Abolition of the police: Christy Lopez is a professor at Georgetown Law School and co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1994.
We're going to guess that she knows a million times more about policing than we do. Even better, we're pre-inclined to agree with the assessment shown below, based upon general observations.
The passage comes from an op-ed column in today's Washington Post:
LOPEZ (6/8/20): To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.As with most things, you almost surely can't "fix" policing. You can, of course, work hard to improve it.
Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.
Otherwise, that passage strikes us as very sound. We're going to guess that police officers and police departments haven't asked to be "over-relied on." Reimagining the role of police sounds like a good deal all around.
(We also ask police officers to show up in the dead of night in situations involving guns and unknown people. Because we've never had to do something like that, we tend to be slow to judge those people who do, even if they are "working-class.")
That passage by Lopez struck us as insightful and sound. Other parts of her column struck us as perhaps unintentionally funny, though this isn't exactly her fault.
Do we ever mean what we say? In print editions, Lopez's column bears this headline:
Defund the police? Here's what this means.It's true! Activists have been saying that we need to "defund" the police. And, to a wide array of people, this proposal will sound very strange.
The proposal may sound even stranger once Lopez has paraphrased it. She does so at the start of her column. Here's how the column begins:
LOPEZ: Since George Floyd’s death, a long-simmering movement for police abolition has become part of the national conversation, recast slightly as a call to “defund the police.” For activists, this conversation is long overdue. But for casual observers, this new direction may seem a bit disorienting—or even alarming.Good lord! Right out of the gate, Lopez says a movement exists, and has long existed, in favor of the abolition of police. She says this has been "recast slightly" as a call to defund the police.
She says these calls "may seem alarming" for casual observers. Plainly, that will be true.
Now for the good news! As she continues, Lopez says that defunding the police doesn't really mean defunding. She also says that abolishing the police doesn't really mean that!
Do we ever mean the things we say? Lopez explains the muddle like this:
LOPEZ (continuing directly): Be not afraid. “Defunding the police” is not as scary (or even as radical) as it sounds, and engaging on this topic is necessary if we are going to achieve the kind of public safety we need. During my 25 years dedicated to police reform, including in places such as Ferguson, Mo., New Orleans and Chicago, it has become clear to me that “reform” is not enough. Making sure that police follow the rule of law is not enough. Even changing the laws is not enough."Defunding?" That really means shrinking! "Abolition" means reducing.
Defunding and abolition probably mean something different from what you are thinking. For most proponents, “defunding the police” does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight—or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.
Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety. It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will. The “abolition” language is important because it reminds us that policing has been the primary vehicle for using violence to perpetuate the unjustified white control over the bodies and lives of black people that has been with us since slavery. That aspect of policing must be literally abolished.
Do we ever mean the things we say? Just a few weeks ago, activists were explaining that when we said you should "believe women," we never meant that you should believe all women. Now it turns out that we don't mean defunding / abolition either!
On the other hand, Lopez does say this:
"Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety."
Say what? It sounds like abolition does mean abolition after all. It just won't happen today!
Later in the paragraph, though, we learn that it only means abolishing the part of policing which "has been the primary vehicle for using violence to perpetuate the unjustified white control over the bodies and lives of black people that has been with us since slavery."
Boilerplate takes over there. Such language will often harden the mystical chords within the tribe while driving others away.
According to top anthropologists, we human beings are hard-wired to invent monsters in other tribes. It has always been this way; we're not sure the impulse is helpful.
A possible counterexample: When NWA said "[BLANK] the police," we're going to guess they meant that!