Society: should we defund the police?

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Numéro 1

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Defund the police: an American movement
In recent years, there has been a crisis of legitimacy of the police institution, particularly in the United States where the police force is often accused of being racist and violent. This crisis arose following mobilizations against police violence against African-Americans (e.g. Ferguson in 2014) and more recently with the Black Lives Matters movement.

This movement for the abolition of the police, just like the anti-carceral struggles, is based on penal abolitionism, which aims to rethink modes of social control and put an end to the penal system. The latter wants to rethink modes of social control and put an end to the penal system. This form of organization would be based on social justice with non-punitive modes of conflict resolution, as well as an ideal of participation, reparation and emancipation of individuals and communities.

Source: The Conversation

Spoiler title

It is important to differentiate between the proposal to “defund the police” and hating the police. This demand seeks to rethink the police institution deemed ineffective in order to find a solution that better ensures “public safety”.

This movement to defund the police would be divided into three stages. The first, disbanding the police, would amount to weakening the police by reducing its budget, personnel and social influence in order to promote collective conflict management in line with transformative justice. The second stage, disempowering the police, would aim to disarm the police (reducing the number of weapons held by police officers). The final step would be to disempower the police, by simply dismantling the police force.

Defunding the police thus aims to transfer the budgets allocated to the police to other sectors and programs aimed at strengthening social ties.

Sources: The Conversation, Mediapart

Why are we talking about it now?
The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, rekindled tensions and led to numerous demonstrations in the United States and around the world. These protests aimed to denounce the violent and racist nature of the police, as well as the desire to put an end to this pattern and create a new one.

On June 7, 2020, the City of Minneapolis announced its “dismantling”, as City Council Chair Lisa Bender announced: “We are committed to […] recreating a public safety system that truly protects us. Which, to tell you the truth, the Minneapolis Police Department is not doing.”

In France, criminal abolitionism is less widespread than in the United States, although struggles against police violence regularly emerge. Some collectives have been denouncing for years the violence and structural racism of the French police and justice system (e.g., the collective Désarmons-les). It is only recently that this contestation has spread to other circles and is receiving more media coverage.

Sources: The Conversation

Numéro 2

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The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
What is your opinion before reading the article?

FOR

In defense of the construction of a policeless world

Gwenola Ricordeau & Shaïn Morisse

Assistant Professor in Criminal Justice, California State University, Chico & Doctoral student in Political Science at CESDIP, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) – Université Paris-Saclay

Police reforms implemented over decades (improved recruitment and training, external oversight bodies, etc.) have not resolved the problems of racism and police violence that have been entrenched in its history since its creation. For example, George Floyd was killed by a police force often held up as an example for its efforts in this area.

Like the criminal justice system as a whole, the police primarily targets the working classes and populations with a colonial and migration history, perpetuating an unequal social and racial order. This trend has been reinforced over the last forty years and is accompanied by the progressive decriminalization of “white-collar” crime.

The police and the physical and social violence they exercise are therefore more of a problem than a solution to crime, which they cannot be held responsible for reducing. However, the police does contribute to the development of an economic sector that benefits from security policies. The transfer of its (huge) budgets to other sectors (education, health, housing, etc.) could contribute to the actual security of the population.

Abolitionism, therefore, promotes social justice, solidarity, and reparation rather than criminal justice, repression, and punishment.

Far from the chaos that is sometimes feared, the abolition of the police is entirely feasible and some cities in the United States are already moving in this direction. Indeed, the police institution and the penal sphere, born only a few centuries ago, only deal with a small part of interpersonal conflicts and transgressions of social norms, and they only deal with some of them. Yet police or penal intervention does not change the social conditions conducive to delinquency and rarely meets the needs of victims and perpetrators.

Abolitionism, therefore, promotes social justice, solidarity, and reparation rather than criminal justice, repression, and punishment. For decades, emancipatory solutions (such as transformative justice) have been implemented to collectively manage conflicts and interpersonal violence and thus strengthen individuals and social groups, without giving in to vigilantism or generalized techno-surveillance.

Abolitionism advocates the abandonment of repressive and punitive approaches, which are overly simplistic when social problems are diverse and complex. It invites us to rethink security starting from the real needs of the population and to imagine other modes of social control and resolution of conflicts inherent to life in society.

AGAINST

Reform rather than abolishment

Jacques de Maillard

Professor of Political Science, University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin en Yvelines and Sciences Po Saint Germain en Laye, Director of the Center for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions

CESDIP

The police is a “necessary evil”. It is an “evil” because it uses coercion: it can control, arrest, investigate, monitor, even shoot its citizens. Recent events serve as a reminder of how much such activities are subject to discussion. Consider the policing of the “Yellow Vests” [Editor’s note: Gilets Jaunes in French]: 2500 were injured among the demonstrators, including 100 serious cases, 25 people lost an eye, 1800 were injured among the police, 13,000 shots from defensive ball throwers in a few weeks. It is known that “slip-ups” (unnecessary and disproportionate use of force) did not fail to occur. The excesses of groups of racist police officers and the existence of discrimination in controls are now documented in research work.

Does this mean that these evils should lead to the abolition of the police? And to replace it by what? Until the 18th century, the regulation of urban spaces was carried out by citizens themselves, until the advent of industrial capitalism (and its consequences on crime) and the weakening of community social control linked to urbanization led Western governments to set up public, professionalized forces to control crime and fight insecurity.

How can we ensure the peaceful conduct of a demonstration? How can we protect the victims and arrest the perpetrators of domestic violence? The ironic phrase “what is the police doing?” itself contains this request for police action. The work of prevention, deterrence, repression and assistance by police officers is therefore unavoidable.

The work of prevention, deterrence, repression and assistance by police officers is therefore unavoidable. The question is rather: what kind of police do we want?

The question is rather: what kind of police do we want? Let us recall article 12 of the Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: “The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen requires a public force: this force is therefore instituted for the benefit of all, and not for the particular utility of those to whom it is entrusted”.

This implies that the police are accountable for their actions. This is a first principle: the necessary transparency (for example, on the use of force and its circumstances). Second, the use of force must be minimal, and the police must seek the consent of citizens. Let us remember: the police officer is a “peacekeeper”.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the police force is only one of the answers to issues of delinquency, violence, terrorism, and incivility. It is a responsibility that it shares with associations, families, social services, and schools. Recalling this obvious fact means not asking the police for more than they can promise, but it also means stressing that they must cooperate with other social actors.

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