[News] Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 17 13:55:54 EDT 2015


    Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 00:00By Rachel 
<http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/51424>, Truthout | Op-Ed

Police scanners, Tasers, increased data collecting and sharing, SWAT 
teams, gang injunctions, stop-and-frisk, "quality of life" ticketing - 
all of these policing reforms have been taken up to improve the quality 
of policing in the United States. The dominant school of thought on 
police reform has suggested that reforms like these make for safer 
communities and that improving policing will allow us to escape its 

*The goal should not be to improve how policing functions but to reduce 
its role in our lives.*

This orientation toward police reform imagines that documentation, 
training or oversight might protect us from the harassment, 
intimidation, beatings, occupation and death that the state employs to 
maintain social control under the guise of safety. What is missing from 
this orientation, however, is the recognition of the function of 
policing in US society: armed protection of state interests. If one sees 
policing for what it is - a set of practices empowered by the state to 
enforce law and maintain social control and cultural hegemony through 
the use of force - one may more easily recognize that perhaps the goal 
should not be to improve how policing functions but to reduce its role 
in our lives.

Today, calls for policing reform in the United States are louder and 
more frequent than they have been for many years. The protest movements 
fueled by bold, dynamic resistance in Ferguson, Baltimore and other 
cities across the country have raised awareness about police killings, 
especially of Black people, and brought new voices and ideas to the 
fore. Those same movements are also making recommendations about 
policing reforms. Some recommendations have been broad and ideological 
such asFerguson <http://fergusonaction.com/demands/>Action's demand 
<http://fergusonaction.com/demands/> for an "end to all forms of 
discrimination and the full recognition of our human rights." Others 
have involved collecting data and holding hearings, such as Ferguson 
Action's demand <http://fergusonaction.com/demands/> to call "a 
Congressional Hearing investigating the criminalization of communities 
of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law 
enforcement." Others, such as theOrganization 
<http://obs-stl.org/index.php/news/item/quality-policing-initiative-2>for Black 
Struggle's recommendation 
<http://obs-stl.org/index.php/news/item/quality-policing-initiative-2> that 
police should receive "enhanced personal unarmed combat training" or 
Campaign Zero's recommendation 
<http://www.joincampaignzero.org/solutions/#solutionsoverview> that body 
and dash cameras be required and funded, are more focused on the 
day-to-day aspects of policing practice. And these examples are merely 
representative of the range of recommendations currently being circulated.

This wave of reform recommendations comes within the context of an 
increased public focus on police killings, during a presidential 
election cycle, and in the age of social media dominance. Context 
matters in determining what will be understood as viable or politically 
advantageous, what is perceived as legitimate and who is accepted as 
having expertise. And, of course, the media are serving as an amplifier, 
turning up the volume on certain voices, recommendations and critiques, 
while rendering others silent.

A reform is merely a change. When people experience harms being done by 
the systems that govern their interactions, movements and behaviors, 
some of them will undoubtedly be moved to improve those systems in hopes 
of reducing that harm. Eager for relief, they craft plans designed to 
bring that relief quickly and in a way that generates as little 
resistance as possible. Similarly, they may recommend reforms in 
reaction to a set of incidents or a pattern of harm of which they are 
newly aware, suggesting tools or vehicles they imagine are most 
expedient to address that specific set of incidents or patterns. In the 
case of law enforcement, if the primary goal is to eliminate deaths at 
the hands of cops, the focus of reforms may be on the fastest way to 
curb those deaths by targeting the practices that most frequently lead 
to fatal incidents.

Making incremental changes to the systems, institutions and practices 
that maintain systemic oppression and differentially target marginalized 
communities is essential to shifting power. Taking aim at specific 
aspects and demanding change helps build power among repressed 
communities in ways that are more lasting and sustainable. Without a 
strategic long-term vision for change, however, today's reforms may be 
tomorrow's tools of repression.

*Without a strategic long-term vision for change, today's reforms may be 
tomorrow's tools of repression.*

In the 1990s, under the influence of Police Commissioner William 
Bratton, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) embraced CompStat, a 
data tracking and analysis system used to monitor incidences of "crime 
and disorder" precinct by precinct. This system is meant to track, in 
detail, crime complaints, arrests and summonses, with corresponding 
locations and times. The information from all the precincts in a 
jurisdiction is combined and used to generate a weekly report used in 
management meetings among departments' leadership.

Decreasing crime and increasing officer accountability were just two of 
the benefits CompStat was purported to have, and it represented a reform 
to the previous methods for documenting daily policing practices. 
CompStat has spread widely among law enforcement agencies across the 
county and the world and has become one of the standard tools of modern 
police forces. And while advocates like William Bratton maintain that 
CompStat is crucial in decreasing crime rates, time has shown that these 
decreases tend to initially be dramatic and then increase again. Time 
has also led to more and more cops coming forward to describe the 
coercion they felt to overreport or underreport certain types of 
incidents to generate particular kinds of 
The accountability that CompStat was supposed to encourage among 
individual cops was supplanted by pressure to deliver the kinds of crime 
statistics desired by the city's political leadership, including police 
chiefs and commissioners. When crime rates continued to fall in fairly 
predictable patterns 
police had to demonstrate their effectiveness and legitimate their role 
by continuing to prove that they were making contact with people that 
would do harm to residents if not for their intervention.

In New York City, stop-and-frisk was one way that cops were able to 
demonstrate the power of these interventions. Before CompStat, cops had 
usually stopped and questioned people of whom they were suspicious and 
generally only searched them under reasonable suspicion of danger 
(usually involving suspicion of carrying a weapon). The broken windows 
orientation underlying Bratton's mode of policing, which also extended 
to CompStat, suggested that the very presence of suspicious persons was 
a danger to the community. Through CompStat, the police could 
demonstrate that they were neutralizing that danger.

Soon, "stop and question" transitioned to "stop and question and frisk," 
and eventually to stop-and-frisk. By 2011, the NYPD was doing over 
684,000 street stops per year <http://changethenypd.org/issue>, nearly 
90 percent of which resulted in no arrest or summons. These stops 
disproportionately targeted people of color (especially Black people), 
young people, homeless people, and queer and trans people. The depth and 
breadth of the physical and psychological harm done by the practice of 
stop-and-frisk ignited a citywide campaign to eliminate the practice and 
resulted in a lawsuit against the city based on the practice's racial 
bias. While CompStat is still prized by departments across the country, 
the longer it is used, the more clearly the problems inherent in its use 
become evident.

The specialization of policing is another reform meant to reflect 
responsiveness to the changing needs of police forces and the residents 
they police. As modern policing has evolved, many forces created units 
to focus on specific areas of crime such as homicide, gangs or vice. One 
of the most notorious of these units is special weapons and tactics 
(SWAT) teams.

*Why not take steps toward a future free of the violence of policing?*

First used in the mid-1960s as small, elite units designed to respond to 
situations requiring paramilitary force and precision, SWAT and other 
paramilitary policing units have ceased to be the exception in policing 
and have become the rule. Roughly 90 percent of all police departments 
in cities with populations over 50,000 have some type of SWAT team 
<http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21599349-americas-police-have-become-too-militarised-cops-or-soldiers> as 
do federal departments including the Department of Agriculture and the 
Department of Education. Additionally, SWAT teams routinely run training 
for new cops. They are used in a wide range of policing activities from 
traffic stops to seeking informants, to more high-impact policing. And 
although SWAT is a reform initiated from within law enforcement, its 
overwhelming expansion and mission creep are consistent with other forms 
of police specialization.

Keeping the function of policing in focus - armed protection of state 
interests - increases clarity about what policing is meant to protect 
and whom it serves. Further, that clarity helps us reflect on what 
asking for police accountability really means. Police forces tend to be 
very accountable to the interests they were designed to serve, and those 
interests frequently clash with the interests of the communities 
targeted most aggressively by policing. Recognizing policing as a set of 
practices used by the state to enforce law and maintain social control 
and cultural hegemony through the use of force reveals the need for 
incremental changes that lead toward the erosion of policing power 
rather than reinforcing it. This recognition may also move us toward 
ways to reduce the impacts of the violence of policing without ignoring 
the serious issues that lead to violence within our communities.

For anyone with experience dealing with the grinding harassment, 
psychological or physical harm, or death meted out by policing, it's 
clear that the best way to reduce the violence of policing is to reduce 
contact with cops. Plans for change must include taking incremental 
steps with an eye toward making the cops obsolete, even if not in our 
own lifetimes. Taking incremental steps toward the abolition of policing 
is even more about what must be built than what must be eliminated. 
Further, it requires steps that build on each other and continue to 
clear the path for larger future steps while being mindful not to build 
something today that will need to be torn down later on the path toward 
the long-term goal.

The context created by the powerful protest movements referenced above 
has created an opportunity to make bigger, bolder changes than we have 
seen in a very long time. Now should be the time to draw from the 
organizations that have been hard at work making that change on the 
ground and to test out creative new approaches rather than attempting to 
develop brand new platforms or repackaging reforms already in the 
Department of Justice pipeline, or reintroducing old reforms such as 
civilian review boards that have a demonstrated track record of being 
more theater than substance.

Here are just a few examples of ideas that have received less attention 
than body cameras or special prosecutors, but are promising incremental 
steps toward eroding the place and power of policing in US communities: 
Youth Justice Coalition's 1% Campaign 
<http://www.laforyouth.org/> advocates for just 1 percent (roughly $100 
million) to be diverted from the Los Angeles Police Department budget 
and directed toward programs and services for young people that are 
alternatives to youth suppression. Similarly, Los Angeles Community 
Action Network's (LA CAN)Share the Wealth Campaign 
<http://cangress.org/our-work/share-the-wealth/> advocates for more 
equitable distribution of investments in Los Angeles' Downtown 
neighborhood such that they benefit all residents without displacement 
or fear from police violence. Given adequate resources and an 
opportunity to develop, imagine what incremental shifts of funding 
priorities of this sort could create.

Projects such as the Harm Free 
<http://www.spirithouse-nc.org/collective-sun-ii>project in Durham, 
North Carolina, and Audre Lorde Project's Safe OUTside the System Safe 
Neighborhood Campaign <http://alp.org/community/sos> are testing grounds 
for community responses to harm that do not rely on law enforcement 
interventions. The Harm Free Zone is building community knowledge and 
power to enable community members rather than the police to be called 
upon as first responders. The project educates and trains interested 
Durham residents to intervene in situations of harm without police 
intervention. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the Safe Neighborhood 
Campaign focuses on reducing harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, 
trans and gender-nonconforming people of color by working with local 
businesses and community spaces to provide safe haven for people in need 
without contacting the police. The campaign also trains campaign 
partners on combating homophobia and transphobia and developing 
strategies for addressing violence without calling the police.

These projects have been replicated in cities across the country and 
could serve as models in scaling up these kinds of community-based 
interventions. Meanwhile the StoryTelling 
<http://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/>& Organizing Project 
<http://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/> reminds us that people are 
already using creative means to address interpersonal harms everyday 
without police intervention. These projects take seriously harms that 
generate fear, violence and even death, but also understand that police 
intervention is not the right remedy.

Broader reaching ideas such aseliminating 
use of police forces in addressing mental health crises 
<http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32782-community-groups-work-to-provide-emergency-medical-alternatives-separate-from-police> instead 
of creating special teams of mental health cops, ending the use of 
broken windows policing 
<http://www.joincampaignzero.org/brokenwindows> or banning cops that use 
excessive force from any employment in any type of law enforcement 
(public or private) are just some of the bolder recommendations 
currently being circulated.

This is the era for bold ideas and big dreams. While the whole world is 
watching and monitoring how the United States will address its policing 
crisis, why not take steps forward toward a future free of the violence 
of policing rather than one that has improved the functioning of a 
killing machine? The surest path toward a future free of the violence of 
policing is one that aims to eliminate contact between those violent 
forces and the people it targets. Why not start taking steps down that 
path today?


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863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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