There’s been a lot of talk recently about de-militarizing the police. That’s good, and a lot of the ideas for reform are steps in the right direction. However, what these proposals often forget is that the only way to truly de-militarize an occupying force is to remove them altogether. Our conversation about de-militarizing the police needs to become a conversation about abolishing the police.
At least 400 people a year – though likely a lot more – are killed by police, and plenty beyond that face violence that is life-threatening, even if not life-ending. Certainly, part of the problem has to do with particular cops who are especially bad, and part of it has to do with a toxic culture of police solidarity. More fundamentally, though, police lawlessness is just the inevitable result of the structural factors at play.
Police are different from the rest of us in that they’re officially placed above the law. There are certain things that they can do that ordinary citizens can’t, and when they do things that even they’re not supposed to do, they’re given a lot of leeway. As in, the paid-leave-for-brutalizing-innocent-people kind of leeway. Which is exactly what we should expect from a legal monopoly that ultimately answers only to themselves.
Of course, that’s just if we focus on the ways cops can use force deemed even too excessive for their job descriptions. Even when they strictly obey lawful orders, though, it’s still pretty bad. The classic argument against standing armies is just as strong against a standing police force. It puts a ready weapon in the hands of every politician who wants to wage war on the public. Just by doing their jobs as foot soldiers in wars on drugs, guns, prostitution, and other victimless crimes, police throw increasing numbers of people into cages. …