The past few days of news have been overwhelmingly violent and caked in reports of police terrorism…that is, American law enforcement are, as they always have been, terrorists. On Monday, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis PD pig Derek Chauvin after he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the knee for several minutes. I couldn’t watch the video of George’s execution, but I know he said he couldn’t breathe (just like Eric Garner did). I know he said he was in pain. I know he called out for his mom. Back in March, Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky EMT worker, was shot eight times and murdered in her own home by Louisville Metro PD pigs who forcibly entered her apartment to serve a search warrant in a narcotics investigation and then arrested her partner for returning their unannounced fire. And while these two stories of police terrorism have sparked national outrage (with less attention paid to Breonna, which is unsurprising as she was a Black woman victim), their stories aren’t uncommon when it comes to Black people being brutalized and murdered by law enforcement officers. For this reason alone, police abolition is the only way forward in beginning to achieve forms of justice. Police abolition (to reformists and other non-abolitionists) sounds like an outrageous and impossible task, especially in a society that was created on the blood and backs of enslaved and Indigenous people, but it is the only worthwhile direction we can take if justice is our true goal.
If we go back to the colonization of America, police, just like prisons, were established as a part of slavery. The first members of a form of cops were volunteer community cops who operated as slave catchers: groups of armed white men who patrolled plantations and the areas surrounding them for runaway slaves and/or potential uprisings. After slavery was “abolished” (note: it was not) in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with the institution of police to perpetuate violence and oppression against Black people, most notably participating in public lynchings and other forms of unregulated brutality. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes about the modern version of the KKK even announced in 1990 their intentions of joining “the battle against illegal drugs by becoming the eyes and ears of the police” (55). Although the police have always been given virtually unlimited authority and immunity to do whatever they please to citizens (particularly those who are Black and Brown) since the days of slave catchers, their power was expanded by the War on Drugs, which established policies such as stop-and-frisk, lawless traffic stops, bribery, military policing, and civil asset forfeiture, among others. Police officers were bred to assault and kill any nonwhite person, and specifically Black people, who they deem “threats.” This creation is why most, if not all, white people have such an appreciation and reverence for law enforcement, while BIPOC are taught the opposite. Pigs are inherently violent, prejudiced, and dangerous. They are legally allowed to lie to, steal from, and cheat citizens without any retribution, and we are forced to watch them do whatever they want, as we see with Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders.
When videos of police terrorism are rapidly spread, calls for justice are often immediately amplified. These demands tend to be focused on firings, charges brought, thorough training for police departments, and incarceration for every cop involved, but as my friend Micah Herskind writes, “Police don’t kill because they’re improperly trained, they kill because it’s part of their job. Training doesn’t take away the power to kill—disarming and defunding do.” We will never find justice in the criminal legal system that currently exists, because that system is fundamentally racist and violent—one that will always result in more incarcerated and/or dead Black, Brown, poor people. In a 2019 New York Times opinion column about the injustices of policing, Dereka Purnell and Marbre Stahly-Butts wrote, “But the police do not help vulnerable populations — they make populations vulnerable. Excessive force is the No. 1 investigated complaint against police officers, and sexual violence is the second. People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police. People of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, queer and trans people, those with mental illness and the homeless disproportionately experience violence from officers, who kill an average of nearly 1,000 people annually, and sexually assault, physically assault, harass, and surveil hundreds of thousands more.” We like to believe that removing the “bad apples” from the police departments across America will keep BIPOC safe from state sanctioned violence, but there are no bad apples. Every cop is a bad cop. For every cop caught assaulting or murdering a person on camera, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who stand by and say or do nothing. And inaction in the face of injustice is just as bad as participating in the brutal act. If we truly want justice and peace for our nonwhite members of society, and especially Black people, we absolutely need to focus on police abolition. Any reform or steps behind police abolition will continue to see more people murdered by pigs and communities traumatized by an absence of accountability. Like my penpal Lacino Hamilton (who also believes in police abolition) wrote, “When people talk about things like body cameras, things like community policing and holding individual police accountable, they are attempting to restore faith in an institution that does not, and never has, served the interest of the entire community. Police serve property owners, business owners, landlords, religious leaders, people who are well established. They do not ‘for real for real’ serve vulnerable populations like people of color, women, youth, immigrants, trans people, the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, and too many others to list. So what tends to happen is this very limited idea of community empowers the kind of zero tolerance, broken windows oriented, constant harassment, physical, even deadly coercive police action. We have to come to grips with the real function of the police—which incidentally is to keep order, not the peace.”
Critical Resistance—a PIC abolition organization founded by famous abolitionists Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Y. Davis, and Rose Braz—shared the above chart about different strategies we can implement in the process of accomplishing police abolition. These realistic steps are the solutions that reformists and non-abolitionists often request when abolition itself sounds like a far-fetched task. In our journey toward a just society without prisons, police, and other parts of the prison industrial complex, we need to follow leaders like the women I previously mentioned who have dedicated their entire lives to the omission of state sanctioned violence. For Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and every other person murdered by law enforcement, we need to commit ourselves to police abolition.