This is how I, a 45-year-old white woman and mother of six, currently at her peak Karen power, went from thinking about police work as a deeply flawed system that needed to be reformed because it is a necessary part of functional communities, to becoming a passionate advocate for #abolishthepolice and #defundthepolice, over the course of one week.
Have you ever been to a gymnastics hall? You walk in and the whole environment is set up so that it’s really easy to jump, tumble, flip, handstand, and cartwheel. It’s like you walk in, and can’t help yourself. You start doing gymnastics immediately.
Have you ever seen a cop’s uniform? They carry their “environment” around with them, and the whole thing, including every accessory, zipper, and badge, is designed to intimidate and make it easy to inflict violence. It’s like they can’t help themselves. Their uniform creates an environment where defaulting to a violent solution is practically inevitable.
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Have you heard that saying before? Let’s apply it to police. If you’re always prepared to easily inflict violence, then the chances of inflicting unwarranted violence go way, way up. Cat in a tree? Got locked out of your car? Kids prank called 911? Found a brutally murdered body? When called, police will arrive at all four of these scenes equally armed to the teeth. Why would we ever be okay with that? It is absolutely insane.
As has been thoroughly established over the last two weeks, the current policing system is horrific. Many people have been aware of this for years or decades, some just discovered it a few days ago. They system stinks considerably more for Black people, and it stinks for everybody else too. Take getting pulled over as an example, a common way that people interact with police.
Getting pulled over is dreadful! The flashing lights come out of nowhere. My heart starts pumping. Adrenaline running. I’m shaking. Not sure if I should reach for my registration. Did I bring my wallet? The toddler needs a nap and is about to start wailing. I feel totally panicked. I don’t where to pull over. I have no idea why I’ve been pulled over. I’m a boring law-abiding citizen yet I’m still terrified. I can see his hand on his gun. He’s twice my size. I feel like a criminal, and he starts with the assumption that I’m a criminal. People are driving by and slowing down to look. It feels shameful and embarrassing.
I hate getting pulled over. It hasn’t happened that often — maybe 10 times in my 30 years of driving. But it is traumatizing every time. I know I’m not alone. These stops are universally traumatizing, even when no ticket is issued.
To be clear, I’ve never had my life threatened during a traffic stop, I’ve never been asked to get out of the car, I’ve never had to seriously worry the cops would kill me or my teens or my husband. So really, if we’re comparing traffic-related interactions with police, my traffic stops have been totally breezy. And until the other day, if you had asked me if I’d ever had a bad encounter with the police, I would have said no and considered myself lucky.
Think about that for a minute. If I believe my police encounters haven’t been bad, that means I think having an unpredictable, shame-inducing, traumatic encounter — that can happen at anytime, is totally out of my control, and happens at the hands of someone with a gun — is NORMAL. And everyone who believes that type of encounter is normal has accepted that this traumatic and fear inducing experience is just the way it is.
I mean. What??? There is nothing okay about that. Why is this the system we’ve all decided is normal? Why is it ever okay for someone with a gun to pull you over anytime they want?
You know what else is totally nuts? We pay for this system. Police are public servants, paid by taxes. We choose to pay for these traumatizing, bullying, experiences. We choose to pay for this system instead of housing the homeless; instead of feeding the hungry; instead of funding our schools.
I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea until last week how over-funded police departments are. I’m thinking back and it’s like I’ve never seen it talked about. Did you know about this overfunding? Consider how we’ve seen medical workers run out of PPE, but the cops never seem to run out of rubber bullets, tasers, tear gas, and guns. This tweet, explaining “cities are just police departments with underfunded services on the side”, does not seem like an exaggeration.
Especially if we keep in mind the fact that money invested in things like housing, social services, medical care, and emotional intelligence training, lead to outcomes that mean substantially less need for policing in the first place.
We know crime is a response to unmet needs in the community. If we’re not funding police departments, we’ll have plenty of money to meet those needs! We don’t actually have to criminalize homelessness, drug addiction, and being poor! Those things should never have been criminalized in the first place. Putting someone in prison because they are homeless, or addicted, or poor? How is that helpful in any way?
We need to rethink and reinvent the whole idea of how communities provide help and assistance. We need someone that you call for help, who doesn’t show up with a gun. No but really. What if there was a helpful person, or team of helpful persons you could call, who didn’t show up with guns?
Pretend a mentally ill man has taken off his pants and is walking by a school, and sort of babbling to the sky. What’s the real problem that needs to be solved? Does he need medical care? Housing? A shower? A social worker? Do we really think sending someone trained to easily inflict violence is the best solution?
Imagine someone is robbing a bank. Okay. What’s the real problem? Why are they robbing the bank? Are they hungry? Is this Ocean’s 18? Is this an addiction issue? Can we help them? Do we really think sending someone trained to easily inflict violence is the best solution?
We need to remember that restraining someone and de-escalation do not require weapons or police training. Nurses, therapists, social workers, and teacher have to do this kind of de-escalation work all the time. Which reminds me: we keep expecting police to do the work of social workers, but they didn’t sign up for that. They don’t want to be social workers. They are not trained as social workers. And it’s clear that in most if not all cases, they were not drawn to policing because they would get to do social work.
But what about violence and rape? We must need police for that, right? Well, it turns out the police are actually quite crappy at preventing and prosecuting rape. A tiny percentage of rapists are arrested and convicted. And I’m sure we’ve all heard a dozen stories (or hundred of stories!) about what typically happens when a woman reports a rape. Still not convinced that police are not the best option for rape victims? Then please consider the well-known backlog of thousands of untested rape kits.
Even worse, it’s not unusual for police to be the rapists. Here are the stats for police who were arrested for sex crimes from 2005-2013: 636-groping, 405-rape, 219-sodomy (shouldn’t sodomy just be grouped with rape?). But experts say those statistics are not at all comprehensive, because data on sexual assaults by police are almost nonexistent.
What we do know is that in 35 states it’s not illegal for a police officer to have sex with someone in custody, even in their jail cell. With the power difference, and the custody/incarceration? How is that not rape? I mean, it’s illegal for a therapist to have sex with a patient, because the power difference makes it impossible for the patient to consent. But it’s not illegal for armed police officers to get “consent” from a teenager in their custody?
Protect and serve? It has become more and more clear that we need protection from the police. It’s easy to see that policing either attracts or creates violent men. A job that attracts violent men? The whole idea is horrible. A job that creates violent men? Also horrible! And speaking of violent men, did you know 40% of police officers are domestic abusers?
Last week, if someone had asked me, I would have said that I thought #abolishthepolice #defundthepolice were like some kind of power shoutout, I thought they were like #fu**thepolice. I didn’t understand there was an actual movement with nuanced thinking behind defunding and abolishing police departments. But the more I read, the more passionate I am about it. The exciting thing is we can reimagine the whole thing! It was hard for me to wrap my brain around it at first, but it’s really and truly possible to imagine a society where there are no police. And it is a glorious society. We need to look at every assumption we have about crime and police work. We need to examine every premise.
As I said at the beginning, I knew the current policing system wasn’t working, and I always assumed reform was the answer. Throw out the bad apples! Body cams! More training! Break the unions! But now I am fully convinced reform isn’t the answer. When you look at reform options, nothing is effective enough to actually fix the issues. Even the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, that just came out, suggests reforms that could reduce the violence, but don’t actually solve the issues. Chokeholds have already been banned! De-escalation is already required! Clearly, those types of reforms aren’t working.
Additionally pretty much every suggested reform relies on the goodwill and self-discipline of the officers. The stakes are too high! We’re talking about people’s lives here. Reducing violence, or making small improvements isn’t enough. Reforms don’t get at the core systemic problems with policing and incarceration.
The fact is, the beginnings of policing were hateful, and it’s still hateful today. There’s no way to save it. There are too many generations of people who deeply distrust the police. Policing must be dismantled and abolished. We need to build something from scratch that is designed to protect and serve everybody, not just white people.
I have lived my life with the default assumption that policing is necessary and important to a healthy, functioning society. I had never questioned that assumption until last week. I now know my assumption was wrong.
This post is an adaptation of a Twitter thread I shared yesterday. You can read the original on Twitter. The idea of defunding and abolition is new to me, but there are groups who have been working on this for years and have deep knowledge about it. Here are two resources shared with me by AddyeB: 1) An article about prison abolition. 2) #8ToAbolition — a group that explains why smaller reforms don’t and won’t work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been reading up on what it could look like to defund and abolish the police? Or have you ever attempted to imagine a society without policing?
Image by Doug Mills for the New York Times.