Editorial: Abolish the police? No. Reform the police? Absolutely

As talks continue in the Senate on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, a comprehensive bill to improve and monitor police behavior, the main bone of contention is how best to hold police officers down. responsible for the faults, such as the excessive force that sometimes injures and kills so many Americans, including a disproportionate number of black men. In the background is an ongoing debate that was amplified last year by the sometimes violent protests against police and against racism after Floyd’s murder – and in particular by President Trump’s re-election campaign, many of which supporters argued that there was little about police conduct. this needed to be changed, especially not as violent crime rose precipitously in major American cities.

But there is another debate, another divide, which is at least as important as the predominantly left-right one that separates police reformers from supporters of the status quo. On this second front, reformers quietly defend their plans for better officer training, discipline, control and accountability against a vocal generation of protesters and activists who argue that the idea of ​​police reform is a liberal fantasy.

To bolster their cause, they point to decades of procedural and legislative changes that have left us with police officers who are still too quick to shoot and still too likely to harass or dehumanize members of the black, Latino, and poor communities they have sworn in. to protect and serve. .

In fact, much of the “fund the police” movement is directly opposed to traditional police reforms, which require larger rather than smaller budgets in order to invest in technologies such as body cameras, procedural changes such as as oversight boards and programs such as the Los Angeles Police Department’s community. Safety Partnership, which integrates police officers into social housing projects and distressed neighborhoods to build trust between police officers and residents.

It is money, say defunders and abolitionists, that should be spent not on the police but on health care, schools and jobs.

This position was expressed on the streets last summer and in Los Angeles in public hearings by city council, the police commission and other agencies on city budgets and police conduct. Donna Harati, director of legal services at Homeboy Industries, expressed a common sentiment in a statement to a police commission task force last summer.

“The only answer to end the harm and violence caused by the police to the communities is to stop the contact between the police and the communities,” Harati said. “It requires reducing the size and reach of police services and increasing significant investments in communities. We need to control people less and invest more in communities. “

Many other speakers expressed the same sentiment, but were considerably less civil, their comments dripping with anger and ridicule towards the police and politicians and ending with a signature: “And by the way, f… you”.

Many critics call for the outright abolition of the police, and the position is appealing when the police are viewed in the historical context of enforcers of a racist status quo created by white society to keep black Americans in their place. freed and other people of color. This is not a completely accurate view of the story, but not entirely inaccurate either. If the police are presented as the successor to the slave-capture patrols, then the abolition of the police takes on the aura of basic morality, and the “reform” is tinged with the unpleasant notions of gradualism that made the racial segregation a staple of the laws of many states for more than a century after emancipation.

But the American police, while partially the successor to the slave patrols, are also the descendant of the British model of professional, janitor-type problem solvers who work in concert with residents to prevent petty infractions or conflicts from occurring. get out of hand. The LAPD, heir to both models, was once known for beating up homeless “vagabonds” in order to drive them out of town and – at the same time – for helpfully arranging housing for new residents.

Abolish the police and the void will be filled – by private security guards hired by companies that respond to investors rather than voters, by self-proclaimed armed and angry vigilantes, by gangs collecting “taxes” on companies and residents in exchange for protection. Professional policing is the pride of the nation, separating the United States from countries patrolled by private forces. And it is the shame of the nation – its dark identity – to inflict a heartless and unnecessary death because our gun-loving society is overarmed and because the police enforce and respond to models of race, class and wealth that we still cling to, unwittingly or otherwise. .

We must therefore reform. We must stand up for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We need to improve accountability, demand (and pay for) body cameras, update training, shape police culture to more embrace the janitorial model, and abandon occupier ethics. We must divert the police from jobs that are not suitable for them, such as serving the homeless or the mentally ill in crisis, and fund professionals better suited to these tasks. It’s less invigorating than “abolition” and less catchy than “defund”. But we are here for the long term, to save lives and build a better, fairer and freer society.

This is the sixth editorial in a series.

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Eric Harris

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