“Abolish the police” is, for some, a knee-jerk reflex to unjustifiable, racist police violence against Black and brown people. For others, it’s preposterous: in a country where guns outnumber people and crime inundates local news channels, abolishing the institution intended to protect Americans and respond to such chaos seems unfathomable.
Yet abolishing the police — redirecting billions in funding from law enforcement to community initiatives, making possible a society where cops are no longer necessary — speaks to a much greater, altruistic goal: achieving justice for those consistently left behind in America. There is no question that defunding police would mean finally living up to the creed of “liberty and justice for all.” Such a move would shift investment to low-income and Black and brown communities, which, not coincidentally, are those most often incarcerated and policed in the U.S. “Abolish the police” is an anti-racist clarion call, centered on the idea that unfettered equality is not a far-fetched or impossible aim, but rather a noble and viable end worth pursuing.
Consider this: if abolishing the police ensures and delivers justice on all fronts — housing, employment, criminal justice, education, health care — for Black people and other marginalized groups, then why wouldn’t we aim for just that? Why is a police-free society considered absurd by most well-meaning, law-abiding citizens?
It’s no small task to end racism. But progress can’t be incremental on issues of race and criminal justice in America as it has been, exemplified by more implicit bias training for police and the release of a few thousand incarcerated people every now and then. History has proven the incrementalist approach to problems like systemic racism mildly effective at best, as in the case of early releases and the shortening of prison sentences, and blatantly harmful at worst. Small steps in the right direction blind us to the reality that far more must be done to actually effect lasting change in life circumstances for millions of Americans. “Abolish the police” is just one part of a larger effort to end racism by committing to lifting the most destitute in our country out of poverty, despair and sickness.
Significant change in criminal justice, policing and incarceration will require revolutionary thinkers and a revolution of thought. We must unshackle ourselves from the chains of complacency, from the self-delusion of “any progress is good progress” in the fight against racism. This notion falsely assumes that progress doesn’t require persistence, that it doesn’t demand a complete overhaul of the institutions that confine us mentally and so many of our fellow Americans literally. We don’t just need “any progress.” We must eradicate racism from our legal institutions, especially law enforcement, because bias training and early releases for some imprisoned people just isn’t enough. We must become more willing to entertain these supposedly radical ideas in public discourse.
I’m fed up by America’s incrementalism within its own borders but its brazen aggression abroad. We’ve supported brutal, bloody wars against the people of Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, cozied up to dictators, and witnessed the disintegration of vital alliances, as with the Kurds in Syria and our withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Yet we retreat into our own isolationist corner while leaving people on the streets; we separate kids from their parents; we criminalize Blackness.
Our heavy-handedness across the globe is matched in intensity by our incrementalism on the issues plaguing us nationwide.
I’m exhausted by an America where the selfishness of some comes at the expense of most. We are the most armed and trigger-happy country in the world. Yet, instead of treating gun violence as the public health crisis it is, we let the gun lobby fill the coffers of leading politicians and promote increased firearm access. And we continue to put up with cops shooting unarmed civilians, a further symptom of our toxic gun culture.
We are the most incarcerated and incarcerating country in the world. Yet, on both sides of the political aisle, “law and order” agendas have dominated for decades. We’ve changed the political, social and geographic landscape of the U.S. for the worse by building more prisons.
At the moment, we are the most diseased country in the world. Yet some senators are more concerned about their stock portfolios than their constituents’ lives. Others seem more worried about re-election prospects than personal protective equipment for front-line heroes in the fight against COVID-19. Still others are actively partaking in anti-mask, anti-distancing activities in the name of the economy, the election and school reopenings.
And who, in the end, suffers the most from gun violence, mass incarceration and our butchered COVID-19 response – three uniquely American failings? The most marginalized communities, from Black, brown and Native Americans, to poor and isolated groups throughout the country.
I’m tired of the notion that working toward a more perfect union is not worth the immense effort required to achieve said justice. This is not to say we’ll be rid of crime, greed and violence by abolishing police and ending racism — there will always be people who act on the worst human instincts and bring harm to others. Rather, striving for cities and towns without police will alleviate concerns of violence and make it less necessary for so many to turn to crime. Some commentators stress that communities are seeking a more limited form of police, along with major overhauls of department policies and practices. What we should be aspiring to is a situation where those communities no longer feel the need for police, however big or small the force may be.
Abolishing the police is about ending racism, realizing equality for every human being and uplifting our fellow Americans who have been left for dead. We have to show those inclined toward incrementalism that revolutionary progress, driven by peace, harmony and understanding, will make us safer than the status quo and the poison of conflict, discord and ignorance.
A society in which leaders tout “law and order” is a society built on fear and violence. For 400 years and counting, America has failed to live up to its most essential tenets of liberty, freedom and justice. We shouldn’t shy away from achieving the greatest experiment in democracy human history has seen. We need to become more comfortable with uncomfortable ideas, like abolishing police, prisons and racism. We should be diving in headfirst to tackle these emergencies, unafraid of one another, of progress, of love. Unafraid of utopia.
Jake Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Ga.