It seems all the recent media focus on police shootings and the emergence of Black Lives Matter has led some groups to question the presence of the police at all.
In a recent Chicago Reader article, residents of the city called for the abolishment of the police (this despite the fact that 2016 is heading towards being the most murderous year in Chicago for two decades). Police abolitionists believe it’s better for the community to deal with their own problems than have the police deal with them.
Movements to abolish the police are forming all over America in response to recent incidents. In addition there have been “no cops on campus” protests at US universities. Students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland were so traumatized by the prospect of police officers staying in campus housing during July’s Republican National Convention that the university essentially shut down for the week.
The very idea of disbanding the police and handing the streets over to the people, may at first seem far-fetched but let’s imagine that it actually happens. In other words, there is no longer any police. One real-life example given in the Reader’s article was of a boy who stole from a store but returned the item that he hadn’t yet sold and then started working in the store himself. It was a positive example of how a no-police system can operate. The shopkeeper didn’t need the police to end up happy and the boy got work experience and a lesson in right and wrong.
The police didn’t need to be involved and no one was left feeling angry or bitter. This is great. But let’s imagine the boy goes into the store with a gun, robs the store and shoots the owner, or let’s imagine that the boy went into the store to rob it and the owner shoots him dead.
Both of these are scenarios that probably unfold every day in America. Dealing with a kid who has stolen from a store is one thing but how exactly would these abolitionists deal with criminality and deadly violence?
— AWorldWithoutPolice (@No_Cop_Zone) October 21, 2016
I have spent years travelling around the United States patrolling with police officers and have seen for myself the vicious ganglands of many American cities including Chicago, Detroit, New York, LA, and Boston.
In these cities, even when there is police, there are neighborhoods that are effectively “controlled” by the gangs. They sell dope and guns. They sell women and children. They rob, rape and kill. They don’t care about your righteous, utopian dream. If they do something bad or criminal—which they do all the time, because that’s what they do—and you come along to reprimand them and try to make them pay for their wrongdoing, they will likely shoot you in the head.
I know of a man who had a gang of drug dealers set up next to his house. He complained, so the gang burned his house down. And what happens when one or more people—terrorists perhaps—decide that they want to commit a mass killing? What happens when they walk into a school or a nightclub, take hostages and start executing people?
You still don’t want police? I know that I do.
Who exactly is going to deal with extremely dangerous, heavily armed lunatics? Is the community going to come together, wait it out and then ask the perpetrators to fix their wrongdoing? Is the community going to look for volunteers to arm themselves and deal with the problem?
Very few would have what it takes—whether in the form of weapons, equipment, training or just the courage needed to enter a building, search for and deal with that kind of threat.
A few years ago I went to Highland Park, Michigan. The city was so poor that they disbanded their police department. The officers were told not to come to work the next day—so they didn’t. The day after, all hell broke loose. The police headquarters was ransacked; windows were smashed in, police reports and files were thrown around, squad cars—left outside—were smashed up and destroyed. Violent anarchy took over and the county sheriffs moved in a handful of deputies to try to regain some law and order. (The police department has now been re-established.)
So I have seen what happens when the police are disbanded. It’s bad. Society looking after itself is a nice idea but sadly there are many people out there who will only see it as an opportunity to commit more crime, take control and get what they want.
And if you think the homicide numbers are high now, try to imagine what it would be like without police. There have been over 600 murders and over 3,500 people shot in Chicago so far this year. That’s an average of around 12 people shot (and more than 2 killed) every single day—just in Chicago. And that’s with a police department.
Without police, gangs and criminals would simply take over. To believe that the community could somehow control them is fantasy. Sooner or later, police—or a form of them—would need to be re-established, either because the criminals would be doing everything I said they would or because two groups would disagree about something and one of these groups would then try and impose and enforce their idea or rule on the other group. That is why we need police.
Not everyone likes the idea of abolishing the police, however. The Washington Post recently reported how residents in Baltimore—following violent protests and riots in the city—had actually been pleading for the police to restore order in their communities.
#LiberalPrivilege is wanting to disarm the police, but then wanting them to save you when you need it.
— Hannah Carlson (@han_carl) October 19, 2016
Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing, stated that “the police are the public and the public are the police.” They were intentionally created to be different from the military, and to prevent the need for the army to police the public. Police officers are public servants. There should not be a “them and us” —just “us”. The police are already doing what the abolitionists want to do themselves.
If people aren’t happy with the status quo, then they need to peacefully push for reforms, hold people to account and vote for change. Some police officers, politicians and chiefs also need to remember that they are there to serve—not rule over—the public, and that they, too, are the public.
While vigilantism isn’t the answer, the community can make a difference. Parents and teachers can educate and encourage their children to do the right thing. I know a convicted murderer who stopped his gangbanging ways and completely reformed, due to pressure put on him by his mother. Peer pressure can be a bitch, but it can also work in positive ways.
So the answer to all this isn’t the abolishment of the police—that’s far too easy. Parents, society and government need to step up and take responsibility. Some groups and politicians are doing just that. They are working hard to make their neighborhoods better and communities safer by creating jobs, developing training schemes and focusing on education, mentoring and volunteering.
Blaming the world’s problems on the police is either lazy, missing the point or something far more sinister. The police didn’t create the problems faced by society today—they are simply trying to keep us as safe as they can.
Not all cops are good at their job, but most are. They don’t always get it right —sometimes they can get it very wrong. But the majority of the time they do get it right.
The alternative to the police is anarchy, chaos, criminality and killings on a level that you could never imagine.