A modest proposal: Abolish the police

My best $.02 on the issue of police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement: Let’s work together to abolish the police. And no satire intended, in case the allusion in the title has you wondering.

I’m going to stick my neck out a bit by admitting that I’m rather ignorant regarding the role that racism plays in the ongoing rash of police killings that have gained more attention recently. Accurate raw statistics are hard to come by, and even accurate raw statistics don’t necessarily paint a clear picture, because there’s so much complexity to the issue and so many of these individual incidents are shrouded in secrecy. I think I’d have to invest quite a bit more effort on the question than I have, in order to have a reasonably informed opinion.

That said, I don’t doubt for a moment that we have a long way to go as a society on issues of race and ethnicity. I’m almost certain that I suffer from significant blind spots here, although even I can see clearly–though of course not with first-hand immediacy–the tragic and terribly damaging ways, for example, in which Muslims are so often painted with an incredibly broad and insidious brush, even by supposedly sophisticated folks (cough, Sam Harris).

However, the issue of police violence is a fairly specific issue, and so I’d like to offer a fairly specific proposal. To repeat: let’s work together to abolish the police.

I know, I know, that sounds fuckin’ crazy.

Now that that’s out of the way…

The vast majority of us are inclined to agree that when it comes to most goods and services, monopolies are bad news. Quality declines sharply, costs and waste increase sharply, and accountability goes mostly out the window. Only if and when would-be competitors are able to start gaining a foothold does the situation have a chance of dramatically improving.

And yet for some reason, when it comes to arguably the most critical goods and services–and law enforcement is a prime example–we seem to think that suddenly monopoly is a good thing. Any alternative is deemed unthinkable, in fact.

I honestly wonder why that is. Because that’s been drilled into us from childhood as the unquestioned norm? Perhaps we take a step back for a moment:

“It is illegitimate to compare the merits of anarchism and statism by starting with the present system as the implicit given and then critically examining only the anarchist alternative. What we must do is to begin at the zero point and then critically examine both suggested alternatives. Suppose, for example, that we were all suddenly dropped down on the earth de novo and that we were all then confronted with the question of what societal arrangements to adopt. And suppose then that someone suggested: “We are all bound to suffer from those of us who wish to aggress against their fellow men. Let us then solve this problem of crime by handing all of our weapons to the Jones family, over there, by giving all of our ultimate power to settle disputes to that family. In that way, with their monopoly of coercion and of ultimate decision making, the Jones family will be able to protect each of us from each other.” I submit that this proposal would get very short shrift, except perhaps from the Jones family themselves. And yet this is precisely the common argument for the existence of the state. When we start from the zero point, as in the case of the Jones family, the question of “who will guard the guardians?” becomes not simply an abiding lacuna in the theory of the state but an overwhelming barrier to its existence.”

That’s an excerpt from a talk delivered in 1974 by Murray Rothbard titled “Society without a State.” The average-person-on-the-street conception of anarchism seems to be of unfettered chaos; of the wholesale abolition and destruction of social structure. Granted, all manner of groups and ideologies have been labeled or self-label as “anarchism,” but anarchism as I’m envisioning it certainly doesn’t object to social structure, law enforcement, and so forth. The objection, rather, is to the monopolization of such goods and services. I’d strongly encourage you to at least dip your toes into the waters of what an alternative might look like, and Rothbard’s piece is a pretty darn good and concise dip into those waters, I think.

Should it be any terrible surprise that it’s nearly impossible under our monopolistic system to achieve even rudimentary accountability and transparency? Reliable statistics are hard to come by (hmm, it seems that federal, state, and local government agencies don’t exactly track this stuff publicly, if at all), but some estimated averages have it that of roughly 1000 killings per year by on-duty US police officers, only five cases result in criminal charges, and only one case results in even a modest criminal conviction. A conviction rate–in other words–of 0.1%. Of course, that’s the very rawest of raw data, but it absolutely strains credulity to suppose that’s a reasonable rate, as unarmed and subdued people are being shot in the fucking back for all the world to see. I won’t personally be looking to supposed “independent” prosecutions or other such tepid reforms for any genuine and lasting improvement…

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