Abolition NOT Reformation
By Sara Chitseko:
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Black communities from across the globe have united to demand justice. Historically, when Black people are killed by police, what follows is a set of "procedural reforms" which do nothing to stop police brutality and are counterproductive to community safety. Reformist approaches increase budgets for policing, reinforce the over-policing of Black communities and further expand the ‘prison industrial complex' (PIC). Rather than protecting communities, reformist approaches increase police power and make police violence more likely.
We must not allow our vision for justice and peace to be derailed by a reformist agenda. We must say no to police body cameras, no to community policing and no to increased police training. We must stand up for a society that is more radical. We must stand up for a society that has abolitionist principles at its core.
The Case Against Body Cameras
Following the police killing of Mark Duggan in 2011, in an attempt to "restore trust," body-worn video cameras were introduced for police across England and Wales. It was suggested that body cameras would make police more accountable. In reality, police often turn off the body camera as and when they like. When footage from the cameras is used in court, it is shot from the perspective of the police, therefore does not provide a full or fair picture. Even when other video evidence is available through footage captured on phones, or CCTV footage, this does not guarantee accountability. In fact, video footage of police brutality circulates online every day which has not led to justice. Body cameras increase surveillance and police budgets to buy more technology, thus increasing the scale of policing overall.
The Case Against Community Policing
In response to rising serious violence in the UK, politicians from across the political spectrum have pledged to put more "bobbies on the beat." Boris Johnson has promised to spend £1.1 billion recruiting 20,000 police officers. More police in communities and neighbourhoods will not increase safety. The only power police have, that other services don't, is the ability to use force. Deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater for Black and other minoritised communities, than it is for other deaths in custody. More community policing will disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities which are already over-policed.
The Case Against Training
In 2017, four Black men, Darren Cumberbatch, Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa, were killed following police contact, or in police custody. These killings happened within just four weeks of each other and in all deaths, restraint by police was a feature. As a result, there were calls for "better" police training. An independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody by Dame Elish Angiolini QC and a Home Office report followed.
Reformist calls for increased police training are dangerous because they perpetuate the idea that police violence occurs because of a lack of training, rather than because policing is an inherently violent institution. It also expands the scope of policing in that police increasingly become the first point of call for mental health crises and other emergencies, which are far beyond their remit and inflict further harm on our communities.
Police worn body-cameras, community policing and increased police training are not the answer. Anything which increases the scope and budget for the police is not the answer. Instead, we must demand that the government take immediate steps to reduce the police's function. Following in the footsteps of community activists on the ground in the US, such as Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective and MPD 150, we too must demand a mass shift of resources from policing to initiatives which centre community healing and health.
As abolitionists, we believe that we must work collectively to create new models for living. Imagining a future based on abolition means totally shifting how we think about living with each other. This means creating environments that provide the necessities people need to live healthy, happy lives, including safe and steady housing; sufficient food; access to health care; access to information and tools with which to process information; resources to participate in the economy; a way to express opinions, interests or concerns and freedom from physical and psychological harm, both from individuals and the state. Only then will we be able to talk about ‘safety’ and 'peace' in a way which is meaningful and substantive.