The Oarsman

A Democratic Alternative to the Police Force

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A Democratic Alternative to the Police Force

Thomas Koon, Contributor

The top-down, state-imposed police that we know today exist as the pawns on the forefront of class conflict: protecting and serving the rich before all else. A system that was truly meant to protect and serve the people would come from the people themselves, a democratic, bottom-up community system of policing.

So far this year, over 900 people have been shot and killed by the police, according to the Washington Post database on police brutality. With every new tragedy of police brutality come the calls of the liberal activists to do something to fix the system. Body cameras. De-escalation training. Demilitarization. Hire more black cops.

And while these are all decent proposals, and would most likely reduce police brutality to some degree, they fail to address the real problem. The liberal activists see the police as a fundamentally good public service that has only been corrupted. They believe that with a few minor adjustments, the police can get back on track with protecting and serving the people again. But they were never meant for that purpose.

The centralized, state-owned police that we know of today did not always exist. In the medieval times, feudal lords hired armed forces to attack serfs or other lords, but these were not official, full-time forces. In the pre-industrial Northern United States, communities were kept safe with democratically elected sheriffs and peace officers. These people patrolled communities and maintained order, but unlike the order police force of today, they were democratically elected by the people and thus more reliable to the public.

As capitalism developed both in Europe and America, the need to protect private property became more important. In the American South, the first centralized, state-owned police forces were created in the 1800s to catch fugitive black slaves. These forces would then go on to become modern police departments, according to Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D from Eastern Kentucky University. In the newly industrialized Northern cities, the wealthy elite created a police force to control the growing population of immigrant factory workers. In England, police were introduced to shut down labor strikes.

In all these cases, police were introduced to control the working class: whether it be the black slaves in the South, the immigrants in the North, or the industrial workers of Europe. Simply put, the police were created to protect and serve the rich.

Has the role of the police changed since their creation? Activism has led to moderate reform, but the fundamental role of the police remains.

Today, the police enforce nonviolent drug offense laws that have led the United States, which has 5% of the world’s population, to hold 25% of the world’s prisoners. Prison companies generate over $3.3 billion in annual revenue combined, according to the Washington Post.

Police also work in the detainment and arrest of undocumented people, who are sent to for-profit immigrant detention centers to perform prison slavery. The ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report states that the arrest of undocumented immigrants increased by 42% in 2017.

Corporate and state powers use the police as a tool to suppress activist movements that question and endanger them. Fred Hampton, a leader of the anti-racism Black Panther Party, was killed in 1969 by the Chicago Police in a home raid coordinated by the FBI. Law enforcement treated the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 as a criminal threat, killing and pepper-spraying peaceful protestors.

Even today, we can see that the police still serve as the pawns of the rich: enforcing the laws that benefit them and crushing the forces that threaten them.

The police are seen as a force who maintain safety, but safety for who? The police maintain a political and socioeconomic order that endangers millions every day. Police do not arrest politicians for bombing innocent civilians. Police do not arrest one another for police brutality: in fact, police officer unions work to keep abusive and killer cops on the job. Police do not arrest bosses for paying their workers starvation wages.

The police maintain law and order, at the expense of systematic oppression and state violence. If you attack a politician because he voted for a bill that cut off the healthcare that your family needs to survive, the police will arrest you. If you steal necessities from a store because you barely get paid enough to live, the police will arrest you. If you come into this country without waiting years to get the proper documentation because your home was destroyed by American imperialism, the police will arrest you.

Safety does not have to come at the cost of freedom. There is an alternative to the police we know today.

The state-imposed police as we know it must be abolished and replaced with a democratic, community-run system of policing to actually protect and serve the people, not the state and corporate interests. This system would be built from the bottom up, not from the top-down like the police force of today. By reorganizing policing to come from the people, we can create a more accountable and responsible police force.

There are examples of this in large-scale action today: the indigenous state of Guerrero, Mexico, runs on a system of democratically elected patrol officers to protect its 3.5 million residents. The Northern American Congress on Latin America reported on it as “much more fair and democratic than what the neoliberal state can provide.” The Zapatista territories in Chiapas, has also run on a similar system of community self-policing since 1994, according to the University of New Mexico Press.

In this system, people should be able to elect and recall officers, sheriffs, and other police officials. By working towards the abolition of the state police and the institution of a democratic, accountable, community-based system of policing, we can create a truly safer world for everyone.

 

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