Skip to content

GRIID Class – The Function of Policing in the US and how we can work towards a world Without Police: Part IV

February 10, 2022

For week 4 of the class on Policing in the US, we read and discussed four essays from the book, Abolition for the People. All four essays were focused on the importance of an abolitionist approach to policing, along with a critique of police reforms.

The first essay was by Dylan Rodriguez, author of the book, White Reconstruction: Domestic Warfare and the Logics of Genocide. His essay is entitled, Police Reform as Counterinsurgency. He begins his essay by stating: 

To reform a system is to adjust isolated aspects of its operation in order to protect that system from total collapse, whether by internal or external forces. Such adjustments usually rest on the fundamental assumption that these systems must remain intact—even as they consistently produce asymmetrical misery, suffering, premature death, and violent life conditions for people and places targeted by anti-Black criminalization, white supremacist police profiling, gendered racist displacement, and colonial occupation.

Rodriguez goes on to say this about reform: 

Reformism defers, avoids, and even criminalizes peoples’ efforts to catalyze fundamental change to an existing order, often through dogmatic and simplistic mandates of “nonviolence,” incrementalism, and compliance.

We discussed how difficult it is to imagine a world without cops and how we are all socialized to believe that they exist to protect us. Of course, this is all non-sense, since policing has historically been about protecting order and systems of power. Rodriguez then states: 

Reform is at best a form of casualty management, while reformism is counterinsurgency against those who dare to envision, enact, and experiment with abolitionist forms of community, collective power, and futurity.

The second reading is entitled, Three Traps of Police Reform, written by Naomi Murakawa. Murakawa is best know for her book, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. Murakawa lays out three main traps of attempts to reform the police: The first trap of reform is that reform the police usually means reward the police. The author presents details information looking at when there is a big uproar about the police, police departments end up getting more funding, more technology and more training. 

The second trap of reforming the police is the passage of new laws when there is an outcry. However, as Murakawa points out: Because police seem lawless, reformers hope that new laws will rein in their power. But the premise is wrong. Policing is not law’s absence; it is law’s essence in a system of racial capitalism.14 In this system, laws affirmatively protect the police’s right to target the poor, to lie, and to kill.

The third trap of police reform argues that perpetual reform exploits and feeds the fantasy that violence is a technical glitch of policing. Because reformers refuse abolition, they can only tinker with the style of police violence.

The third reading was from radical Black historian Robin D.G. Kelley. Kelley argues that the push to demand the defunding of the police all across the US after the police murder of George Floyd, was a direct result of the abolitionist work that grassroots groups had been doing since the 1990s, groups like Critical Resistance, INCITE and Sista 2 Sista. Kelley talks about this history in an interview he did on Democracy Now, just days after the national uprisings in 2020.

The fourth and final essay we read was from independent journalist and political prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal. Jamal talks about the history of the abolitionist movement in the US and the lessons we need to learn from it. He cites the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said:

“Slavery has been fruitful in giving itself names. It has been called ‘the peculiar institution,’ ‘the social system,’ and the ‘impediment’. . . It has been called by a great many names, and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth next.”

The thing about the abolitionist movement is that it was not just about ending slavery, but about creating a society that fundamentally different from the one that gave birth to slavery. White Supremacy merely evolved after chattel slavery was no longer legal, creating policies and practices to maintain the centrality of Whiteness, such as Jim Crow laws, segregation, institutional racism and mass incarceration. What Jamal is arguing, is what W. E. B. DuBois argued, that we need to develop Abolition Democracy, especially of the goal is truly freedom and liberation.

In next week’s class we will be finishing the last 3 essays from Abolition for the People, along with a discussion about the vision paper that the Movement for Black Lives developed in 2015. 

%d bloggers like this: