The Police Won’t Save You From Themselves.
The Police Won’t Save You From Themselves
Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young n—— got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun (N.W.A., “Fuck tha Police,” 1988)
Anarchist movements have long used the satirical political slogan “Bigger Cages! Longer Chains!” to parody and mock self-styled “well-intentioned reformers” who demand of oppressive social institutions that those institutions mitigate the harms created by those very institutions. When the problem is the existence of cages and chains to begin with, the solution isn’t keeping the cages and chains in place but making them a tad larger, slightly longer—the solution is abolishing cages and chains.
And if you’re expecting the people whose entire way-of-being revolves around caging and chaining others to be the ones to mollify the suffering caused by cages and chains, then you’re asking your oppressors to be your liberators. It’s not going to happen.
Haitians didn’t gain their freedom because they filed suit in French courts. Slavery didn’t end in the United States because slaves politely petitioned their kidnappers for better treatment. The Holocaust didn’t end because Jews in extermination camps submitted a list of suggestions to Hitler. And had the Internet existed in 1791, 1860, 1941, no amount of viral listicles, Medium posts, or Voxsplainers would have fixed anything either.
The point is this: Oppressive and murderous institutions are not built to accommodate and respond positively to requests from their victims, and such institutions are certainly not built with internal mechanisms for undermining the institutions themselves.
It is a combination of fear, subservience to power, and imaginative poverty that leads the oppressed and their allies to conclude that anything but the total and complete destruction of an oppressive institution will bring relief from that institution’s violent essence. In the feminist language of the famous quotation from Audre Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
Policing—as it exists and always has existed in the United States—is an essentially violent, murderous, racist, sexist institution. Its origins lie in days of slavery when a central component of police-work was returning missing property (read: human people) to its rightful owner (read: kidnapper and abuser). The job of the police—by design—has always been to protect wealth and power by killing anyone who would dare question the wealthy and powerful. When a police officer kills a black man, that police officer is doing their job—that’s what policing is. The narrative that there are “a few bad apples” among police officers is a myth spun by the institution of policing to protect itself. Police who don’t kill people are a few bananas in a barrel full of murderous apples.
Does it hurt to read about “95 Things You Can Do Right Now to Make This a Less Racist World” on Facebook from the comfort of your own home? Of course not. But if you think that doing all 95 of those things is actually fixing the problem created by the very existence of policing, then you’re nothing more than an unwitting tool of oppression—your righteous indignation has been captured and redirected so that you don’t burn the institution of policing to the ground.
Because that is the only solution: There can be no more policing. We can’t put body cameras on French colonialists, we can’t reform slavery with citizen review boards, we can’t send Hitler to racial sensitivity training. And if abolishing the institution of policing seems “too radical,” ask yourself what combination of fear, subservience to power, and imaginative poverty is making you cling to the abhorrent status quo. How many more George Floyds are you willing to sacrifice so that we, as a society, can pretend we’re making progress while we actually do nothing?