Police Are Not the Problem

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Policing is. Hear me out.

We’ve once again been sent to this familiar place of black rage James Baldwin wrote about. Because of the recent murders of black folks and children at the hands of the state, even the least “woke” among us are upset right now (see: Michael Jordan).

This is a pivotal moment in our movement. It’s a moment where we decide which direction we want to go. Black athletes and celebrities have joined in the chorus of voices decrying the violence of police. But in the midst of our rage, we must develop a better analysis about the system and how it protects itself.

Following the murder of Terence Crutcher, the head shot of the cop that shot him, Betty Shelby, circulated on my timeline followed by calls for her to be fired and charged with murder.

Photo via @SputnikInt

Like clockwork.

Listen: Shelby deserves to be fired and a lot of other things. But she was doing her job.

If we understand that since enslavement the job of the police has been to protect and serve white supremacy, then we start understanding the root of the problem.

Policing. Not police. The system. Not individuals.

This isn’t even on some “they have a hard job” bullshit either. It’s simply suggesting that individual cops are agents of the State. They will do the State’s bidding no matter their intentions. Categories of “good” and “bad” cops are irrelevant. When cops put on their uniforms, they have a job to do.

So while these cops deserve everything that’s coming to them when they murder a black person, our cries for them to be fired and charged are merely protecting the system. The system thrives by deflecting blame onto individuals who are only carrying out its mandate. It benefits when we talk about “bad apples” and “rogue cops.” In fact, the system will expel those individuals from its own ranks just to protect itself.

It remains intact.

Our short-sighted analysis of the problem lends itself to short-sighted solutions. Because we focus on individual cops, our solutions end up being policies and practices that emphasize body cameras, bias training, and the hiring of more police of color, for example.

Missing the point.

Any solution that invests more money in policing is never a good idea.

We need a better analysis that moves us past addressing symptoms. Luckily, folks like Angela Davis have been doing this work for some time. Her and others have developed a systemic analysis that calls for the abolition of policing (and prisons) as we know it. I’ve fleshed this idea out here before, but I think her call is one we should take seriously.

We won’t get different results unless we try something different. Because the whole damn system is guilty as hell.

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Angela Davis has written some of the most insightful work on abolition here and here.

The Movement for Black Lives platform is also so dooooppppppeeee. Start there too.