to make a criminal, make a law
November 3, 2018 2:15 PM   Subscribe

So there's a growing understanding that current policing practices are untenable. There are Campaign[s] to End Mass Incarceration since prisons manufacture violent people, ballot intiatives to change Police use-of-force, a movement to Abolish ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency)and their immigration prisons, reform police departments, even make radical changes to incorporate community oversight of police. But since one of the Peelian principles is that " the police are the public and that the public are the police":
Do we even need police at all?

Police Abolition at The Marshall Project

Abolish Prisons Is The New Abolish ICE. Why Police Abolition? To Stop Police Murders, Abolish The Police

The Nice Cop - "If the most decent guy I knew could become a murderer when he put on a uniform, something is systemically wrong with policing itself…"

ABOLISHING ICE IS ONLY THE FIRST STEP - "All immigration enforcement is family separation; we need to radically rethink the whole system…"

The Movement for Black Lives Offers an Abolitionist Approach to Police Reform
‘Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition, McDowell, M.G. & Fernandez, L.A. Crit Crim (2018) 26: 373.


Law Enforcement As White Inheritance
It makes sense to me that Sessions thinks of the sheriff (and other law enforcement) as being part of a historical criminal justice continuum that stretches back to pre-Revolutionary British colonial America. Indeed, to the extent that the majority of Americans know anything at all about the history of policing in this country, they likely think that its lineage flows from our roots as a British colony that imported British law enforcement traditions.

The reality is that American police forces actually have very specific roots as organizations of repression — roots that usually correlated with specific local issues that elites wanted addressed. Numerous scholars have suggested that southern policing originated with slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s. And police forces in northern cities like Chicago (the city that I research and write about) were founded (and financed largely by private capital) during the 1800s to crack down on labor radicalism and control the nominal immorality of immigrant populations
Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality. - "When people ask me, “Who will protect us,” I want to say: Who protects you now?"


To Police Or Not To Police
Policing Explained In A Few Graphs - "1. Policing is overwhelmingly a social service"

Why Does Violence in Chicago Attract So Much Attention, Even Though It's Not the Murder Capital of The U.S.?
Who can forget the controversial closing of more than 50 public schools in 2013, the largest school closure in Chicago’s history, closings that disproportionately impacted black and brown children and those living in poverty? Then there’s the fact that Emanuel closed half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics about 6 years ago, effectively gutting the mental-health care system, again, disproportionately affecting underprivileged communities, leaving those in the community who need help vulnerable.

“The other piece is that we have a very high unemployment rate here in Chicago, and a lack of full access to affordable housing. So, [with] all these high levels of divestment from our communities, people are engaged in various economies to survive and they also are put in basically an incubator for violence to occur,” Carruthers said. “We know the factors that drive violence in any community. And poverty is absolutely one of the chief causes and we’ve seen that over and over again on the South and West side of Chicago.”
The Problem With Blaming Black Crime for Police Shootings - "The epidemic of unarmed blacks being killed by police comes not when black crime is high but when it is low."

Is Policing A Public Good Gone Bad? Why We Need Cops To Protect And Serve, not Stand And Wait. We Need To Confront This Double Standard About Cops - "We love telling ourselves sweet lies, especially the one that we really believe all lives matter. We've told ourselves this lie so frequently we deem police officers cowards when they refuse to shoot to protect lives other than their own, and heroes when they kill primarily to protect themselves."

What Does Police Abolition Mean? Can Prison Abolition Ever Be Pragmatic?

Complexity and Crinimal Justice
The truth is, criminal justice is very difficult to do well. Restorative justice initiatives, in which the victim and perpetrator try to achieve reconciliation over the perpetrator’s wrongdoing, sound ideal in theory, and have produced some impressive outcomes in individual cases. But there are instances where it’s simply inapplicable: For many domestic abuse victims, the last thing you want the justice system to do is further entangle the victim with their abuser. And you will rarely have ideal defendants or ideal victims, who are easily able to put aside all bad feelings and work together to make amends.

The American criminal justice system is, in many ways, horrifying. By now it’s well known that we jail people at staggering rates, higher than any other country in the world. This shouldn’t be the case: If every other country has figured out how to have a society with fewer imprisoned people, we are doing something wrong, and it should be fixable.

But it’s difficult to know what reforms might actually work, which would actually get us toward a society with both low crime and a low (or ideally, nonexistent) prison population.
American policing is broken. Here’s how to fix it. Police and the Liberal Fantasy. Black Lives Matter wants to abolish the police. Are they wrong? Policing doesn’t need reforming. It needs to be abolished and created anew.
Should we see everything a cop sees? Police Officers Do Not Need Guns. Against the police - "What I'm about to say may surprise you, but I assure you it's the honest truth: in my personal experience, cops are overwhelmingly decent folks."

"This System Is A Moral Horror". "The American prison system is brutal and unjust. But the rhetoric of prison abolition won’t help us end its depravities."


The Making Of The American Police State - previously. The History Of The Police[PDF]

Do We Even Need Police?
Police Training Should Start With a History Lesson on Slavery Laws
How the U.S. Got Its Police Force. A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing. Southern Slave Patrols as a Transitional Police Type, P.L. Reichel, American Journal of Police Volume:7 Issue:2 Dated:(1988) Pages:51-77

ABOLISH THE POLICE, 1878 - "We call ourselves a free people, and yet if a man happens to snatch a capitalist's purse or burn the property of a corporation, he is forcibly taken to jail by a brutal policeman hired to protect the moneyd classes from righteous retribution." [I think he was bein' ironical]

Think prison abolition in America is impossible? It once felt inevitable

What Abolitionists Do
To us, people with a combined several decades of experience in the prison abolition movement, abolition is both a lodestar and a practical necessity. Central to abolitionist work are the many fights for non-reformist reforms — those measures that reduce the power of an oppressive system while illuminating the system’s inability to solve the crises it creates.

The late Rose Braz, a longtime staffer and member of Critical Resistance emphasized this point in a 2008 interview. “A prerequisite to seeking any social change is the naming of it,” she said. “In other words, even though the goal we seek may be far away, unless we name it and fight for it today, it will never come.” This is the starting point of abolition, connecting a radical critique of prisons and other forms of state violence with a broader transformative vision.
When To Say No To A Cop. Police Unions Know Exactly Why NFL Players Keep Protesting.



Alternatives to Police
posted by the man of twists and turns (55 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
 
Look... I feel pretty frickin liberal. But the concept of no police is not tenable in any society with complex laws and grey areas... I'm not saying that the police force we have is the correct model, but - none - that way leads to an absolute looting by the wealthy...

What kind of policing do we need? Well, if you are doing something that damages society - then that is what needs to be policed. I have so much less problem with a crack addict than I do with someone that ruins millions of lives with financial ponzi schemes though... Which of those two did more damage to society? That is the basis for which punitive sentencing should be determined... drug addict? who cares - until you fail to take care of someone OR you rob someone... otherwise... kill someone's pension? Here's jail time... (Here's lookin' at you HR departments)
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:31 PM on November 3 [11 favorites]


I also can't see the end of prisons. I know that retributive justice plays to the worse devils of our nature, but as a community, it is sometimes needed. I watched a documentary called LA 92. It covers the Rodney King riots, the verdict, the aftermath, etc. One of the things it taught me was the a less know secondary cause of it, the death of Latasha Harlins.

The documentary shows the actual footage. It's at a Korean grocery store. Latasha tries to buy some orange juice, there is a small altercation, and she walks away from the counter with the orange juice. The Korean woman (Soon Ja Du) shoots her in the back of the head with a pistol at almost point blank range.

Soon Ja Du is then found guilty. The judge, a white woman, sentences her to 400 hours of community service, seeing her as not a threat to society. Even years later I felt visceral anger about someone getting killed in cold blood over orange juice, and getting 400 hours of community service. I would find it hard to participate in restorative justice over that.

I also think that restorative justice doesn't work well with the well connected, the conniving and the bad actors.

In all of this, I tried to do the right thing, to ensure that no more people were harmed, to give Jake one more chance. I wanted the anarchist, rehabilitation-focused solution, but Jake had only responded to that with threats. Meanwhile, River and I were introduced through a mutual friend. When Jake threatened me, I was, for a moment, frightened. Then I flew into a fucking rage. Sorry, Jake, but attempting to blackmail me into silence whilst I was defending others is really not a good look for an “anarchist” “free-speech advocate”.
posted by zabuni at 2:57 PM on November 3 [12 favorites]


related: this 2016 Bernie ad
posted by growabrain at 3:01 PM on November 3


I've seen arguments that police and prison primarily prevent one specific kind of crime: revenge killings and lynching.

Policing in the US is pathological. Departments are packed with white supremacists and bullies. The social order that they enforce is immoral. Having no police would be less harmful than having the police we have now.
posted by idiopath at 3:14 PM on November 3 [2 favorites]


I love that the last link is on the importance of restorative justice. In Ontario I have been using the principles of it in Public Libraries and Schools with a lot more success than I would have had by immediately turning to authority/the police. Pretty much the only time I will call the police is if there is an immediate physical assault between strangers because that is the best use of police resources.
posted by saucysault at 3:14 PM on November 3 [1 favorite]


My experience with restorative justice in the anarchist community was terrible. I was given no reason to think my perspective would be given fair consideration, and since they had no means of convincing or coercing me to participate, it was merely a baroque version of ostracism.
posted by idiopath at 3:29 PM on November 3 [18 favorites]


Having no police would be less harmful than having the police we have now.

There are actually very good historical examples of societies that didn't have police forces (I've been listening to The Inheritance of Rome on my iPod at work, so one in particular has been on my mind lately) - usually you get a society with private security contractors (or in their older forms, retainers, warbands, knights, etc.) that look out for the interests of the elites just as effectively, if not more so, than modern police forces.

There are also good present day examples of societies that have both police forces and prisons and yet don't have the same problems that at least some of the linked articles seem to be suggesting are inherent in those institutions - Sweden is closing down prisons that are surplus to requirements.

Was it Obama who said that we don't want less goverment, but better government? I think the same thing could be said about policing. And for anyone willing to actually look around them at the world outside our own national borders, there's plenty of interesting ideas about how to do these things right (the most important change with prisons, specifically, I think would be to remove the profit motive).

But using big exciting words like "abolition" feels sexier and more radical, I guess.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:29 PM on November 3 [17 favorites]


> AdamCSnider:
"There are actually very good historical examples of societies that didn't have police forces (I've been listening to The Inheritance of Rome on my iPod at work, so one in particular has been on my mind lately) - usually you get a society with private security contractors (or in their older forms, retainers, warbands, knights, etc.) that look out for the interests of the elites just as effectively, if not more so, than modern police forces."

Couldn't one effectively argue that the current modern police forces are private security contractors that look out for the interests of the elites?
posted by Samizdata at 4:10 PM on November 3 [5 favorites]


Couldn't one effectively argue that the current modern police forces are private security contractors that look out for the interests of the elites?

When contemplating law enforcement untethered from a system that at least pretends and at least sometimes isn't entirely beholden to the interests of the elites.... I think you underestimate how much worse it would be. This kind of accelerationism seems to just be code for "No way will the blood that flows through the streets be mine."
posted by tclark at 4:55 PM on November 3 [9 favorites]


way too many links for any comment to do any kind of justice beyond ... yeah, there's a lot to think about with regard to police, policing, the prison industrial complex etc.

I am reminded of something Robert Anton Wilson said regarding politicians having a bad habit of passing new laws as a means toward showing people they're accomplishing something, but nine times out of ten there's already a relevant law on the books which isn't being enforced because well, it's complicated (and expensive), but don't go fixing the existing mess which would be real work, just keep passing new laws which looks like real work, and vote for me and I'll set you free.

(extrapolating at the end there)
posted by philip-random at 4:58 PM on November 3 [10 favorites]


I am reminded of something Robert Anton Wilson said

Found it, and sort of got it right ...

Celine's Third Law: An honest politician is a national calamity.[3]
posted by philip-random at 5:17 PM on November 3 [2 favorites]


So many of these articles end with the conclusion that “we probably need some kind of law enforcement, but we should get rid of what we have now because it’s terrible.” I don’t dispute that it is terrible, but I do question the proposition that getting rid of what we have without a plan for replacement wouldn’t be worse. Look at the Arab Spring in Egypt, or Syria. Anarchists talk big, but in reality they seem to be arguing for feudalism. Whoever is willing to use the most violence takes all the power.

I did click through on a number of the links (kudos for collecting so many). If anyone finds some with real action plans rather than “anything would be better than this” would you point them out? Because if you take away the police, the people who have the most guns and the longest track record of mass killings is racist sexist white dudes.
posted by rikschell at 5:38 PM on November 3 [3 favorites]


I’m going to be working my way through these links for a while, but briefly: it’s certainly possible to live in places with no police force, indeed no government at all. I’ve lived in one! In my case, this was an African country in the aftermath of a coup, following which the government collapsed outside the capital city (it had never been particularly strong to begin with in fairness, but it had previously existed in at least a vaguely meaningful sense beyond simple rent extraction). This remains my benchmark for imagining a libertarian “paradise”: it wasn’t a warzone, but the strong survived and sort of thrived, and the weak went to the wall. Society started the process of reorganising itself (and given enough time, I’m sure it would have re-developed a police force of some sort). Meanwhile, it reverted to the low-trust social structure that had been there all along, in the distant and mostly ignored provinces. It was in many respects a nice place to live - beautiful scenery, abundant natural resources, friendly and optimistic people - but I’m happy that I can now go out at night, and that I no longer need to pay someone to sleep throughout the day, so that they can stand outside my house with a machete while I sleep.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:47 PM on November 3 [17 favorites]


Given that so much effort has been put into enshrining the rights of historically disadvantaged groups into law, who do you expect will enforce those laws and protect those rights in the absence of police?
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:53 PM on November 3 [1 favorite]


would you point them out?

Last link above the fold.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:59 PM on November 3 [1 favorite]


and for the record, I live in a community that has no resident police force, except in the summer months. It's an island with a base population of roughly one thousand and yeah, we get by without a regular police presence. If something happens that requires their involvement, they're about an hour away. They do show up every now on a regular schedule to take care of regular business and every now and then, they just show up. If this is anarchy, then I guess it works.

There was a murder a few years back, and it led to a lot of talk, soul-searching etc. But in the end, no change in policy, because having a cop around would have likely made no difference (ie: by the time the body was found, the only suspect had already fled the island).
posted by philip-random at 6:03 PM on November 3 [3 favorites]


If you’re thinking about the state of policing in places like Rotherham you’d wonder if the police weren’t already abolishing themselves.
posted by Middlemarch at 6:06 PM on November 3


Middlemarch: I grew up with South Yorkshire Police! You missed a couple of their other greatest hits: the Battle of Orgreave during the Miner’s Strike, and the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent cover up. If anyone’s interested in a fictionalised account of their worst excesses, you could do worse than David Peace’s GB84 - “there is the idea that Yorkshire is an English Sicily or Deep South: the most primal, brutal, prejudiced and, in a sense, politically honest place in the country, the place where the battles that matter are played out.”
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:18 PM on November 3 [3 favorites]


I guess I should have expected on MetaFilter’s part the inability to imagine a society that shields its own from malicious actors without involving something like the traditional constabulary that has only ever served the interests of the state, but good lord is this thread depressing. Police abolitionists are almost entirely not radicalism tourists, which is a pretty nasty and uninformed accusation to make considering that their ranks are largely comprised of people who have had extensive and life-long experience with the fact that the police not only do not exist to protect their interests but will dependably act against their interests when dispatched to any situation that you might expect the police are uniquely equipped to handle. And then the idea that police abolitionists are just looking to tear down the existing structure with no provisions for some alternative means of keeping people in the community safe is just you saying that you’ve done absolutely no thinking on the topic beyond your reflexive negative reaction to the notion of police abolition. The vast majority of the people advocating towards that end aren’t doing so from a libertarian-style perspective that aims to dissolve public resources, but from a perspective that holds that community safety necessarily involves community-specific provisions, and that the “police” as they do and have existed are fundamentally and structurally incapable of achieving that end. The alternative isn’t lawlessness, and it’s not unspecified, do some damn research before shrugging your shoulders at a long-standing societal pathology that has yet to dependably ruin your life the way it has with many others.
posted by invitapriore at 6:19 PM on November 3 [32 favorites]


Given that so much effort has been put into enshrining the rights of historically disadvantaged groups into law, who do you expect will enforce those laws and protect those rights in the absence of police?
Counter-question: who will enforce laws for the rights of historically disadvantaged groups now? Because it's obviously not the police....
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:21 PM on November 3 [9 favorites]


Well that's not hard: you have an agency whose specific job it is to enforce those specific laws, in the same way that you have dedicated enforcement agencies for food safety or consumer rights or anything else that benefits from specialists who can reliably recognise that a crime has occurred and don't usually need the monopoly on force that the police and army have.

The problem with this approach is that a more specific organisation can be captured by the people it's supposed to be policing, but that's a problem that no-one appears to have solved yet.

I guess I should have expected on MetaFilter’s part the inability to imagine a society that shields its own from malicious actors without involving something like the traditional constabulary that has only ever served the interests of the state

Like I have a pretty good imagination and I do my research, and I'm still at a loss to explain how abolishing policing doesn't create a power vacuum that fascists and authoritarians can exploit. And honestly my interest isn't pricked. I appreciate I have privilege, that I don't see every side of the police, and I've seen enough to know that police aren't really agents of rehabilitation. But I see statements like "community safety necessarily involves community-specific provisions, and that the “police” as they do and have existed are fundamentally and structurally incapable of achieving that end" and that claim rings hollow. In the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, where the community has decided that trespassing on another's claim can be met with lethal force and the police have accepted that. Like that sounds like a community-specific provision.

But maybe this is an anarchist-specific term, lord knows I don't understand anarchism well enough to critique it. My experience with web communities has been that almost any method of organising 'works' at small scales because you generally don't have any existential threats, and if there is one, well, it was a small community, no great loss. But at larger scales, defending the community against itself becomes genuinely hard.
posted by Merus at 6:47 PM on November 3 [11 favorites]


I’d encourage you to not respond to the most self-apparently problematic aspect of that phrasing, which is mine alone and not attributable to any anarchist dicta, especially considering that I wouldn’t characterize my beliefs as such. Because: one, of course there need be baseline mores of conduct extending beyond any individual community in a society, that all participating communities need adhere to; and two, because certain communities are particularly at hazard of being abused by the police force they nominally answer to, and those are typically communities where the police force is especially predisposed towards acting against the interests of the community that they police. Police abolitionists aren’t asking for a global and immediate dissolution of the police everywhere immediately, although a global solution to the problem is ideal: the first step is preventing the abuses that obtain daily in the communities where they’re most prevalent. Again, maybe enhance your understanding of the straw man you’re beating the hay out of.
posted by invitapriore at 6:57 PM on November 3 [2 favorites]


When fascists walk the streets of my town, the police guard them and shoot bystanders in the head with "non-lethal" rounds. Then the police chief goes on conservative talk radio to talk about busting heads.

Add in all the sales of military surplus gear to local police departments and they're like the murderer in His Girl Friday confused about "production for use." They have all this gear, they gotta use it on somebody. To serve and protect whom?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:11 PM on November 3 [9 favorites]


Again, maybe enhance your understanding of the straw man you’re beating the hay out of.

Well, this is a motte-and-bailey argument. Preventing abuse by police is a reasonable point to make. It's also not the point you were originally making, and it's dishonest to claim otherwise.

And now that I look more carefully, you're not really making a lot of actual arguments at all, are you? The vast majority of your contributions here are accusing everyone else of arguing in bad faith, and saying what you aren't saying.
posted by Merus at 7:23 PM on November 3 [7 favorites]


I appreciate that real communities are under fire here, and certainly in some places no police would be better than what they have, at least in the short term. But if those communities had the political power to accomplish abolition, they’d probably have the power to reform. There’s definitely a problem, but getting rid of police would lead to different problems. And while it might seem appealing to trade in the status quo for anything else, you’re not going to have much success selling that to people who are afraid they’re going to get hurt.

I’ve done some homework on police abolition, and found really a lot of compelling arguments against police and almost nothing on what to do instead and how to get there from here. Maybe my imagination is poor, but around here the people loudly shouting for police abolition look at me (a low income white homeowner and small business owner) like some kind of fatcat who should be put up against the wall.

I don’t think police reform can work because the business attracts racists and bullies. But I certainly don’t have enough faith in human goodness to think that the community can come together and mete out justice on its own terms.
posted by rikschell at 7:30 PM on November 3 [8 favorites]


but good lord is this thread depressing.

What's frustrating about the thread is that there are like a couple dozen links here, yet people seem mostly to be responding to the words "abolish the police" with no context. To be fair though, I think having so many links can be overwhelming so I can't blame people entirely for reverting to generalities.
posted by atoxyl at 7:47 PM on November 3 [8 favorites]


So as an elected official I actually oversaw the decommissioning of a police department and the removal of their guns (we had to go to the state supreme court to get it done), the conversion of the remaining officers to security, and the firing of, gosh, half of them who'd committed what I consider misconduct (a process that took forever because they were unionized) although it was not always "official" misconduct, and the replacement of the fired officers with social workers who we paid to have trained in security and deescalation and related needs, a great many of them women, and nearly all of them black to better match the community we were policing (which was a school district, that had its own chartered police department with 25 freakin' officers, all men, all but 2 white, for insane 1970s racism reasons). Because it turns out not that many cops want to learn to be social workers, but there are social workers eager to learn to meet community security needs.

So I do understand how harmful police are and exactly what steps you go through to replace them and how you create a community where things are dealt with using restorative justice and deescalation and mental health supports and so on. But the remaining 5% of shit that went down, it's difficult for me to understand how that could be handled without traditional policing. One of the most common police-involving situations were when a non-custodial father (VERY rarely a mother) tried to kidnap his children from school (typically violating a restraining order), or when a teacher's abusive ex-husband came to school to try to threaten her and hit her. Security was able to physically put their bodies between the assailant and the victim, and help the victim get to a place of safety within the building behind a locked door, but at some point the "real" police had to come and put the guy in cuffs, because they did NOT leave without being physically subdued. (Fortunately we never had one turn up with a gun.) And if they were not jailed, at least for a token period of time, they just kept violating and violating and violating that restraining order until they managed to kidnap and flee with their children (in one case to South America, where the children were sequestered in an insane religious cult compound and suffered incredible abuse; it took several years for the US to negotiate their release after that kidnapping), or put their ex-wife in the hospital.

It worked quite well for these to be, like, "second-order" police -- police whom our community security called in extreme situations specifically to deal with ongoing threats of violence. But I've never gotten a satisfactory answer as to how to handle THOSE kinds of situations -- focusing especially on the violence men inflict on women and children they feel ownership of -- without actual "coercive" policing. Obviously I'd be very interested in possible answers, as one of a small number of people in the US who've actually abolished some police!

(I can think of a few other examples; like, I don't think restorative justice would have been remotely appropriate for a male teacher going in the girls' bathroom and taking photos under the stall doors. That's an incredible abuse of power and forcing those girls to sit in a restorative justice situation would be to revictimize them for the benefit of their abuser. That's someone who needs to be legally kept away from children; not necessarily in prison, but there's going to have to be formal legal involvement, and local shunning is not going to be adequate because he will move and find a new set of children to victimize.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:11 PM on November 3 [77 favorites]


I also have experience with restorative justice being recommended for sexual abuse and rape and domestic violence and both myself and other close peoples have had really bad experiences with it even from a perspective of being well researched and enthusiastic about anarchist and community based solutions.

I don't think every human can be rehabilitated. I think the number of people in our prisons who match their category are truly a small fraction and long term prison should be the reserve of truly violent people. But I am unconvinced that removing prisons altogether would be a good for the vulnerable either. I do continue to read the arguments and look at programs put together by those who think it could work and am open to being convinced, but at the point a rape survivor is being asked to sit and listen to their rapists feelings and healing circle and that being the only solution offered I'm pretty done. And yes this IS how some people envision it working. I'm happy to hear alternatives versions of restorative justice that don't just feel like more abuse of survivors.
posted by xarnop at 8:13 PM on November 3 [14 favorites]


Any replacement for the police, or proposal to abolish the police, needs to consider how they would deal with an H.H. Holmes situation. There are people around who, given an opportunity, are going to harm other people, more or less for the hell of it.

If your proposed replacement doesn't solve that (or at least mitigate it) organically, what you're going to end up with is something like Pinkertons 2.0: private police or detective services serving those with means, and neither protection nor answers for people without it. That doesn't seem like a step forward.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:07 PM on November 3 [4 favorites]


Any replacement for the police, or proposal to abolish the police, needs to consider how they would deal with an H.H. Holmes situation. There are people around who, given an opportunity, are going to harm other people, more or less for the hell of it.

It's debatable whether dealing with situations like this is actually a primary function of the police though - I mean if you ask them they would probably say it is, but is it a primarily what the police do, by person-hours? There are specialized branches of the police that do handle these things, of course, which is why my vision doesn't end up too far from this:

It worked quite well for these to be, like, "second-order" police -- police whom our community security called in extreme situations specifically to deal with ongoing threats of violence.

or - as I said in the last thread about this here - like "break up the police."
posted by atoxyl at 11:26 PM on November 3 [5 favorites]


Look... I feel pretty frickin liberal. But the concept of no police is not tenable in any society with complex laws and grey areas... I'm not saying that the police force we have is the correct model, but - none - that way leads to an absolute looting by the wealthy...

"The police aren't that bad" as a position is actually extremely "frickin liberal".

And the last century of absolute looting by the wealthy should be an excellent object lesson that the primary function of the police is to protect and further enrich the wealthy, not protect the rest of us from all that absolute looting. In just the past few decades, police militarization has gone hand-in-hand with massive transfers of wealth.

Cops and prisons not only rarely do the job many of you think they are supposed to (preventing and addressing violent crime), they are also incredibly bad at that job when they actually do it, especially in communities of color. People of color and the poor are simultaneously overpoliced (when it comes to police harassment/violence/incarceration) and underpoliced (when it comes to actually preventing or addressing crime).

In 2016, there were about 17,000 murders in the US. In that same year, there were nearly 37,000 fatalities from car crashes. 45,000 suicides. Almost 67,000 drug overdose deaths (over 72,000 in 2017!). Cops and prisons can't do shit for all those deaths (and generally make them worse!).

If people are basing the importance of fundamentally racist and ineffectual institutions like cops and prisons on how they help catch sErIaL kILLeRs or mass shooters who have killed fewer people in the past century than drug overdoses have in just this month, then I shouldn't be surprised that so many of the replies believe that American policing can be reformed.
posted by Ouverture at 12:27 AM on November 4 [10 favorites]


There's an excellent comment in here that talks about a society able to police itself as a utopian ideal of what no police force could look like. I laud that ideal.

And then I shudder at the naive understanding at the existing infrastructure and the failure to acknowledge the societal requirements for enforcing such a proposal. I know my neighbor. We can wave to eachother over the fence. We can talk about their eminent move and our local sports teams... But you will never see me talk criminal justice with them because their ideal is closer to isolationism and totalitarianism that I think keeps us safely in different sides of the fence. I don't think they understand the nuances of human nature, nor poses sufficient ability to empathize with folks that don't conform to their world view... I'll gladly share an equal right to vote with them - but no way in hell I'd want them to be viewed as responsible actors partially responsible for policing our community.

Ideals are great. They give us standards to strive to and goals to meet... but the reality is we live in an 'applied' world. People are irrational actors; others have bad motives. Democracy with some if these chuckleheads is difficult enough... I shudder to think of the world where they have more input into redesigning criminal enforcement...
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:27 AM on November 4 [3 favorites]


The Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was murdered along with his girlfriend at the beginning of the year while he was investigating connections between the Italian Mafia and Slovak government officials, resulting in massive street protests and the resignation of the national police chief and other officials to “free the police from media pressure.”

I just came across the development from last month that an ex-cop was named as the hit man by prosecutors.
posted by XMLicious at 4:46 AM on November 4 [4 favorites]


Eyebrows, I can't help but think a lot of "restorative justice" would be predicated on women and girls experiencing community pressure to forgive acts of violence and predation against them, in part because that's what already takes place in a lot of situations. There seems to be many prominent women in this movement, but it doesn't appear to intersect all that well, knowing what we know about patterns of family violence.
posted by Selena777 at 5:39 AM on November 4 [7 favorites]


I am sorry to hear how RJ has been used as another tool by those in power to retain their power; that seems to be a theme of this century - pervert progressive policies to serve regressive needs. I think a lot of "restorative justice" programs that are not done with professionals with a lot of experience lose sight of the fact that it is a victim-centred approach as they are so used to the offender-centred approach of policing/criminal justice. Community needs are a distant third to the needs of the victim who, in a safe place, can express what they need. Sometimes what they need to hear is that the person realizes what they did was wrong. In the adversarial court system the perpetrator is punished for admitting wrong-doing, and rewarded for lying/pretending things weren't that bad; with RJ they have the option of being honest (and indeed things go better if they are honest as obvious lying just puts them back into the criminal justice system that has harsher penalties for the offender).

Restorative justice cannot replace all policing/criminal justice - but it can divert a lot of cases that have a lot more nuance to them. There is definitely sensitivity to power imbalances and gender-based violence in well-run programs. There is also discretion on choosing a victim-offender mediation, group mediation, or community circle; and all RJ can be halted by the victim if they no longer feel it is meeting their needs. The community pressure should definitely be on the offender for halting behaviour that is unacceptable to the community, versus pressure on girls and women to accept gender-based violence.

More on Canada's approach to RJ and gender-based violence (including an examination of the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal and the dis-empowerment felt by the female students when their choice of RJ was criticized by those outside the community) here and here.
posted by saucysault at 6:14 AM on November 4 [4 favorites]


I lived for a while in a relatively large community (90,000 people) with no police force. Though it was a part of a larger city which did have police, those police did not come into the community except in special circumstances, and were not trusted or particularly welcome there. The community was generally less violent and exploitative than the surrounding, policed, areas. (This is a very hard thing to quantify, of course.) That's not evidence that it is a better system, but certainly evidence that it does not have to be a tragedy.
posted by Nothing at 7:18 AM on November 4 [3 favorites]


I feel like an outlier here but I am so resistant to call the cops ever. I mean if someone was breaking into my house I’d have to check myself to make sure that’s what I wanna do. Like, even if I was being raped I’m not certain the cops would be much help after the fact. I try to imagine the scenarios I want to engage with police and in each of those scenarios the police are just as frightening as the circumstances I’m imagining I’d need to call the police in.

I see cops and police forces as just another gang roving the street that I have learned to avoid at all costs.

I learned this while living as a white street punk in Dallas in the 1980’s, and everything I’ve experienced since then has reinforced that belief.
posted by nikaspark at 7:32 AM on November 4 [17 favorites]


nikaspark, I actually feel that way too. However I feel very grossed out by some of the things I've seen happen with restorative justice, however I'm open to the idea these were just poor implementation and if done right it could be good. Unfortunately many of the people I saw facilitating did have experiences with professional settings, but perhaps they were not well trained. I remember when a survivor walked out of one of the community lectures about using restorative justice for rape and to help rape survivors make peace with their perpetrators. They received very poorly survivors comments about why that would not work for many of us and feels like more abuse to suggest, as they had in this setting, that this was the healthy way forward for survivors and the way to heal. If people want to sit around my abusers and hold their hand and tell them it was wrong and they can heal and move forward that's fine, leave me out because I've already done that for rapists, I've already forgiven, over and over, I've already asked for change over and over, I'll already suggested healing therapies for them and understood why their childhood led them to this and made peace with it and I get it.


I already did that. If others want to help shoulder the burden of that work, that's great, let the survivors do whatever they need to do including NOT DEALING WITH THAT SHIT ANY LONGER if that is what needed. If anything I didn't need to be more forgiving to heal, I needed to be allowed to feel an honor my anger in a healthy way. And I needed space to be free from caring one way or the other about what my abuser is doing in their life and freed from crying tears about their grief for them and being up close and personal with that HURTS me because I do care, because I'm not unsympathetic, because I AM sorry what it feels like to be a perpetrator and I don't relish their suffering.

My abuser often said over and over they hated themselves for what they did to me as if that's what I wanted. I spent years trying to get him to STOP hating himself. My being involved in his life does nothing, we don't need a healing circle or a bunch of people who claim to know better than me what I need telling me to join them in their restorative justice experiment. I send him healing in my prayers, I fight for justice of kids who go through the abuses he went through as a kid, I fight to protect families from the financial strife and poor social support that drives mothers to stay with abusive fathers and stepfathers like his.

And I believe he really did love me, even though the abuse was real too. And I do love him. And so I honor the part of him that showed me Donny Darko (which I refused to watch all the way through because fuck you for showing me this shit after breaking down with PTSD from all the abuse you put me through?)… and he says he wished he would have died rather than abuse me.

Ok, let's take that path, let me be free of this. And that is my gift to him, to make what he wishes he could do but can't control himself otherwise to happen. Let me be free of his abuse. It's been 16 years and he still sends me Blue October videos "hate me today" and I don't answer but I wish him well. And I'm glad he still cares. I absolutely hope the world will change and provide him with shelter so he doesn't have to live in cars, that will extend emotional support and stability to him, that will grant him access to trauma healing techniques. But I also think some darknesses permeate the soul in a way that I'm not sure everyone can recover from in one life. So my bigger focus is from preventing this happening to others. The worst abusers in my life were overwhelmingly men who were trauma survivors and witnessed domestic violence and misogynistic family environments. There are many pathways to male violence and that is ONE of them- and I do believe there are different techniques and strategies to address different kind of violence and power imbalances. Some of which are simply that those taught they deserve to exploit others believe it and then need a push back that is stronger than the vulnerable they prey on can provide alone.


It is NOT that I don't support alternatives to the prison system, it's that I have simply seen them wind up feeding some really naïve ideals about us all holding hands and being at peace that does not respect survivors experiences or need for space from these situations or the right to have anger and NOT be told they are being a survivor wrong or choosing poor health or an unenlightened state. I can love and still have anger. I can see that someone is totally at a loss to control their behavior and be DONE giving chances for reparation and understand how they got they way and still love them. I don't even know if being free to abuse people is in his interest. I don't think he could handle the extent to which he willfully and strategically was abusive, what prize to I win if I speak truth to power and show him how horrible he is? Will he want to be dead more than he already does? Will he succeed at destroying himself? He already knows. And as much as wanting to die is both a reality and another tool of manipulation, I can't care anymore. I have to survive and take care of myself in this life and I did what I could for him in a world where a 16 year girl was the only one who tried to really care for him. The community failed him and his family, and I don't regret that I wanted to help though I merely provided an opportunity for him to act out, against one of the few people who tried to love him. He's had periods where he's lost it, hears voices that tell him to kill people. If he acted on this shit, I think even he would want to be locked up in a safe place. I'm fine with calling that a place of healing and support if we want but then we get into all the abuses the "mental health" industry does to people who need housing, shelter, trauma care, healthy food, and more and instead they get labels and pills and a total disregard of all the research we know about human needs.

I've never asked for police involvement with any of my abusers because I see that as a non-solution. I've also never sought out restorative justice solutions because of what I saw a number of times how they treated survivors who doubted their methods. Like I said maybe the "real" professionals are better at this, I keep my skepticism in place because I have every right to protect myself from more abuse coming at me from my community in the name of "helping". I have some very vocal anarchist friends who also went into it with positive ideals and then witnessed how it worked in some domestic violence and abuse situations and found they could not support it the same way they wanted to.


I'm glad it's there and I hope people will keep doing the work of reforming a totally broken system or just replacing it with something better, but I also hope those doing this work will listen to survivors and face the reality that some people can't control their behaviors and aren't safe. That really happens. We could create fewer people in that state if we provided housing and financial security for families, free trauma care services, access to health enhancing enrichment in communities etc. We could do so many things to create fewer people who are hurting and acting out. And I hope we do that. I just want people to take their loaded assumptions about survivors needs to "forgive" in order to "heal" and assumptions that I need to do some sort of community circle with people who already fucked with my head enough and just, leave me alone- and leave anyone else who doesn't want any part in that alone as well.
posted by xarnop at 9:09 AM on November 4 [11 favorites]


Fantastic set of links -- thank you for posting this. I'll happily plug my friend's book The End of Policing for people who want to read more about this topic.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:07 AM on November 4 [2 favorites]


I don’t know anything really about restorative justice. It seems to me like it’s more of the same white dudes thinking they know what’s best for everyone, which really I think dismantling the power structures of whiteness is probably a really great first step towards fixing cops.
posted by nikaspark at 11:51 AM on November 4 [2 favorites]


If Real Restorative Justice only works when you have Trained Experts, you’re just setting up an alternative corrupt authoritarian system. The truth is, real justice only happens when everyone is trying to do what’s right. But the justice system, however constituted, is an admittance that not everyone can be trusted to do what’s right. Power corrupts, etc. Seems to me that a strong web of rules, regulations, and social norms is the best you’re going to get, and that can succeed and fail in lots of different ways. I love Eyebrows’ comment above, because it gives me hope that reforms and restructuring can really lead to improvements. But I don’t think it’s going to be simple, and it’s going to look very different in different communities.
posted by rikschell at 1:05 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


Restorative justice (in Canada; I can’t speak for the rest of the world) comes from an Indigenous world view. “Trained experts” (who may be Elders or people trained in Indigenous Social Work/Legal systems) are necessary because people who have been raised in a colonial/settler world view find it a pretty big paradigm shift away from offender-focus to victim-focus. It is very much the opposite of authoritarian as the exact implementation is dependent on the community’s needs at that time and the needs of the specific survivor. I included some links from Canada’s Justice dept upthread explaining how it has been integrated into our Justice system over the past forty years (Canada’s Attoney General is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and a supporter of RJ). I hope that helps as it seems that RJ has been a name slapped on other systems of criminal diversion in an attempt to borrow RJ’s legitimacy.
posted by saucysault at 1:23 PM on November 4 [8 favorites]


thanks, saucysault, I was a little confused at all the negativity toward restorative justice in this thread, and now realize I've got a rather Candian-centric view of things. In other words, it seems to work up here, and well, for the reasons you suggest.
posted by philip-random at 3:02 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Thank you for providing additional context. That helps.
posted by nikaspark at 3:03 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Mark me down as someone who (a) thinks that the complete elimination of police would be a very bad plan because there are some cases (as Eyebrows McGee pointed out) where you actually need there to be more force than scumbags bring and (b) thinks that a massive de-escalation of the police force in the US would be a very good thing indeed. I live in a country where most of our police don't carry guns and the rest don't routinely carry guns and, although far better than the US system, they are still far from perfect - so simple de-escalation and extra training wouldn't go far enough.
posted by Francis at 4:36 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


I would like to question why some of the commenters on this thread feel qualified to offer an opinion on the criminal justice system if they aren't residing in a body that is historically victimized by police and prisons, and haven't read even the links above when people write entire dissertations on this subject and dedicate their entire lives to studying it.

"But if we abolished prisons, where would the bad people go?" is not a good question. Because... where are the 'bad people' going now? Are they being adequately punished now?

Here are some other questions that I think are better to ask:

1) Do you know any incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people? Have you talked to them about their lives and experiences?
2) Do you know anyone who was killed by police? Have you spoken to their families?
3) Do you know the names of the jails and prisons in your area? Do you know how many people reside in them? Do you know what those people were all charged for? Do you know what their experiences inside are?
posted by coffeeand at 10:26 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


But using big exciting words like "abolition" feels sexier and more radical, I guess.

It's called abolition because in the US policing and the prison system are rooted in slavery and are an extension of slavery-era practices. US police began as slave catchers.

If you do not know this basic fact, why are you discussing this topic?

Not an attack on you but just a demonstration of the problem in this thread, where people are offering casual perspectives on a very complicated subject without any sort of basis in experience or knowledge.

I'm glad it's there and I hope people will keep doing the work of reforming a totally broken system or just replacing it with something better, but I also hope those doing this work will listen to survivors and face the reality that some people can't control their behaviors and aren't safe.

As if "survivors" are a monolithic block with a single set of experiences....? As if no survivors work in abolition movements? What happens to survivors who can't call the police on their abusers? Or who won't be believed? Or who will be the ones locked up instead? Or the survivors who are already in prison?
posted by coffeeand at 11:30 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


"if they aren't residing in a body that is historically victimized by police and prisons"

This is an... interesting way to put it. I'm black, but I'm also a woman. Does that count?
posted by Selena777 at 11:41 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Okay I shouldn't have assumed everyone in this thread was white. That was bad of me.
posted by coffeeand at 11:53 AM on November 5


Thanks everyone who is actually discussing this issue based on some informed reading (eg. such as the links in the original post) or experience, and not just doing a spit take.

Anyway, here's my little, not super well but at least partially informed contribution: the issue of dealing with sexual violence is definitely one of the hard cases that proposals for police abolitionists or prison abolition (noting that those are separate things) or similar must deal with. Sexual violence is an example of a harm (only recently criminalized in some of its instances, or not even criminalized in some other of its instances such as when it occurs online) that stems from societal systems of oppression and that thus has an endemic nature - people commit sexual violence in activist circles as well, for example, as well as violence or other harms based in racism, transphobia, ablism, etc. In my experience, folks working in this area are well aware that preventing this sort of violence is a hard problem and the ultimate test of any alternative to current policing or prison sysyems, are aware that they don't yet have all of the answers, but are at least working toward answers and solutions. Recognizing the role that police and prison institutions have had in perpetuating such violence being one component of that.
posted by eviemath at 5:40 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I want to apologize for being overly negative in my comments.

I feel like I have a hard time with activism because I've been trained all my life as a white male that problems must have solutions, and you can only implement a solution once you've worked it out. Then the problem is fixed and you can go back to doing nothing. This tends not to work for situations involving people, unless you take away the other peoples' autonomy and agency and then kind of sweep the whole thing under the rug.

Of course real solutions require systems of trust and intimacy. And they will never be perfect: power will always corrupt, reforms will always be necessary. There is no solution that will not require infinite ongoing input. And that sounds exhausting to white people who don't tend to think of "solutions" in those tems. (See also: American democracy.) It seems like an impossible leap from where we are to a system that seems plausibly better.

We've been fed fear our whole lives, and it's not that the fear is unrealistic. Tearing down oppressive social orders does not have a great historical track record. But clinging to an unjust status quo is also morally untenable. So I end up begging abolitionists to convince me, to convince white people even less open to the argument than me, by describing some sort of end state I can accept. That isn't fair. It feels fair to a lot of white folks, but it's not.

It's really good to talk about these problems and to rally around a step in the process even if we don't know the end of the process. In practical terms, this is not going to happen all at once everywhere and if we can start to get some communities trying different things, we'll know more. I need to keep telling myself as a white dude to chill out and listen, and don't insist on arguments that are packaged just for me. Sorry I did a poor job of that here. I have noticed myself typing long comments into Metafilter and Facebook and then deleting them before posting because "would this really add anything useful to the conversation? No." I should have done that here.
posted by rikschell at 7:25 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


So I end up begging abolitionists to convince me, to convince white people even less open to the argument than me, by describing some sort of end state I can accept.

One of the ways is to read the link that I specifically constructed the post to lead to and pointed you to when you asked for "real action plans". Here it is again: Abolish the police? Organizers say it’s less crazy than it sounds. - "Grassroots groups around Chicago are already putting abolitionist ideas into practice."
She and other organizers also point out that abolition on a larger scale is visible all around if one knows what to look for. Kaba says individually most of us practice abolition regularly, every time we address a conflict without involving the police. In many places community-wide abolition is also in plain sight.

"People in Naperville are living abolition right now," Kaba says. "The cops are not in their schools, they're not on every street corner."

And not all incarnations of abolition in Chicago intentionally conceive of themselves as such.

It's a sunny Tuesday afternoon and Tamar Manasseh is setting up a barbecue like she does every day, across from a liquor store on the corner of 75th and Stewart in Englewood. This intersection has been a hot spot of violence for years, and after another deadly shooting here last July, Manasseh decided it was time to intervene. For more than a year now she and a group of mothers have been carving out a small world without police, on what was once one of the most violent corners of the neighborhood.

"It's about cop watching, it's about people watching, but more than anything it's about being seen, being a presence in the community," Manasseh says of her daily barbecues. Around 5 PM hot dogs are ready, and kids stream over and line up with paper plates. A group of men wait patiently until all the children have been served before approaching. Seventy-five to 100 people come every day, "and they come in shifts," Manasseh says.

Manasseh calls her organization Mothers Against Senseless Killings. And although there have consistently been between one and three shootings in the vicinity of the intersection every summer since 2010, according to data compiled by DNAinfo, neighborhood residents have noted a palpable easing of tensions on the block, especially when the "army of moms" is around.

"Nobody wants to come through here shooting if they see 50 kids outside waiting to eat dinner," Manasseh says. Her own 17-year-old son is there too, tossing beanbags with younger children. "People always say, 'It's not like it used to be around here.' "
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:41 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Promise not to kill anyone? After losing election, TX judge wholesale releases juvenile defendants - "After losing his bench in a Democratic sweep, Harris County Juvenile Court Judge Glenn Devlin released nearly all of the youthful defendants that appeared in front him on Wednesday morning, simply asking the kids whether they planned to kill anyone before letting them go.
...
The longtime Republican jurist — whose seat was among 59 swept by Democrats in Tuesday's election — is one of two juvenile court judges in Harris County whose track records favoring incarceration contributed heavily to doubling the number of kids Harris County sent to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in recent years, even as those figures fell in the rest of the state."


The legal system should be first thought of an an exercise in political power, and only incidentally an attempt at justice.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:42 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


In relation to that, from twitter:
Becoming a prison abolitionist to own the libs
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:13 PM on November 10




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