The following is an excerpt from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s fall 2020 newsletter “Observing Revolution.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a hard and/or electronic copy of our newsletters.
Editor’s Note: CELDF and partner attorneys are crafting a rights-based ordinance for structural municipal policing change. It advances a framework of law that guarantees the exercise of human and civil rights free from state-funded violence, nourishing community services, local community self-government, and the right of people regardless of material wealth, to survive and enjoy freedom of movement. It also offers planned phase-out policies for police budgets, new responsibilities for municipal governments, and language for a slew of actionable short-term reforms. For more information contact email@example.com.
Our corporate state needs police to keep racial capitalism going. However, politicians, corporations, and the media go to extreme lengths to distort what police abolitionists mean when we say “defund the police,” in order to protect their power.
“Defund the police” means drastically reducing the amount of public money and resources our government spends on police while prioritizing restorative alternatives. Defunding the police is not about undermining public safety—but rather about advancing alternatives to modern policing and recognizing that police are a toxic way of responding to social issues, and that in fact they are a driver of violence, not a deterrent or a solution to it.
As Angela Davis recently said: “I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew. And I would argue that abolition is a feminist strategy. And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices.” It moves us closer to a form of government that does not see law as merely coercive.
Police are the solution that politicians offer society, to provide “law and order.” But the police don’t actually provide “order” for people. They merely implement “laws” to secure the status quo that undermines life and places a privileged class above the law. Police are a false solution because the root of societal violence is systemic oppression, not the inherent criminality of certain (poor, Black, disabled, queer, immigrant) people. Police allow politicians to criminalize and further profit from systemic poverty rather than protect people and the planet.
Not only do police cause violence directly, as seen in streets across the nation, police also fail to prevent it. Police show up after violence has already happened, rarely in time to intervene.
To effectively reduce violence we must allocate public resources towards harm prevention rather than criminal punishment, which is itself incredibly violent. Abolitionists recognize that police budgets take resources away from communities that could otherwise begin to address the root cause of the behaviors that make us believe we need police in the first place. Progressively shifting funding away from police and towards meeting people’s basic needs can create a positive feedback loop until even the perceived need for modern policing no longer exists.
Public resources make us safer. Meeting people’s needs ends the cycles of violence. We must defund the police to free up resources to invest in things like education, health care, housing, retirement, mental health and addiction treatment, sustainable food systems, and work.
It is long past the time for us to realize that existing laws and the existing enforcement mechanisms for these laws have the dual goals of appearing to protect us while in reality doing the exact opposite. It is time to reject the current form of governance that guarantees the safety of privileged corporate property over the safety of people.
Those questions lead to larger questions: What is the purpose of the law? How does a law become legitimate and who does it serve?