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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.
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
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.