Imagine there’s no police? We don’t need CNN’s help for that — we just lived through it in Minneapolis, New York City, and are watching a continuous loop of it in the CHAZ. When we have no police in areas of any significant population density, the vacuum left behind invites those who feel the least restraint in the use or threat of force to fill it — and destruction follows on its heels.
Nevertheless, CNN invites us to channel our inner John Lennon today to imagine a life without police. Well, in most situations, anyway:
But, sparked by the death of yet another black man at the hands of police, there’s a growing movement to create a police-free America — or at least one that dramatically scales back the role of police. The movement supports shifting the responsibility to uphold societal order to communities and investing money in them, too. It’s a model of policing, some activists point out, many affluent white Americans already experience.
The hope is that stronger infrastructure — and the absence of traditional law enforcement that many in the movement believe unfairly targets black Americans — will reduce crime and deaths at the hands of police. …
Supporters in all three camps support shifting traditional criminal justice away from punishment and imprisonment to one of reform and rehabilitation.
But there’s no precedent for a police-free US, or at least a US where the role of police is limited.
Let’s stop right there, because this is sheer nonsense. The role of police in the US is limited, and always has been limited. It’s limited first by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure and imposes due process on law enforcement everywhere through the Incorporation Doctrine.
Even more specifically, policing has limits in the law and by the governments that oversee them. To the extent they violate those limits, those governments have a responsibility to deal with those violations. If they haven’t done a good job in doing so, then voters in those jurisdictions have a duty to vote out the irresponsible office holders and replace them with people who will do those jobs properly. No one needs to imagine this, either; all they have to do is the slightest bit of research.
Supposedly, eliminating police would return us to a status quo ante of American society where life was more idyllic, before police departments got established in the nineteenth century. What doesn’t get mentioned is that American life was much more rural in those times as well. Cities weren’t nearly as dense as they are now, and constabularies were sufficient to keep the peace, and people lived far enough apart everywhere else to not need much policing at all. That’s still the case in rural America, where elected sheriffs and deputies deal with day-to-day peacekeeping. As America industrialized, official police forces in areas of increasing population density formed because they were needed. Why? Because people living in high density and close proximity tend to act out a lot more, that’s why.
Also, let’s not forget that the Western expansion in that era turned into its own experiment in light-to-nonexistent policing. How did that work out — even after the end of slavery, also part of that long-gone alleged idyll?
Speaking of acting out, one part of this Lennonesque feature includes an interview with Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing and quite a popular media guest these days. What happens, Jon Sarlin asks, when clearly dangerous situations arise — like a school shooting, for instance? Vitale admits we’ll always need some “violence workers” around to deal with those, so maybe it’s not quite the “end” of policing after all (via Jeryl Bier):
“Violence workers”? Police are “violence workers” only in the same sense that spouses would be “sex workers.” Police are not “violence workers,” but they do have recourse to limited uses of force to restore peace and enforce the law. The actual “violence workers” took center stage in the Twin Cities due to the lack of police, and the lack of political will to maintain peace and order. One might think that we would have learned the difference these past few weeks.
Anyway, this is sheer utopian drivel. As we see in the CHAZ, the vacuum created by the withdrawal of legitimate law enforcement gets filled with self-appointed enforcers focused primarily on their own interests and agendas. The more this happens, the more roving bands of enforcers we will see — and the more cases like Ahmaud Arbery along with them, too.