keep in mind that Charleena was the one who called for help.

This is, unfortunately, a common reality that the Black community has lived with for generations. However, with the increase in cell-phone videos depicting police brutality, many people who would not traditionally have been aware of the violence that the police inflict are starting to distrust them as a result.

For example, during a 2016 traffic stop, Lt. Greg Abbott of Georgia confronted a nervous passenger who was afraid to move her hands because of recent police shootings by saying, "We only shoot black people, right?"

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The fact that police not only think it's a joke that Black people are systematically murdered by fellow officers, but that this might be a way to comfort someone who isn't Black shows just how disconnected they are with the communities that they "serve."

Abbott's statement is not only highly offensive, but a lie. White people are also the victims of police brutality. The recent police murder of yoga instructor Justine Damond in Minnesota proves that white people have reason to be concerned about the accountability of the "boys in blue." Once again in this case, the victim was the very person who called the cops for help and ended up dying at their hands.

The response from Black Lives Matter activists to join in protest against this killing is an important example of the need for a multiracial, working class-based movement that holds police accountable to everyone. It will take everyone coming together to put pressure on the police for their misdeeds, or they will go back to work committing the same horrible crimes.

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IF IT were simply the case of "a few bad apples spoiling the bunch," as police apologists like to claim, then we could simply put measures in place to make the police more accountable. We would only need to get rid of the bad cops and promote the good ones.

But ultimately, protecting the public is not the function that the police serve. Instead, they serve profits and corporate interests. The police are tasked with protecting the power and property of the wealthy and powerful. Addressing emergency response issues is a secondary concern added on to their job description to give them good public relations.

This is not only reflected in the origins of the police as an institution--which are heavily rooted in busting workers' strikes and catching slaves--but also in the fact that the police are infested with white supremacist elements, according to the FBI's own reports.

We can't expect people who subscribe to an ideology of white superiority over other races to protect people of color. Instead, they kill them given the chance to do so.

It becomes all the more obvious how pervasive this bias is when considering how the police prioritize arresting counterprotesters at "alt-right" rallies while turning a blind eye to the outright violence committed by the far right.

Even the police who are not white supremacists still support violence and injustice by enforcing laws written in the interests of capitalists. They uphold a system that values individual profits more than meeting basic human needs, in spite of our incredible productive capacity and concerted collective effort to make that wealth in the first place.

Given the true function of the police, people are naturally interested in police abolition projects and the possibility of building an alternative that can actually solve everyday problems, rather than having an occupying army in riot gear killing people as if that were the solution.

The organizing in support of police abolition being done in Chicago is just one example of trying to counter the senseless violence of the retrofitted slave-catcher-turned-emergency-response system.

Instead of putting people through the traumatic process of being arrested, standing trial and rotting in a cell, only to be released without the root causes that lead people to commit crimes in the first place ever being addressed, these activists aim to foster the community connections necessary to help people resolve conflicts through peace circles and restorative justice programs.

HOWEVER, THIS work is severely limited by the framework of capitalism--especially when we consider that business actively benefits from and lobbies for expanding the for-profit prison system and exploiting slave labor that is legally sanctioned by the 13th Amendment.

Even if we get rid of for-profit prisons, though, without democratic control and ownership over society's resources in a socialist society, addressing many of the problems facing people is impossible. We need well-funded schools, public health care and social services so that people have their needs met in a way that makes an institution like the police irrelevant.

While the work in Chicago is certainly admirable and inspiring, we need to build up the revolutionary momentum it will take to actually dismantle capitalist exploitation and, by extension, the police as an institution.

In order to do that, we need to build broad, working class-based movements that can harness our collective power to force corrupt and violent cops out of their jobs and eventually change the entire political-economic system that relies on them to defend power in the first place.

While it is true that there would still be emergency cases to address even with better funding of public resources, those problems can already be addressed by forces that are not the police.

Firefighters and paramedics already perform the harrowing work of responding to emergency situations without putting people in jail cells. Social workers and therapists routinely help people with mental health issues through crisis hotlines and patient care.

We need problem solvers who treat the people they are helping as equals, not police who see a populace to pacify with "law and order."

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