Abolish The Police – It’s more realistic than you think

Many people are conflicted regarding the issue of defunding the police, some conservatives see it as a call to abolition, and anarchy. Many liberals think it is a call for reform and this makes sense to a lot of people, because most have never known any other way of doing things. This is entirely understandable given the inertia of the system, but police violence has been going on for decades with promises of reform yet the same things keep happening.

Some liberals see defund the police as a call for abolition without the ensuing anarchy claimed by conservatives. On a recent Intercepted podcast with Ruth Wilson Gilmore the case is made for abolition. Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a scholar, prison abolitionist and author of Golden Gulag, a comprehensive analysis of prison expansion in California that hits from all sides, sociological, economic and political. It’s not an easy read, more like a textbook, but it is incredibly well researched and detailed. I’ve attempted to summarize and paraphrase details from the podcast in this post as they illuminate some cogent points about the need or lack thereof for police.

What Jobs Do Police Really Need To Do?

The point that always comes up when people mention defunding the police is who will save us from criminals? Dr. Gilmore is not naive. She realizes that not all problems can be solved without force, but the podcast makes a good point about how necessary force is to do the majority of the jobs we have assigned, somewhat arbitrarily, to heavily armed police.

  • Direct traffic or organize parade routes
  • Issue civil citations.
  • Assist people in mental or physical health emergencies.
  • Defuse a violent situation or deal with those that intend to hurt people.
  • Investigate sexual assault and domestic violence issues and support survivors.
  • Deal with substance abuse issues.

Take away all these jobs that can be done better or at least as well by someone other than a heavily armed policeman and you are left only with what Micol Seigel terms violence work. If it’s not clear from the past few weeks, police are hired to produce violence and “spectacular dominance that forces us to submit to an uneven status quo.” They do that with the full support of the law.

Police Combine Warfare Against Communities with “Lawfare” That Protects Them

In Graham vs Connor (1989) the Supreme Court lowered the bar substantially for an officer to excuse any use of excessive force. The court decided that if an officer acted reasonably, given the circumstances of the situation, then they could not be prosecuted. They specifically indicated that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

The result is that if an officer says that at the time he killed someone he feared for his life, he walks. It doesn’t matter if the other person had no weapon at all, it’s all determined by the cop’s point of view at the moment the incident occurred. This test is not difficult to pass legally, even without the additional protection of the blue wall of silence. Now, consider that the person we are talking about who feared for his life is the one that is heavily armed and in almost all cases more heavily armed than the people they are dealing with.

The Politicians That Are Supposed To Reform Police Are Using The Same “Lawfare” To Protect Corporations

Bipartisan criminal justice reform does not work. It purports to be able to separate the people that should be punished from the people that should not be punished while also identifying “the people we are afraid of” within the former group. This sets them up for perpetual punishment, while the low hanging fruit are given some sort of relief such as decriminalization, house arrest or e-carceration.

At the same time, the politicians that are participating in these bipartisan reforms are constantly trying to remove responsibility from corporations for their harmful practices if it can’t be proved that they engaged in these practices knowing and intending to harm people. When a corporate entity in Flint poisons the water that the people drink, they can’t be held responsible if they didn’t intend to poison the water with the knowledge that people would die.

Essentially, this lack of accountability is endemic to the system and we are expecting the same people that continually perpetuate it to fix it.

Conclusion

Once we give all of those jobs listed above away to other professions (or create new ones to do them without being heavily armed) what do we need police to do? In reality, almost nothing. Having more police doesn’t reduce crime and they kill three people a day on average here in the USA. The only thing left is violence work. If we do need a direct violent response to a situation then it would be much safer to create a very specific profession that just does that and make their use highly restricted and accountable.

This article has been edited to change the title and clarify the intent as advocating abolition while clarifying some of the terms used.

Defund the police – The ambiguous messaging has multiple possible outcomes

Ambiguous messaging seems to be the complaint around the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve arrived at the question of what does “Defund The Police” mean?

Take away what money?

Defund implies taking away money, but then the question becomes how much money? All of it? Some of it? Also, when one refers to “the police” this is not the same as saying “the FBI” or “the CIA.” There is no overarching organization across the country that is responsible for police. Each state, city, county or town has its own police force. There could be areas where everyone is happy with how their police department works, but there could also be areas where the police department has totally failed such as it did in Camden, NJ.

In that example the city defunded their entire police force and replaced them. The police department was part of the crime problem, with rampant corruption and a lack of oversight. Defunding them was the only way to fix the problem. The key point is that money flowing into departments from government is what keeps them going. Governments can cut that off in part or in whole to either influence them or remove them.

Police should not police themselves

The core problem with policing as it applies to Black Lives Matter is a lack of civilian oversight. Police departments that do not agree to make their policies and personnel records subject to civilian oversight and give those civilians the power to remove problem officers should be defunded and disbanded. Put another force put in place that will be subject to that oversight.

Oversight allows revision of tactics. Defund racially biased and ineffective policies like stop and frisk and broken windows. Remove military hardware and unnecessary SWAT teams from police departments.

Despite all of those options, there are still some that will say that we should defund police entirely, across the board. Dealing with crime is obviously the main concern when anyone mentions defunding the police and while there are models for community policing it’s unlikely that major cities will be able to completely rid themselves of police.

The system fuels distrust

It’s important to understand that defunding the police is a solution to police criminality. It doesn’t address the systemic issues responsible for crime, which in general are poverty, income inequality, lack of healthcare, lack of education, crumbling infrastructure and the drug war. Changing how police operate does not fix these problems. Only changing the laws to make things more fair and equitable will do that.

The rich and corporations influence politicians to make laws that keep taxes low for them while at the same time taking full advantage of government infrastructure and services. Many governments that do not have enough revenue use civil statutes as a regressive way to support infrastructure and services without raising taxes. The police enforce these statutes as part of broken windows policing. The financial burden of these policies falls disproportionately on the over-policed poor. Unable to pay the fines that fall on them the poor are subject to modern day debtors prisons. There can be no public trust with the police if they or those in power over them derive their revenue either directly or indirectly from citations the police give out. For this same reason, the abolition of civil forfeiture must take place.

A failed policy

When no one can pay the civil penalties, these policies fail. Infrastructure crumbles due to lack of upkeep and services cannot be funded. This results in poverty spreading which creates more crime. The solution to crime in this model is policing. Tough on crime laws come into play at this point. The prison industrial complex is fed with the lives of the poor.

This is where we are today. The 80s and 90s saw prisons sprout up in towns across the USA touting the virtues of secure jobs to places divested of manufacturing and farming income. Laws to fill those prisons proliferated. Now, the USA houses 25% of the world’s prison population while having only 5% of the world’s population.

Lyndon Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty in 1964. His vision did not include the USA leading the world in imprisonment of the poor.

Retail and Service Workers Need to Unionize

Grocery store and retail employees are dying from Covid-19. None of them are getting paid enough for this sort of risk or have the benefits to cover them if they get sick. Even if they are given those benefits right now it won’t make up for a lifetime of not having them. The reason these workers have no voice is that they have consistently voted against unionizing in these industries across the country.

People lament the exit of good paying manufacturing jobs from the USA, but they fail to realize that the only reason those jobs paid well and had good benefits was because of unions. Before unions those jobs were worse than what are available now in retail and service. Manufacturing workers were often subject to extremely dangerous working conditions and long hours for low pay and no benefits at all. No retirement plan, no health insurance. Until 1938 their kids probably worked those jobs as well.

When people organized during the late 1800s the corporations called on armed goon squads to beat down union members, organizers and strikers. These people weren’t just risking a job to organize, they were risking their lives.

Yet today unions get a bad rap all around. Corporations and their political mouthpieces in the government have made unions out to be full of swindlers and con men with links to organized crime that are out to cheat laborers. When Reagan busted PATCO back in 1981 that opened the floodgates for corporations to throw labor under the bus. Reagan’s action cost the government billions of dollars, far more than PATCO had asked for in their negotiations, but he got away with it because corporations loved it.

As union membership waned in the 1980s, those decent paying jobs were shipped off to other countries. Why is this the case? Dean Baker in his book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer explains how the game is set up.

The conventional story is that we lose manufacturing jobs to developing countries because they have hundreds of millions of people willing to do factory work at a fraction of the pay of manufacturing workers in the United States. This is true, but developing countries also have tens of millions of smart and ambitious people willing to work as doctors and lawyers in the United States at a fraction of the pay of the ones we have now.

Gains from trade work the same with doctors and lawyers as they do with textiles and steel. Our consumers would save hundreds of billions a year if we could hire professionals from developing countries and pay them salaries that are substantially less than what we pay our professionals now. The reason we import manufactured goods and not doctors is that we have designed the rules of trade that way. We deliberately write trade pacts to make it as easy as possible for U.S. companies to set up manufacturing operations abroad and ship the products back to the United States, but we have done little or nothing to remove the obstacles that professionals from other countries face in trying to work in the United States. The reason is simple: doctors and lawyers have more political power than autoworkers.

…The loss of manufacturing jobs also reduced the wages of less-educated workers (those without college degrees) more generally. The displaced manufacturing workers crowded into retail and other service sectors, putting downward pressure on wages there.

Having worked in retail both as a grunt and as a manager I can tell you from personal experience, major retailers are deathly afraid of unionization. Walmart has closed stores that have unionized. They eliminated butchers from 180 stores when one store’s meat department unionized. They settled for up to $640 million in 2008 for failing to pay workers overtime. They will literally lose billions just to avoid paying labor fair wages. They are not alone.

Corporations overall dedicate billions of dollars each year both towards lobbying for laws that weaken labor as well as paying for the services of companies that actively work at discouraging organized labor.

The only way to get labor back in a position where it can be effective is to have the majority of workers in these industries in a union, because that is the only way labor will have a voice in politics. There is no hope of electing someone that is sympathetic to labor and having them act on those promises without the political firepower to back them up.

You can’t fight a war without weapons.

The projected outcome of the coronavirus outbreak continues to get more grim. All countries are preparing as best they can for the inevitable influx of critically ill patients.

In the USA the social experiment we have engaged in since the mid 20th century, of primarily giving healthcare only to those that are working, is about to be put to the test. We’re about to find out that this public health crisis can’t be handled by the for-profit healthcare system that has long been touted as the most efficient and the best in the world.

In a recent public address the President declared that this is a war. If this is a war, the truth is that we have no ability to fight this war. We’re fighting a nuclear weapon with stone knives. We’ve cut funding for weapons research, we’ve severely limited the amount of soldiers we can put in the fight and those we do have are ill-equipped to fight. We knew this threat was out there, but we’ve ignored the problem almost completely. Even doctors in the UK where they have an actual public health system are lamenting the lack of resources they have to fight the virus. Where does the USA stand in that regard?

The USA has around 28 million uninsured. If and when those people flood emergency rooms the costs of a private system will come due and they will be apocalyptic.

USA healthcare coverage is tied to employment. As of now, even before the peak of the virus, there are mass layoffs from industries that have been forced to close or those that have experienced severe drops in demand. People in the USA without jobs in most cases have no access to healthcare. Even those with access often face massive financial burdens due to the arcane nature of how coverage works.

We must face the fact that in a war for the health of the USA we’ve budgeted only to defend the richest people in the country.

 

If you interact with the public you probably have no sick leave.

Why the coronavirus should have everyone rethinking paid sick leave.

The coronavirus issue has me thinking about paid sick leave from new perspectives. I never approved of people not getting paid sick days, but now I’m honestly wondering how and why the hell we ever let it get like this.
It’s been well documented at this point that anything less than an N95 mask doesn’t really do much to contain the spread of a virus and I’ve yet to see anyone at any restaurant wearing one. Sometimes you see food preparation done by people with surgical style masks on, but that’s just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. They might not cough or sneeze directly onto the food, but it’s not preventing them from spreading virus around or preventing them from contracting it.

Essentially, every time I go to a public restaurant I’m now going to be thinking about all the sick people that are probably working their shift because they can’t afford not to and how I’m probably getting virus laden food all the time. Why would anyone ever want to go out to eat knowing this fact? How did we get brainwashed into thinking this was a great idea? I’ll pay another 50 cents or $1 for a value meal if it gets people paid sick leave, but profit is really not the issue since McDs had
net income of $6.025B in 2019 and bought back $30 billion in stock from 2013-2016.
Companies like Walmart and Apple are also making stock buybacks in the tens of billions and hundreds of billions rather than pay people sick leave.
And yet you can still find in first page search results for “walmart stock buyback” a media outlet rising to the defense of Walmart and Apple for their stock buybacks. The defense being that the companies that do the most buybacks also have the biggest capital investments as well.
 
Walmart, for its part, said last year it would buy back $20 billion in stock. Yet the company has invested at least $10 billion annually for the past three years in an effort to meet head-on competition from Amazon
Did they invest $10 billion in making sure their employees aren’t coming into work sick all the time?!
 
No. They didn’t. Because now they, among others, are all scrambling to give people temporary paid sick time just for this outbreak.
Great, this time, during a massive pandemic, people can stay out sick, but how about when flu season rolls around again? Why do people have to endure sick employees spreading disease everywhere because the company is too cheap to pay people for when they inevitably get sick?
How is this logical for a business looking to be efficient anyway? Sick employee comes in, doesn’t work as hard because they feel like crap, they end up infecting other employees they are working with and customers as well. Now you have a group of workers that are feeling like crap and coming in to work and not working as hard and you have customers that won’t be coming in to shop at your store or eat at your restaurant because they are sick.
Then keep going down the line, the people that get sick that have secondary health issues, those people end up at the hospital and since they are shopping and eating at these low cost establishments they probably are some of the 27.5 million people that still have no health insurance and then does anyone have to wonder why the fuck we pay more than any other country on this planet per capita for health insurance?!
So, not only are we getting harmful diseases because of corporate greed, not only is our food being contaminated by corporate greed, we’re paying more to solve any issues resulting from those situations, because of corporate greed!