👋 I'm the Managing Editor here at Hacker Noon. I also make podcasts and write stories.
The concept of Policing came about in the 17th century—unsurprisingly—around the same time as Capitalism. Even way back then, We, The People, sensed this was probably a shit idea.
“Due to public fears concerning the deployment of the military in domestic matters, [Robert Peel] organised the force along civilian lines, rather than paramilitary. To appear neutral, the uniform was deliberately manufactured in blue, rather than red which was then a military colour…
"...To distance the new police force from the initial public view of it as a new tool of government repression, Peel publicised the so-called Peelian principles, which set down basic guidelines for ethical policing:
Hence, Peel's most often quoted principle that ‘The police are the public and the public are the police.’”
You guessed it!
And this is where it all gets a bit sticky, because you can’t really talk about what’s happening in the States right now without talking about the tangled web of thorns that is Policing and Prisons, Capitalism, and White Supremacy.
But let’s take a step back and return to the question that probably brought you here:
Look, this is difficult programming to uninstall.
I’m still there some days.
I get it.
Sure, anybody can scroll through the List of killings by law enforcement officers by country page on Wikipedia and pick out a few shocking-sounding statistics from “struggling” countries.
But, remember that
A millennium study conducted by the National Institute of Justice to determine police attitudes toward the abuse of their own authority found that “the majority of American police officers believe:
“In addition, the survey finds race to be a divisive issue for American police. In particular, black and nonblack officers had significantly different views about the effect of a citizen’s race and socioeconomic status on the likelihood of police abuse of authority and about the effect of community policing on the potential for abuse.”
If there’s a voice in your head right now mumbling something incoherent about how “the real problem isn’t the police though… it’s the system… it’s the minimum wage… it’s the ideologies… it’s the Trump supporters.... It’s just people from difficult backgrounds being given too much power…”
You are right.
It is, however, important to understand that the repressive laws the police force are designed to enforce have very little to do with morality, or the public interest, or your personal safety.
Ask yourself: if America’s police force is there to serve and protect the public, why was it so difficult for them to prosecute millionaire sex predator Jeffrey Epstein, but so (very nearly, and for so very long) easy for them to get away with murdering an unarmed man (men, women, children, people...) in plain sight?
Most of us live in repressive law systems.
The alternative to a repressive law system, according to French sociologist Emile Durkheim, would be a restitutive law system.
Where Repressive Law reflects a solidarity that implies that individuals resemble each other, Restitutive Law reflects a solidarity that implies differences amongst individuals. (source.)
Some places, like the Netherlands, have made attempts at somewhat more restitutive and individualized approaches to criminality by incorporating rehabilitative practices into their prison systems, with great success.
“Since 2014, 23 prisons [in the Netherlands] have been shut, turning into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels. The country has Europe’s third-lowest incarceration rate, at 54.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the justice ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed fell from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018 – along with a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders. Registered crimes plummeted by 40% in the same period, to 785,000 in 2018.”
The massive drop in crime and incarceration rates is largely attributed to the Dutch rehabilitation programme known as TBS, which provides people who are struggling to ‘play by the rules’ (for whatever reason) with proven psychological and mental health treatment programmes, under the support and guidance of highly qualified professionals—as opposed to sending these human beings to think about what they’ve done in a locked room alone, and then releasing them, ignored and entirely unhelped, some arbitrary amount of time later.
How people tend to behave and make decisions based on how you expect them to behave and make decisions?
Some of you might have heard something similar, along the lines of "expectations are preconceived resentments."
Whichever way you choose to reconcile this idea for yourself, it’s a nice one to chew on if you’re serious about understanding why Policing Should Not Be Necessary. Let me know what comes up for you in the comments.
As to how Policing Should Not be Necessary, let’s return briefly to the ‘Father of Social Science’ and his rather quaint theory around “Dynamic Density” and a resulting “Organic Solidarity”:
“In sociology, dynamic density refers to the combination of two things: population density and the amount of social interaction within that population. Émile Durkheim used the term to explain why societies transition from simple to more complex forms, specifically in terms of the division of labor within that society.
He suggested that it required both an increase in population and an increase in the frequency of social interaction to form more specialised occupations, which then leads to a new type of society.
People in this new type of society are less independent and more reliant on each other and therefore develop what he called organic solidarity, where people no longer are bound by the same morality and sense of purpose.
Critics suggest that it is not a testable hypothesis, and nor does it follow logically that dynamic density would cause this new type of solidarity, supposing it actually existed.”
While he was spot on about us getting too big to be united by the same “morality and sense of purpose”, Durkheim's prediction around that resulting in an increased ability to live and work together with respectful deference to each other’s beliefs, preferences, habits and behaviours, seems to have been a little optimistic.
Instead, we now live in a system that intentionally divides and oppresses us, where we have to fight tooth and nail to repeal the archaically repressive laws our police force are trained to enforce (using excessive force), while billions are being spent fighting battles for basic human rights to be recognized by law.
If it wasn’t so desperately sad, it’d be hilarious: from adultery (India) to cannabis (literally even New Zealand now) to LGQBT marriage (the latest to legalize being Costa Rica) to anti-trans legislation (widespread in America) to environmental lawsuits here, there, and everywhere - we’re being denied things we are entitled to for our survival, in favour of corporate and commercial interests, and, quite frankly, we’re being treated like small children who don’t know what’s good for them.
“Remember that criminality defined and enforced by a violently racist/capitalist/settler colonial empire is an inherently oppressive political construct. Legality has nothing to do with morality, it has to do with power [and control]. Instead of billions being invested into policing/carceral apparatus, it should go into our communities (free housing, free healthcare, free mental healthcare, free accessible transit, education, job creation!). Policing is a violent, anti-black, settler institution that originated as slave patrols. Their primary mandate is to protect property and to militarily enforce white supremacist capitalism. They are doing their jobs as they are trained and paid to do. You can’t fix what isn’t broken - and that’s why we fight for police and prison abolition.” - @vrye (emphasis and parenthesis my own)
Well, that brings us right back to my least favourite C-word.
“Asking the question ‘what are alternatives to policing?’
is to ask the question ‘what are alternatives to capitalism?’”
- Luis Fernandez,
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University
In this great article, Fernandez rightly points out that imagining a world without police is less scary when you think about for a minute and realise how much of your life happens quite safely without any police involvement whatsoever.
“Most of our communities already exist without policing. Most of our human interactions are already outside of the purview of police officers. Most of the social relationships between people do not require police intervention.”
This hits home for me especially, having grown up and regularly had the firsthand displeasure of engaging with one of the most mismanaged police forces in the world.
South Africa’s police ranking system still mirrors the system used by the apartheid government (red flag, anybody?)—albeit with less “efficacy”—and, since January 2000, an embarrassing number of successive police commissioners have been unable to complete a single term in office, with most of them being implicated in and charged with misconduct.
Suffice it to say: in an emergency, I would call every neighbour on my street—and/or my Great Uncle who lives in Canada—before I resort to calling the same Police Service I was once brainwashed enough to believe existed solely to protect me.
Because the police are not incompetent.
We can’t ‘fix’ policing, because policing is very successfully doing exactly what it was designed to do:
Protect rich white men in power.
Exploit labour for minimum wage and then wonder why that same labour loots a Target at the first opportunity.
(Or was that the white supremacists using these protests to live out their purge fantasies? Whichever camp you prefer to counter-productively "blame", the root causes of this 50-state strong rage-storm are blooming from the same steaming pile of shit.)
If #ACAB makes you uncomfortable, it might time to check your attachment levels RE: your things.
In other words: it’s time for all of us to ask ourselves just how much we’re willing to sacrifice to right the systemic wrongs we say we’re now committed to addressing.
In a landmark ruling for the concept of restorative justice in 1995, Canada addressed systemic discrimination in their policing and prison systems.
Bill C-41 came into effect in 1996 and contained Criminal Code Section 718.2(e), which was intended to counter the disproportionate rates of incarceration of Indigenous people, and reads:
“A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles: ... (e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders”.
The practice enabling this legislation emphasises mediation, conversation, and reconciliation, over severe punishment, and goes by many names: restorative justice; peacemaking circles; rehabilitation and reintegration; non-hierarchical dialogue between community, victim, and offender…
The correlation between restorative justice in indigenous communities and repressive law in industrialized, capitalist societies, is not easily ignored.
As if to emphasise that bizarre legal distinction, Canada’s landmark legislation originally excluded indigenous people residing in urban (capitalist) areas, but is now revisiting this policy in their ongoing effort to address this “enormously complex” (?) issue; as a result of recognizing:
“the roles played by poverty, marginalization, and systemic discrimination in the overrepresentation of Indigenous people. Significantly, the Supreme Court of Canada’s judgment supported the idea – contrary to the view of the British Columbia trial court judge – that Indigenous people in urban areas, as well as in reserve communities and more remote and isolated areas, should be considered under s. 718.2(e).”
In legally recognizing restorative justice for all, regardless of your place of residence, Canada is paving the way for all of us – including those of us living in deeply entrenched capitalist societies – to recognize the more humane and community-centric idea that:
“crime is a violation of one person by another, rather than an act against the state, and that it is harmful to both personal relationships and to communities. The process takes the holistic context of an offence into consideration, including moral, social, economic, political, and religious considerations.”
At this point, the “yeah, that sounds nice and all, but it’s just sooo unrealistic...*” argument might be coming into your mind.
What’s unrealistic is demanding change without discomfort.
What’s unrealistic is expecting a revolution without a willingness to sacrifice.
What’s unrealistic is asking people to end centuries of systematic exploitation, violence, and murder using “peaceful protest.”
What’s unrealistic is calling a silent protest “unpatriotic” when a man takes a knee during a little sing-song session, and then condemning people for burning shit down to the ground one year later when nothing's changed.
What’s unrealistic is heartwarming propaganda in mainstream media of cops kneeling down next to protestors for a photo opportunity, an hour before dowsing those same people in tear gas.
What’s unrealistic is looking at cops and not seeing the bastard brainchild of a white supremacist, capitalist ideology, sustained to protect only products, property and the billionaires who own both of the above; and not, to protect, in any way shape or form, “the people.”
What's less unrealistic—as Canada, the Netherlands and communities around the world are fighting through the complexity to prove to us—is a world in which we all choose to put people before property and profit, and abolish the police and prison systems in favour of a more humane, community-centric approach to crime and rehabilitation.
Opinions expressed are all, of course, entirely my own and in no way representative of anybody else's.
If, after reading this, #ACAB, FTP, 1312, or 'Fuck 12' still makes you feel uncomfortable, I’m looking forward to engaging with you in the comments.
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