What I mean when I say I want to abolish the police

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver
Getty Images

If you’re at all tuned in to the news or social media, you’re aware of what’s going on in America. If you’re not, Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, leading to his death, while three other officers looked on. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, since getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for black men. Protesters quickly took to the streets in civil disobedience, white bodies put themselves on the line for black bodies, and we made our voices heard. Property can be replaced; human life can not.

And then, almost overnight, it escalated. Protests turned to riots as police started showing up in riot gear and attacking protesters and press en masse with rubber bullets, tear gas, and night sticks. A woman lost an eye to rubber bullets. Another woman claimed that police “stomped” on her pregnant belly and induced a miscarriage. One video appeared to show an NYPD vehicle driving into protesters.

Social media is the enemy of American police. When smartphones became the norm, something that black people knew was happening for centuries suddenly confronted people who would never experience this reality. With proof comes the demand of accountability.

Something is very, very wrong in American police culture. This is why the saying “ACAB” — or “All cops are b*****ds” — has become a popular rallying cry. It doesn’t actually mean every single cop is a bad cop, just like saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean white lives don’t. “ACAB” means every single police officer is complicit in a system that actively devalues the lives of people of color. Bad cops are encouraged in their harm by the silence of the ones who see themselves as “good.”

Holding one police officer accountable every time a black person is killed by police is not enough. The issue isn’t “a few bad apples”; it’s a tree that is rotting from the inside out, spreading its poison.

Many ask where black police stand in all of this. To quote Cornel West, we must “understand the black freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics.” Black police officers are currently choosing to prioritize their own financial wellbeing and stability over the collective black struggle. They exist in a separate class, free of the risks that black men without a badge carry. They ignore, and thus perpetuate, racial violence to protect themselves and their income.

The fraternity culture of the American police force — where the bad ones lead and the good ones stay silent — has got to go. We don’t need to end police brutality; we need to end policing, period.

We are told the police are designed to serve and protect, and to some degree, that is true. They serve their own interests and protect the white and wealthy. Racism is written into the American criminal justice system, well exemplified by the sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine compared to crack cocaine: the same drug, except one is more prevalent among the white and wealthy, and another is more prevalent among the poor and black.

If the goal of the police is to protect lives and property from unsafe people, they are objectively failing as they continue to kill black men and women at disproportionate rates.

There are concerns about the idea of abolishing the police force — some worry women would be less safe, for instance, and would have no one to call if they were subject to domestic violence or rape. But police are already failing domestic violence and rape victims. With 40 percent of American police officers involved in domestic violence at home, can we trust them to protect victims if they perpetuate the same violence? There are community initiatives to protect domestic violence victims that are safer and more trustworthy, like shelters, hotlines, and individuals within the community. Beyond that, 60 percent of DV victims didn’t want police involved in the first place, and police presence makes one in three survivors feel less safe. Add to that the disgracefully low conviction rate for rape victims, and it’s clear that the police fail all women every day as well.

People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police. Black men face a one in 1,000 chance of dying at the hands of a cop. The wives of abused police are forced to live with abusers who have access to guns in fear of their lives. If police aren’t protecting women, people in mental duress, and black people, who exactly are they protecting?

It’s time to end, or at the very least, completely reform the American police. Use your voice and your body and demand change and accountability. No amount of property can quantify how much a single life is worth. Live in the moment, and let it radicalize you.