Cops are Making the Best Case for Police Abolition
Across the United States, the response to peaceful protests against police brutality has been police brutality. Using the often false excuse of responding to riots and looting, the police have come out in vicious force against people who have demonstrably not been rioting or looting. They march in phalanxes through city streets, wearing body armor and masked helmets, to gas and shoot and beat on civilians wearing t-shirts and cloth masks, holding signs. Civilians reacted to the brutalization and murder of their fellow citizens with peaceful demonstrations and demands for accountability from the police, and the reaction of police has been to brutalize and murder them. This is martial law. This is what fascism looks like. The people declared that the police are a problem, and the police have done everything to prove them right.
The “bad apple” argument no longer has merit. Not that it ever did. For those who regularly follow the news and the history of law enforcement and criminal justice, the argument that police are, as a general rule, “good,” and that it’s only ever been a small minority of cops who engage in misconduct, behave unprofessionally and unlawfully, is invalid. There are too many bad apples. The barrel is spoiled, all of them are rotten. If there are good cops, they’re functioning within, and helping to uphold, a culture that is diseased and evil.
The police have done everything they can to prove that they are, as a group, as a professional class, as a national culture, enemies of the people and opponents of justice. Police have spent the past week showing us who they are: fascist thugs. The world has been watching as peaceful protestors have been beaten, gassed, and shot. News stories and firsthand accounts of US anti-brutality protests and the police’s brutal response to them mirror those of “third-world” “shithole” countries, countries suffering under autocrats and martial law. They’ve turned our cities into dystopic film sets. Journalists and their crews are targeted. Healthcare workers are targeted. Women and children and the elderly are targeted. Innocent, unarmed people are being assaulted and maimed, if not killed. Food and water and medical supplies are intentionally destroyed. Every day, police around the country are committing war crimes. If any other country did this, if any other country allowed this, it would be rightfully shamed by all civilized nations of the world. Our police and our leaders deserve to be internationally shamed and criminally prosecuted by the global community.
There should be no solidarity with the police from any group comprised of decent people. Any business that doesn’t cut ties with the police has to be considered a collaborator and complicit in their crimes. Labor unions must separate and distance themselves from police unions. Police unions do not share common cause with labor unions and have a long and ugly history of fighting against organized labor groups. Police serve at the interest of capital. They are the ally of business owners, not the workers. The history of the US labor movement is filled with incidents of police being called in to beat protesting and striking workers. Police are gangsters, not union members. Police unions use extortion and intimidation to take what they want from the communities they’re meant to serve.
Reformation is not enough. You cannot effectively reform an institution rooted in injustice, an institution which traces its lineage to militias organized to keep Black people and other non-whites and the poor from threatening the comfort and the financial superiority of affluent whites. This is not a matter of making a few tweaks and adding a few regulations to fix a good system gone awry. When cops brutalize and kill innocent people, that is the system functioning in line with its original intent. Calls to reform a system that is corrupt by its nature miss the point. It’s like trying to make sewage potable by pouring fresh water into it, when what we need to do is flush the shit and start fresh. Calls for police abolition are not new, but never before has the country been so inclined to consider it, with militant terrorist armies of police making the best case.
Abolition is a radical position. Radical change makes people fearful. The prison abolition movement has always found difficulty gaining traction because the question that always follows a proposal to end incarceration is, “But what are we going to do about all the criminals.” Never mind why we’ve decided that millions of humans have to exist under the classification of “criminal.” Spare no effort questioning whether they all deserve that label, or why being locked in dehumanizing conditions with others like them is a good solution. We accept the existence and purpose of prisons to the point that we ignore their failures of purpose and the lack of justification for their existence. We say that they’re doing something good and so ignore all the bad that they do, fret over the hypothetical, “But what are we going to do with all the criminals?”
The abolition of slavery was a radical idea. We look back on it, like any historical event, as though it were a foregone conclusion. We had institutional slavery for hundreds of years, then we had a civil war to end it. Like it was… what? Destiny? It wasn’t destined, it wasn’t even likely. It didn’t happen without a great deal of work and time and fighting. Opponents of the abolition of slavery, not counting those who owned enslaved people or were invested in the slave economy, fretted over the question, “But what are we going to do with all the slaves?”
When a system becomes so integral to the structure and culture of society, we question what chaos would come and what we’d do without it, when we should be questioning why we need it in the first place, whether it’s serving its purpose, and whether it’s serving us. We need to examine our institutions, determine whether they’re doing more harm or good, and if the bad outweighs the good, the system has to go.
I don’t have a personal problem with cops, because most cops I’ve met have not been personally hostile or abusive to me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the reason for that, and didn’t know how they treated people who didn’t look like a stunt double or stand-in for a standard-issue blondish white male movie protagonist. This is not about individual persons. Not every cop is a monster, but every cop is part of a system that attracts, builds, and breeds monsters. It brings monsters into its fraternity, its gang, and uses them to terrorize and kill. It protects them. Even when an officer is fired, charged with an offense, disciplined in some way, it’s always less than they’ve earned, a lesser punishment than any ordinary person would get.
If we take the past week as a case study, we can examine, department by department, whether there are more good cops or bad cops. What the world saw was thousands of bad cops. If there were more good cops than bad, they wouldn’t have been able to build their armies and conduct their terror campaign on US civilians with such devastating results; the good cops would have stopped them. We see, every now and then, a story of a cop standing up to their colleagues, speaking out against police misconduct and criminality. We praise these brave few, when we should be maintaining focus on what the majority are doing. Any institution in which the good people are an exceptional minority is a failed system. Or it would be. The truth in this case is that the bad cops, the majority, who engage in abusive behavior themselves or condone and protect those that do, are doing what they’re supposed to, what the system they belong to was created to do. They are the system functioning as intended. The few good exceptions are aberrations. There’s no saving the system through reforms. There’s only ending it, starting over, and doing it right this time.