A call to read, study and debate
What does abolition mean? Why is it better than reform? What class do the police (and the military) serve and protect, both inside and outside the U.S.? Why is a state-sanctioned, coercive force necessary in the daily lives of racialized workers? What does public safety mean? Does criminalizing impoverishment and addiction contribute to safety? Does the abolition of police threaten economic democracy and equal access to all social services?
By W.F. Santiago-Valles, Ph.D.
The Alliance of Banks, Government, and Police
Only yesterday, White liberals were praising warrior cops as their s/heroes in the wars against the Black, Brown, Yellow, and Indigenous peoples – those workers who have been fed to the prison industry since the urban rebellions of the 1960s. These same liberals forgot that their patron saint, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out against such oppression weeks before being assassinated by the U.S. government. Strategies to contain, control, and repress workers have enjoyed the complicity of mercenaries and accomplices of all races, nationalities, and genders within this two-headed, single-party system of United States racial capitalism.
Laws are enacted in the U.S. to target workers, keep them impoverished, and prevent them from mounting an effective resistance. To understand this requires that we focus on the strategic interests of absentee landlords, employers, money lenders, and investors (represented by the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, the Bush(es) and Clinton administrations), who promoted the war on drugs, the largest for-profit gulag in world history, militarized the cops, deregulated the banks and Wall Street, privatized essential social services, and intensified penalties for subsistence crime.
After the 1992 urban rebellion (involving people born in the U.S. from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe), Joe Biden and the Clintons (together with Larry Summers and Rahm Emmanuel, both current Biden advisors) were Reagan’s best race-baiting, law-and-order disciples. They passed a crime bill that put ever more aggressive policing in the streets, implemented mandatory sentencing, and expanded the use of the death penalty — reproducing and intensifying a deadly apartheid against working-class people.
Until its recent alliance of convenience with street protestors and the establishment commercial media, the national office of the Democrat Party had been praising the FBI, the domestic political police. During the 2017-2019 Russiagate fraud, the Democrats were commending the FBI, the same FBI that participated in the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. King, Fred Hampton, trained death squads in the overseas colonies of the U.S. empire during the 1970s, and, during the Obama administration, repressed the 2011 Occupy Movement. The repression of Occupy was carried out with the help of DHS (Department of Homeland Security), the police departments of six American universities, the Richmond Federal Reserve, and the support of Wall Street banks. (See Domestic Security Alliance Council, Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism website, December 30, 2012). During the 2009-2011 quiet bank coup (aka Great Recession), the federal government bailed out the banks, while J.P. Morgan contributed nearly five million dollars to the New York Police Department pension fund. Meanwhile, considering peaceful protests a threat to their ongoing domination, the banks and government tracked private citizens’ income and financial records, intending to use this information to repress dissent. (See Yves Smith, in Naked Capitalism website, 2 October 2011; Partnership for Civil Justice FOIA drop of FBI materials on Occupy Wall Street.)
Between 2007-2012, every 28 hours a person of color was killed by a uniformed government officer. (See Malcolm X Grassroots citations below.) According to other sources, during 2018 and 2019, three people were killed by police every 24 hours: approx. 1000 in 2018, and 1100 in 2019. (See third item in Reading List on Riverwise website) Despite Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, as of June 2020, 429 people have already been killed by U.S. cops, 88 of whom were Black (Statista Research Department).
Kalamazoo: Example of Alliance of Local Government, Property Owners and Police
In Kalamazoo, the area of Michigan with the largest wealth inequity, the City Council and County Commission approved an invasion of the city by the National Guard and the State Police to protect downtown real estate investments during a recent BLM march. While the additional police forces occupied the City, homeless shelters were being bulldozed, fires were being set by white supremacists in the poorest areas of the city on Elm and North Streets, and on Stockbridge Avenue, trucks were being driven into children of color, and bottles were being thrown at the protestors by white supremacists, who enjoyed full impunity. During this same time, Michigan cops seized 2,000 facemasks made in Oakland, California that read, STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE. On August 15, 2020, while the Proud Boys’ presence was being challenged by local homeless people and workers, observers witnessed the local police protecting the white supremacist fight club while arresting homeless people, activists and media professionals.
Unified Ruling Class Agenda/Fragmented People’s Movement
Gandhi said that he believed in Jesus, but not in his alleged disciples, who are unwilling to risk their lives for others. The same goes for communists, who have not practiced the discipline and unity required to challenge ruling class power. In the absence of a national workers’ party— with a program of international solidarity with workers elsewhere, or a peace party— committed to combining non-violence and civil disobedience, we have not been able to mount a powerful struggle. By contrast, within the ruling class, there is a single political agenda shared by all ruling class actors:
- Veto Medicare for all.
- Privatize all social services.
- Reduce public resources available to salaried workers, the sick, elderly, and unemployed.
- Increase police and military funding.
- Gentrify re-segregated urban cores.
- Since the recent U.S. defeat in Syria, make war on Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela (following Ms. Clinton’s slogan: “We came, we saw, they died.”).
- Diversify the racial composition of those who (for a profit) manage economic crises and repress grassroots insurrections.
- Re-enslave the racialized working class.
- Continue Obama’s global drone assassination program.
We have not yet invented/imagined a way to negate this ruling class corporate monopoly (with two heads) that wins regardless of who is elected, or what happens in street protests. We are not yet a political force able to nationalize the banks, expropriate strategic sectors of the economy without compensation, and abolish the police-court judges-prosecutors-prison industry. Such an urgent house cleaning would include the people in the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, county commissions, and city councils, who voted in 2018 to make the cops a protected class, and assault of a cop a federal hate crime.
The Limitations of Police Reforms and Defunding
By June 2020, defunding of the police was supported by one-third of adults living in the U.S., and by over 50% of Democrats, African Americans, and the young, according to an ABC News-Ipsos poll. The problem is that defunding (or fund reallocation) does not transfer decision-making to the people on the receiving end of the conflict, does not change the mission of policing against racialized workers, nor does increasing the racial, ethnic, or gender “diversity” of the police force. Defunding is a distraction that legitimizes the historic imposition of the police force without insisting that power relations must be changed. It’s the same reformist game as the effort to reduce the Pentagon budget, without taking economic and policy control or decision-making power concerning ALL social services— housing, education, health, transportation, energy, water, environment, food sovereignty. The Congressional leadership of the Democrats, both in the House and Senate, are opposed to any discussion of defunding, and the Congressional Black Caucus considers defunding is being used as a distraction from the timid police reform agenda that they propose— while failing to demand what is necessary: that Black and Brown communities be allocated the same proportions of education and police funding that White suburbs have. Limited defunding and pragmatic reforms have kept liberals comfortable in the following cities: Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA, Baltimore, and Prince George County, MD, Nashville, TN, New York City, NY, Milwaukee, WI, Austin, TX, Venice Beach, CA, Miami, FL, and Minneapolis since 2017.
(Concerning the short-sighted reforms proposed on the 8 Can’t Wait website and www.campaignzero.org, please refer to www.8toabolition.com for a discussion about the limitations of changing the rules of engagement, none of which reduce police violence by more than 25%, and when all eight are implemented at once, only reduce unwarranted police violence by 70%).
Other notorious, milk-toast, ineffective reforms include: body cameras, anti-racist training, diversifying the personnel (without ever reaching critical mass), community policing (which means recruiting snitches), banning chokeholds (which did not prevent Eric Garner’s murder), requiring de-escalation measures (whenever possible), and re-writing use of force policies. (See Race & Class Journal, Volume 26, No. 4, 1985). Most of these useless policies are as old as the 1967 Kerner Commission Report, which followed 300 urban uprisings, and as ineffective as the suggestions from the Obama administration’s March 2015 Task Force for 21st Century Policing report. In the very same month that the Obama report was published, cops killed 30 more people than they had in the previous month. During the last five years, 2015-2020, municipal police budgets were not shrunk, despite the constant murder of unarmed civilians by police. What continued to shrink, during this time period, were the allocations for education, housing, health care, and elected civilian police review boards. (See www.useofforceproject.org for survey of 100 largest cities in the U.S.)
Injustices and Inequalities that Police Reformists Ignore
Please note that most reformists, who just want to improve the police war against racialized workers, instead of abolishing policing altogether, do not propose or fight for changes that would correct fundamental injustices and economic inequities in the system to substantially improve the people’s living conditions. Most police reformists do not demand:
- Decriminalizing the war on drugs, which since the 1969-1974 Nixon administration, provides state sanction to arrest protestors and racialized workers
- Establishing a living wage of $25.00/hour
- Guaranteeing employment and rent controls
- Imposing a wealth tax of 70-90 % and additional penalties for those who hide their wealth in tax havens
- Financing worker-owned co-ops (including urban farms) that use renewable energy
- Canceling student debt and medical debt (to prevent subsistence crime)
- Replacing most unnecessary police interventions with community residents trained in conflict resolution
- Rejecting police who act as an occupying army, invading the spaces and lives of working people
- Electing civilian police review boards who have the authority to hire/fire, freeze pensions of police who are human rights violators
- Conditioning acceptance of federal funds on a commitment to address collective needs
- Withdrawing cops from public schools
- Defunding institutions that service or train cops
- Establishing cop watch programs to document abuses and conduct frequent human rights seminars
- Holding police torturers and murderers economically and individually accountable. Since the 1960s, American cops have tortured thousands. (Between 1972 and 1991, over 100 suspects were tortured in police precincts, and in 2019 there were over 400 additional torture cases under investigation.)
The following cities have already implemented cop watch programs: Berkeley, Oakland, and Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO.; Portland, OR; Austin, Houston, TX; St. Louis, Ferguson, MO; Chicago, IL; Brooklyn, NY; Tampa, FL, and Cincinnati, OH. (See https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/heres-how-to-cop-watch;
https://archive.org/details/copwatch; YOUTUBE: “COPWATCH” (2017);
Relation between Police/Prison Violence and Economic Inequality
First, we need to acknowledge that racialized workers have been disproportionately on the receiving end of State-sponsored violence and surveillance, carried out by design: genocide, enslavement, lynching, leasing prison labor, and present-day unpaid incarcerated workers. Ending this 401-year-old method of reproducing economic inequality, requires thinking of a different kind of power relation that would end this historic trend. In Black Reconstruction In America (1935), W.E.B. DuBois wrote that “abolition democracy” is needed to complete what abolition of political slavery had started and Reconstruction did not accomplish: the dismantling of all the institutions that maintain both exploitation and economic apartheid: courts, prisons, police, banks (and today’s robotic neo-liberalism). What does it take to get us there? In the 1940s, the Journey for Reconciliation/CORE was part of a prison abolition network, and in the 1970s, Fay H. Knopp, a Quaker, published a handbook for prison abolition. Since then Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Jessica Mitford, Barbara Boward, Frank Morris, Angela Davis, and Mariame Kaba have written extensively on what we need— to create, to live, and thrive instead of dying.
Defunding armed and unaccountable mercenaries is a first step on the path to abolition! Chokeholds were already banned in New York before Eric Garner was murdered; body cameras, and anti-racist training had already been instituted in Minneapolis before George Floyd was murdered. The 8 Can’t Wait Campaign— in addition to applying faulty research methods and overstating causal relations— relies on failed de-escalation practices that still depend on police judgment/compliance in a context where racialized workers and our children are presumed to be criminals. The one reform that has not been tried yet to stop the extra-judicial killing of unarmed civilians is abolition of the police altogether. Since police violence is necessary to maintain and reproduce conditions of exploitation and expropriation, considering alternatives to policing altogether (such as restorative justice and preventive measures, as implemented in Montreal, Quebec, for example) is to ask about alternatives to capitalism. (See the work of Howard Zehr & Quebec Healthy Communities Network.)
Important Questions Still to Be Answered
The initial policy transformation requirement is rethinking who makes the laws to be enforced, and in whose interest those laws are made. There are several hitherto unanswered questions. What does abolition mean? Why is it better than reform? What class do the police (and the military) serve and protect, both inside and outside the U.S.? Why is a state-sanctioned, coercive force necessary in the daily lives of racialized workers? What does public safety mean? Does criminalizing impoverishment and addiction contribute to safety? Does the abolition of police threaten economic democracy and equal access to all social services?
Given the State’s Failure to House, Educate and Heal,
Abolish the Entire Punishment Bureaucracy— Police, Prisons, Courts, Prosecutors
Societies, where economic democracy exists, do not need to depend on white supremacists institutions to repress and control even the unpaid time and space of racialized workers. This means abolishing prisons, desegregating housing, schools, credit, the job market, and health care, and compensating the victims of crime with the voluntary work of the convicted. Many of the chores assigned to the police can be done more safely by trained neighborhood residents: running pre-school programs and family training, responding to homelessness and mental health problems, recording accident reports, investigating crimes, stopping ongoing violence, repelling domestic terrorists who invade neighborhoods where impoverishment is geographically concentrated, and working with Fire Department and Medical Emergencies personnel.
There are greater proportions or percentages of impoverished and exploited African Americans and Latinos (relative to our overall numbers) inside the U.S. and we are also evicted, arrested, convicted, and incarcerated disproportionately. The funds wasted in arresting and incarcerating can be better invested in:
- Stopping evictions of renters and people living in mortgaged houses
- Convicting, firing, and freezing pensions of violent cops
- Emptying prisons and jails housing minor offenders
- Caring for Covid19-infected convicts
- Providing food funds and guaranteed income for laid-off and unemployed workers during this economic depression
- Securing free health care for Covid19-infected and investing in preventive measures
- Supporting public school education in urban core and isolated rural communities)
- Institutionalizing free daycare and free transportation in working-class communities participating in federal public works programs to offset the severe loss of jobs: by 2028 half of the jobs that existed in 2013 will be gone.
Abolish Purchase of Military Equipment from Contractors
Since 2014-2015, the U.S. Congress has repeatedly voted to keep the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which funnels military-grade weapons and gear to police departments for the domestic war against racialized workers. In Kalamazoo County alone, there are 146 Defense Department contractors who made nearly $59 million dollars in 2019. (See the complete list for 2000-2019 with names, telephone numbers, and addresses at:
Role of Israeli Police in Training of U.S. Police Officers
In 2012, through mediation of the Israeli consulate (despite Israel’s notorious human rights violations), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the American FBI, a conference was held in Chicago at which Minnesota police officers were trained in anti-terrorism tactics by Israeli police. These police were trained in the repressive tactics that have been used since 2006 against Palestinians in the West Bank. These same Israeli police trainers also trained police in Brazil and Sudan. According to Amnesty International, state policemen and women from Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio have been flown to Israel/Occupied Palestine and the occupied territories on U.S taxpayer-funded training trips. (See www.Israel-Palestinenews.org.)
In closing, people who oppose (class, race, gender, nationality) wars abroad, should also, when attempting to be consistent, oppose the existence of organized military violence inside the U.S. empire, which only exists to repress First Nations, the enslaved labor force, salaried workers, and economic migrants, and to break strikes and kill strike organizers. For further reading materials, see https://guante.info/2020/05/27/abolition/.
Reading List on Police Violence, Reforms and Abolition Democracy
Statistics on Police Violence
THE MALCOLM X GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT Ghetto Storm (2011 edition & 2012 edition)
WASHINGTON POST webpage on police violence: between 2007-20012
See https://theconversation.com : police kill about three men per day in the U.S. according to new study.
See Rashmee Kumar, The Intercept, October 15, 2017, “Envisioning an America Free from Police Violence.”
See BBC ONE: “NYPD- Biggest gang in New York”
Please consult (Real News Network Series on YOUTUBE – regular Police Accountability Report run by Taya Graham)
Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America
Government Repression of the Working Class
See 1974 Milliken vs. Bradley Supreme Court case – promoted white flight and continuous “non-explicit” segregation of schools in Michigan by preventing busing across school districts
See 1994-1996 three-law package (co-authored and pushed by Joe Biden) that brought us to the murder of George Floyd:
- ANTI-TERRORISM & EFFECTIVE DEATH PENALTY- abolishes habeas corpus, death penalty for prisoners who rebel;
- PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY & WORK OPPORTUNITY: abolishes minimum income for jobless, work for non-negotiable wages;
- ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION REFORM: creates sector of working-class without right to negotiate working conditions.
See HTTPS://WWW.BLACK AGENDA REPORT – 16 JULY 2020: Democrats will never choose transformative change, so give them no choice.
See HTTPS://WWW.BLACKAGENDAREPORT – 19 AUGUST 2020: Trump is wrong, Joe Biden is not the “radical left”. He is an enemy of humanity
Defunding the Police
See WWW.BLACKAGENDAREPORT – 9 JULY 2020: Don’t let the Democratic Party bury the Movement
See Alex Vitale, JACOBIN, 3 JUNE, 2020: We need to defund the police now!
See Zachary Siegel & Alex Vitale, THE NATION, 4 JUNE 2020: Starve the beast
See Alex Vitale, The end of policing (London: Verso, 2017)
See two speeches by Malcolm X “Message to the grassroots” & “The ballot or the bullet” where he advocates for community control of all social services.
Reform or Abolition
- Patterson, We Charge Genocide (1951/2017)
- Lawrence, The Torture Letters (2020)
See current debates on abolishing the police in Seattle, WA, Eugene, OH, Minneapolis, MN, Chicago, Il; in Camden, NJ. since 2013; Durham, NC, and Winnipeg, Manitoba
Julia Carrie Wong, Praise for alleged Kenosha shooter proliferates on Facebook despite supposed ban. London Guardian, 27 August, 2020
Mike German, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” Brennan Center for Justice Research Report, August 27, 2020
FBI Counter-terrorism Policy Directive and Policy Guide (2015) acknowledges links between white supremacist militias and police as well as infiltration of police by domestic extremists on page 89.
Noel Cazenave, Killing African –Americans: Police Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism, 2018.
William Patterson, We Charge Genocide! (1951/2017) Petition taken to the United Nations requesting condemnation of the U.S. government for the continuous murder of African Americans.
Tracey Meares and Tom Taylor, “The First Step Is Figuring Out What Policing Is For,” The Atlantic, June 8, 2020 – https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/first-step-figuring-out-what-police-are/612793/
Keeanga-Jamahtta Taylor, under the How Do We Change America? column of the June 8, 2020 New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-do-we-change-america. A discussion concerning why police reforms continue to fail.
Meaghan McDowell and Luis Fernandez, “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” Critical Criminology (2018) Vol. 26, pgs. 373–391 at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10612-018-9400-4
Joshua Doubler and Vincent Lloyd. Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons, 2019.
See https://www.byp100.org/ concerning No Cop Academy Project
David Correia and Tyler Wall, Epilogue: On a World Beyond Policing. Police: A Field Guide, London: Verso, 2018.
James Baldwin, A report From Occupied Territory, The Nation, July 11,1966 in https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/report-occupied-territory/
See https://www.themarshallproject.org/records/3382-police-abolition A reference to over 100 articles on police abolition
See http://criticalresistance.org/ founded by Angela Davis, Ruth W. Gilmore, Rose Braz, Rachel Herzing,
Nathan Lewis, “Locking Up the Lower Class,” Jacobin, January 30, 2018.
James Forman, Jr., “Black Judges, Black Politicians, Black Prisoners,” Jacobin, August 15, 2017.
Daniel Denvir, “America’s Durable Monstrosity,” Jacobin, January 9, 2017.
See WWW.BLACKAGENDAREPORT, January 9, 2020, “Trump Is a Criminal, but the Democrats Belong to the Same Mafia.”