The progressive news website Truthout has republished an article that remains as urgent today as when it originally appeared in 2014: “Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future” by Rachel Herzing, an anti-prison organizer in Oakland, California. While recognizing the importance of incremental change, Herzing’s piece lays out strategies for not merely reforming the police, but drastically reducing their presence in the lives of citizens, especially people of color. Check out an excerpt below or the full article here.
Keeping the function of policing in focus - armed protection of state interests - increases clarity about what policing is meant to protect and whom it serves. Further, that clarity helps us reflect on what asking for police accountability really means. Police forces tend to be very accountable to the interests they were designed to serve, and those interests frequently clash with the interests of the communities targeted most aggressively by policing. Recognizing policing as a set of practices used by the state to enforce law and maintain social control and cultural hegemony through the use of force reveals the need for incremental changes that lead toward the erosion of policing power rather than reinforcing it. This recognition may also move us toward ways to reduce the impacts of the violence of policing without ignoring the serious issues that lead to violence within our communities.
For anyone with experience dealing with the grinding harassment, psychological or physical harm, or death meted out by policing, it’s clear that the best way to reduce the violence of policing is to reduce contact with cops. Plans for change must include taking incremental steps with an eye toward making the cops obsolete, even if not in our own lifetimes. Taking incremental steps toward the abolition of policing is even more about what must be built than what must be eliminated. Further, it requires steps that build on each other and continue to clear the path for larger future steps while being mindful not to build something today that will need to be torn down later on the path toward the long-term goal.
Image: Demonstrators in Seattle, 2014. Via Truthout.