Abolish the police doesn’t mean allowing a lawless society
By: Kennedy Holt – 2021 Summer Intern
Abolish or “reform” the police is a controversial debate among Americans today. And it’s natural to ask, why would anyone want to abolish police when they serve and protect? But that has not been the experience of all people, especially for people of color.
Many Black people see policing as built on a system designed to keep them enslaved. And a glance at history bears out that perception. In Southern slave-holding states, there is a history of police enforcing brutal Jim Crow laws that denied Black people rights.
The first police killings of Black men in America “can be traced back as early as 1619 when the first slave ship, a Dutch Man-of-war vessel landed in Point Comfort, Virginia,” according to Professor Michael Robinson of the University of Georgia.
Robinson notes slave patrols developed into codes enforcers, who brought back runaway slaves, to today’s police officers. Slave patrols can be traced back to the Southern United States, specifically the Carolina colony as early as the 1700′s. The patrols were government-organized forces of armed white men tasked with recapturing slaves and returning them to their owners in southern states.
The patrollers used terror tactics to control slaves, including through beatings, lynchings and murder.
Modern policing has long been used to suppress marginalized communities, from the so-called war on drugs, to mass incarceration, to policing in schools, to racial profiling and modern-day lynchings like what happened to George Floyd.
Our nation has treated Black people as inferior and dangerous, to maintain white supremacy. These attitudes tolerate racism in policing and lead directly to police killing Black people.
Let’s be honest, our society has tolerated such abuse. There are numerous examples even before George Floyd died under the knee of a police officer.
While many saw the arrest and conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin as a step forward , we must continue to challenge the status quo and a system that continues to terrorize Black people. That’s why there are calls to abolish the police. They are calling for abolition of systems and practices that have terrorized people of color.
So, when you hear “abolish” don’t think destruction, think creativity. Abolition would allow a more creative approach to maintaining law and order. We would be free to reimagine policing and build a more equitable environment that serves and honors all communities. We are not calling for a “lawless” society, but one that respects and empowers all people.
A good first step would be for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice & Policing Act and protect the civil rights of millions of Black and Brown people in our country. It would set standards for police conduct and reassure people who have been victimized for centuries.
For those who value money over morality, here’s another argument: racial injustice in the United States is costing us dearly. According to the Center for Popular Democracy, the United States spends $100 billion a year on policing and an additional $80 billion on incarceration.
That money could be invested in creating a more equitable society. It could be used to improve housing, inner-city schools and to create vibrant youth programs to prevent crime. That money could be used to invest in our crumbling infrastructure and to address mental health issues that are connected to the large numbers of people in jails throughout the country.
Most of all, Black folk need to be recognized as Integral parts of this country and not simply dangerous people who need to be controlled.
We need to face the truth. Until the underlying racism in American society is addressed, any real reform in policing is impossible.
Kennedy Holt wrote this opinion piece while interning for the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg and the PA Media Group. It was published here.