This was my final essay for my composition course at Hofstra University for the semester of fall 2020. I wanted to post it on this blog since I’m proud of it. i got a 93 on it and apparently only lost points because my citations were kinda fucked up. I’ve gone through and fixed them though, so it should be perfect now. Shoutout to Awkword and the 10 Demands for Justice for inspiring this essay.
Over the past few decades, tension between police and citizens in the United States have escalated exponentially. The past year alone has seen a rise in calls to defund police departments across the country, and some have gone farther with demands to completely abolish them. Regardless of one’s perspective on the importance of police, few would suggest that the justice system is in no need of reform. The most efficient solution to the United States’ broken criminal justice system, which is plagued by racist and classist policies, is the abolition of the institution of police and carceral punishment in general.
In order to have a valid understanding of the state of policing in the United States, one must acknowledge the broken and racist criminal justice system that so blatantly criminalized low income communities of color. According to a 2013 report by The Sentencing Project, a group fighting for prison reform, a third of all black men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lifetime (Knafo). It would be outrageous to explain this staggering statistic by insinuating that a third of black males are criminals. According to that same report, “one in every six latino males, and one in every 17 white males” will be imprisoned at some point (qtd. in Knafo). If one is to believe that the color of a person’s skin has no effect on whether or not they are targeted by law enforcement, these numbers will lead them to believe that those with darker skin are more prone to crime than their lighter-skinned counterparts on the other end of the spectrum.
When most people are exposed to the idea of police abolition, they are likely to respond with either laughter or disbelief at what they deem to be a ridiculous proposition, or trepidation towards what sounds somewhat risky. After all, if nobody is around to enforce the law, will there not be an extreme rise in crime? Contrary to mainstream narratives, the police don’t solve most of the crimes committed in the United States. In reality, approximately 2% of serious crimes result in a conviction (Baughman). Approximately 99.5% of sexual assault cases result in the perpetrator getting off free (“The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”). Not only do police often fail to prevent crime, but in most communities they exacerbate it. According to research conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, “police stops may increase the likelihood that adolescents will engage in subsequent delinquent behavior” (Del Toro et al. 8261). In addition, one in thee murders by someone with whom the victim had no prior relationship are committed by police officers. As one American statistician and human rights advocate puts it, “the estimate of 1,500 police homicides per year would mean that eight to ten percent of all American homicide victims are killed by the police. Of all American homicide victims killed by people they don’t know, approximately one-third of them are victims of the police” (Ball). In other words, abolition of police forces would eliminate a third of all stranger murders in the United States.
Another common misconception is that prisons and police keep American communities safe and free of crime. However, as highlighted in a report from The Center for Popular Democracy, “the choice to invest in punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make our communities safer. Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons” (Hamaji et al. 3). A focus on improving the quality of life for impoverished communities by crafting systems that encourage safety and rehabilitation will do far more to curtail crime than a system based on punishment.
In order to keep communities safe following the abolition of police, resources must be divested to fund other, more important facets of said communities. As noted by McDowell & Fernandez, “the call to divest in a response to the fact that the United States spends roughly 100 billion dollars on law enforcement every year, an amount that rises annually. In New York City alone, the annual operating budget for the NYPD routinely exceeds four billion dollars. This is despite a consistently low crime rate and ample evidence that increased spending on law enforcement has no measurable impact on public safety” (385). This desire for divestment is not an issue unique to the American criminal justice system. The hoarding of resources and wealth is a common dilemma in many capitalist societies.
There are already several efforts to replace conventional law enforcement institutions. In Durham, North Carolina, The Harm Free Zone Project aims to enhance civilians’ ability to prevent, intervene, and respond to harm without the need for any type of law enforcement (McDowell and Fernandez 386). These types of practices have the potential to render police officers completely useless. Perhaps the most obvious concern that arises in response to the prospect of abolishing police and prisons is the freedom of rapists, murderers, corrupt police officers, white-collar criminals, and so on. The solution to this quandary is a focus on prevention, reparation, and rehabilitation, rather than on for-profit punishment.
Years upon years of research have consistently shown an inability for police to prevent and discourage crime. In far too many cases they accomplish the exact opposite of what they claim to be doing. The criminalization of low income communities of color and exacerbation of felonies by police nullifies claims that they serve their purpose in keeping safe those who they have sworn to protect. In order to ensure the wellbeing of communities across the nation, prisons and the police must be abolished, and resources must be divested into other institutions that are more conducive to a healthy and safe environment.
Ball, Patrick. “Violence in Blue.” Granta, 4 March 2016, https://granta.com/violence-in-blue/. Accessed 23 November 2020.
Baughman, Shima. “Police solve just 2% of all major crimes.” The Conversation, The Conversation US, Inc., 20 August 2020, https://theconversation.com/police-solve-just-2-of-all-major-crimes-
“The Criminal Justice System: Statistics.” RAINN, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system. Accessed 23 November 2020.
Del Toro et al. “The criminogenic and psychological effects of police stops on adolescent black and Latino boys.” PNAS, edited by Jennifer A. Richeson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 23 April 2019, https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/116/17/8261.full.pdf. Accessed 23 November 2020.
Hamaji et al. “Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities.” Edited by Jennifer Epps-Addison, Andrew Friedman, and Tracey Corder, The Center for Popular Democracy, 2 July 2017, https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Freedom%20To%20Thrive%2C%20Higher%20Res%20Version.pdf, Accessed 23 November 2020.
Knafo, Saki. “1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison In Their Lifetime, Report Warns.” Huffpost, The Huffington Post, 4 October 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-criminal-justice_n_4045144. Accessed 23 November 2020.
McDowell, Meghan and Fernandez, Luis. “‘Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition.” Critical Criminology, vol. 26, Springer Science+Business Media, 20 July 2018, https://link.springer.com/article/ 10.1007%2Fs10612-018-9400-4. Accessed 23 November 2020.