A great deal of discussion about police abolition concerns non-police responses to violent crime, but most police work is unrelated to violent crime. Most, maybe all, of this is economic in nature – designed to keep working people from using productive property to meet their own needs directly – to keep the commons enclosed. This work means the police are inextricably integrated into the economy in surprising ways that are largely undiscussed in the context of abolition, which would trigger monumental, almost unimaginable changes in how we as a society meet our human needs through work. It’s likely that the end of policing would mean the end of capitalism, which suggests that it won’t be easy to achieve given the magnitude of what’s at stake.
By police I mean anybody who’s socially authorized to enforce laws or other social rules through the unilateral use of physical force, up to and including the intentional infliction of pain and death. If they’re allowed to hurt people to enforce their commands but people aren’t allowed to hurt back in self defense they’re police. In this sense the existence of police to respond to violence is much less controversial than their other functions. Many, maybe most, people agree that potentially violent responses to violence are appropriate. A lot of the current discussion on post-abolition responses to violence centers on community organized and implemented solutions. It’s not hard to imagine members of the community willing to organize to deal with violence in their neighborhoods, in fact, as in the case of Uvalde and many other less extreme examples, the involvement of police often prevents this natural response.
In the United States children are required to study mathematics for most of the time they’re required to attend school and yet essentially everyone hates it. Not just students, but parents and teachers as well. Very few remember any of it once they’re done with school, which strongly suggests that all those years of mandatory mathematics education aren’t serving the students themselves. If they were it wouldn’t be necessary to criminalize nonattendance, to force children into schools to learn mathematics at the point of a policeman’s gun. Continue reading →
When people say anarchism is a fantasy I believe they’re thinking of the apparent impossibility of setting up an anarchist government, imposing it on people, voting it into place, getting everyone to agree to its terms. They’re thinking of what would have to precede the first day of anarchism if anarchism were to be somehow instituted somewhere. And of the difficulty of keeping anarchism in place, protecting it against threats, maintaining it. This is a mistake.
Anarchism begins when people stop being coerced whereas political systems rely on coercion both at their beginnings and for their maintenance. Forcing people to stop being coerced is a contradiction in terms. Anarchism can’t be instituted or put in place, it can only coalesce. Anarchism starts when people stop obeying authority. So how do we get to a society without coercion? What’s the path to the anarchist utopia? Continue reading →
Skill improves with experience. An experienced artist may be able to paint with one quick line something that would previously have taken a whole canvas full of brushstrokes. This is an individual process, but it happens in society as well. Social systems also become more efficient with increasing experience.1 A shepherd with a dog, a fence, and an ATV can control more sheep of the sort bred to respond to those tools with less effort than could ever have been done without them. They’re all elements in a social system.2
I’ve been thinking and reading about police abolition for eight years now, and have become convinced that the world doesn’t necessarily need another rich white male academic having thoughts about the nature and effects of police oppression on the oppressed. But learning from the privileged about how policing and the prison industrial complex benefits them personally would have been very valuable to me. I haven’t found much writing like this so I thought I’d make some myself.
If I’m going to make a strong argument for police abolition I have to try to make a complete account of the ways that policing supports my present way of life. Without some kind of connection to my own lived experience at best I’d just be reframing other people’s more experientially grounded arguments. It hasn’t helped me at all to read this kind of material so what a waste of time to write more of it, eh? Not only that, but accounting for the ways I rely on policing is a way for me to understand what I’d be giving up if we do manage to abolish cops. Without understanding this my arguments for abolition would seem hollow to me, and so probably to others also. Continue reading →