Reimagining the Police

Since the murder of George Floyd and subsequent uprising last summer, abolitionists and activists across the country have demanded the dismantling of our police system. Defunding the police is understandably popular to white progressives, as countering attacks on allies validates our solidarity and morality. However, police misconduct is just one part of a war on the poor driven by inequality produced by America's neoliberal economy.

The ideal goal of the modern state, shared by socialists but also (supposedly) by liberal administrators, should be to redistribute wealth and resources from the rich to the poor — those whose human needs are not being met. But education is unequal within states, cities and income levels. Physical and mental health care is not available to those without healthcare or the cash to purchase it. The aim of a more just and equitable society is not being met, and reappropriating some of the vast budgets held by police funding to expand and improve social services can help us correct these imbalances.

However, reducing police funding does not change the culture of police unions, whose leadership and members often see themselves as warriors. A warrior's role is to dominate those who are dangerous. Unfortunately, the police’s view of danger is very subjective, and despite the vast technological breakthroughs achieved by human civilization, these advances have failed to produce a similar advancement of moral or ethical norms. In prior times, some would say, when they saw the local sheriff, "Here comes the law." Today the association between law and officer is more than questionable — but not to many police. The warrior culture spewed by leadership in their associations and unions only closes them off further and prevent their membership from understanding how isolated their perspective really is.

Police may not realize it, but they are screwed. Their role is to minimize the disruption of inequality with guns — a task which popular segments of society are beginning to realize is just not possible. They cannot cure or address mental health crises among the population with Mace and batons. And to the extent that police truly protect us by deterring and stopping violence, their giant budgets murder the tax base.

We need a department of public safety that includes physical and mental health staff, social services and the police. That department needs to have one bargaining unit for the entire staff, not just the police, in order to diminish the influence the “warrior” mindset has on law enforcement. We need a department whose goal is to serve the people, not dominate them. We need prisons, like those in Europe, that provide health care, education and other support services. That choice may be even less expensive in the long run, considering that Europe has only 10% of our prison population. Who knew that if you gave prisoners a chance to be rehabilitated, they would take it? Yet, this has been public knowledge for decades across the Atlantic.

A department of public safety would both defund the police and expand public protection at the same time. If a department of public safety is not possible, then the bargaining unit must include the entire region's gamut of public service workers.

Of course, we have to remember that the deference to domination goes way beyond the police. It is there in our economy, gender relations, corporate structures and in ourselves. We sometimes fall back on it during times of stress or confusion. It is also found in DSA when we do not always respect each other's ideas. It won’t be enough to challenge that mindset on the force; we need to confront the cop in our own heads, too.

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