The job of a police officer is to threaten people. They carry with them the threat of punishment enforced by the government for anyone who is caught breaking a law. If you don’t act in a certain way around police, the police will use physical force against you and get away with it.
Unlike ordinary citizens, police don’t always get to choose which laws they enforce. Many of us would choose to take legal or even physical action if we saw someone being hurt or killed, but don’t tend to care when people commit parking violations or breach of copyright. We have the freedom to ignore these things, but a police officer who wasn’t willing to enforce laws they don’t agree with could very quickly lose their job. Which neighborhoods they patrol, which calls they respond to and how many citations they give out are not decisions they get to make individually; even when it is morally wrong, they have to obey the chain of command.
Preventable deaths like starvation, exposure and many illnesses regularly occur in a system that allows billionaires to make obscene amounts of money by doing little to no work, but the laws enforced by police prevent anyone from taking that money and giving it to the people who will die without it. Rich people routinely face less punishment for crimes they are caught committing because they have more access to bail money and legal teams, but they also have the options of committing white-collar crimes with less severe sentences and living in areas where they are less likely to face police harassment. In these ways and many others, the police are part of a larger system that hurts the poor to benefit the rich.
After being sentenced, prisoners are exploited by corporations for their labor. Most prisoners work directly for government-owned corporations such as UNICOR, but there are also many privately-owned businesses in the United States that rely on the involuntary servitude of prisoners for cheap labor. For instance, many inmates working at AT&T call centers are paid $2 per day, according to Prison Legal News. According to Prison Policy Initiative, the national average for non-industry jobs held by prisoners is just 86 cents per day as of 2017, with a majority of prisoners in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas not paid at all. You might recognize this as slavery.
Consider how likely it is that any recipients of the 11,000 citations issued by Dallas police for sleeping in public between 2011 and 2015 were unable to pay their fines and eventually forced to do unpaid labor in prison, and you will hopefully agree that our legal system needs to undergo drastic changes at many levels. However, most of us do not have very much power to change laws, and prisoners themselves have even less; we cannot reasonably expect every part of this system to ever become good or fair, much less within our own lives. We do have the power to seek out alternative solutions that do not involve the police or corrupt legal systems.
For these reasons, I wholeheartedly support organizations such as WeCopwatch, who aim both to hold police accountable for their actions and to create an environment where state violence is never a necessary avenue for justice. As their about page says, “the only way to make police obsolete is to not perpetuate their behaviors, and to live in such a manner where people no longer rely on police.”
Reliance on police isn’t just bad for people accused of crimes either, as this system is ineffective at performing many of the functions we ask of it which are necessary for social order. For instance, only 5 out of 1000 instances of sexual assault lead to convictions. Our society needs different avenues for dealing with issues like this because the ones we rely on now simply aren’t working. There are better solutions.
According to TIME’s history of police in the US, the police have always existed mainly to uphold property laws, but prior to the founding of Boston’s police force in 1838, business and plantation owners hired their own security instead of relying on public funding. In modern times, publicly-funded police organizations exist everywhere in the US and there are many cases of police legally murdering unarmed teenagers with the authority the state has given them.
There are many alternative ways to resolve conflicts, and they vary by circumstances. Most can be de-escalated without any outside interference, while others might involve a different phone call. The best solutions rarely involve violent force, and by using and taking part in other networks with more peaceful solutions we can make the police less necessary, and eventually redundant. After that, we can safely abolish this oppressive and counterproductive system of legal persecution.