• Joy Gyamfi

Here's Why we need to Abolish the Police

CW: anti-Black racism, police brutality, death, state-sanctioned violence, anti-Indigeneity

Many narratives about police abolition have been circulating the internet. While we have been thrilled to see this take place, we acknowledge that it may feel really unfamiliar to others.

We have taken it upon ourselves to break down the necessity for the abolition of police. Continue reading to understand this call to action!

A cake with "abolition not reform" written in pink icing
Image by @thesweetfeminist

The Origins of Policing

In order to dismantle an institution like the police, it’s important to discuss how it began in the first place. There are two main narratives about the origins of policing in North America. The first is through slave patrols. These patrols consisted of white vigilante volunteers who enforced slavery laws.

They had three main functions:

  1. To hunt, arrest, and return enslaved people who escaped.

  2. To provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts.

  3. To discipline slave workers that violated plantation rules.

The second narrative is that current policing institutions in America evolved as a response to “disorder”. Disorder was often defined in terms of commercial interests – stemming from a capitalist ethic that values goods and property over lives. Police were invested in social control and the protection of property instead of crime.

But wait! You want to jump in and say, this problem doesn’t exist in Canada. That’s simply not the case. Before you dismiss these issues as specific to the United States, remember that slavery existed here.

In Policing Black Lives, Robyn Maynard writes that “fugitive slave advertisements are also important in the etymology of policing Black life in Canada… they allowed for a concerted surveillance of Blackness in the public sphere by white slave owners as well as law enforcement.”

Additionally, Canada’s mounted police have a long history of suppressing Indigenous sovereignty and enforcing settler colonialism. The original North-West Mounted Police moved Indigenous people onto reserves to free land for settlers. The evolved Royal Canadian Mounted Police took Indigenous children from their homes and placed them in residential schools.

Who/What Do They “Serve and Protect”?

Police do not serve the best interests of poor communities of colour. In fact, the very opposite is true. As noted in the origin story above, police exist to serve and protect commercial interests, and terrorize communities of colour. They serve and protect the rich and wealthy, while enacting harm and violence on Black and Brown bodies. Bodies that are often queer, trans, disabled, mentally ill, and engaged in sex work. Bodies that deserve to be protected just as much – if not more – than other bodies, due to systemic prejudices that place these bodies in a greater realm of risk.

A few recent examples:

  • Abdirahman Abdi, violently beaten and arrested by Ottawa police. He had mental health issues. (2016)

  • Andrew Loku, shot twice and killed by Toronto police. He suffered from PTSD and depression. (2015)

  • Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman who fell from her balcony while Toronto police were present. They were called to de-escalate a family fight. (2020)

  • Pierre Coriolan, tased, shot with rubber bullets, hit with a baton, and then shot twice and killed by Montreal police. He was mentally ill. (2017)

  • Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, shot and killed by Edmundston police during a wellness check. (2020)

And many others.

In the words of Desmond Cole, “the police perceive that when Black people are in a state of crisis and need support, they are committing crimes… instead of [being] given mental health support, they’re far more likely to be assaulted, they’re far more likely to be charged with crimes of assaulting the police officers, and unfortunately, they are far more likely to be killed.”

Reform Doesn’t Work

We cannot reform our way out of systemic problems. Reforms have been attempted before – racial sensitivity training, the use of body cameras, banning chokeholds, and so on. These reforms do not work, as they are simply surface-level bandages for a deep-rooted issue. A single–or even several–implicit bias workshops will not undo decades of violent police culture. Video footage–body cam or otherwise–was not enough to get justice for Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Samuel DuBose, and countless others. Banning chokeholds or other uses of excessive force is ineffective for two reasons: Who defines excessive? And how does that demilitarize or disarm the police?

The police uphold white supremacy. The police uphold capitalism. The institution of policing is inherently violent. It bears repeating – the institution of policing is inherently violent. Police exist to protect capitalist interests and terrorize communities of colour.

Desmond Cole said this on the verdict of Andrew Loku’s killer: “This verdict has been made before, about other Black people who have been killed by the police. And the recommendations that come with this verdict, have also been made before, around better training around anti-racism.”

You cannot reform a system that was – and still is – meant to harm Black people. Slavery was not reformed, it was abolished. We should view policing similarly.

Divest from police, invest in community.

According to MPD150, crime usually happens because people are unable to meet their basic needs through other means. By defunding police, we can fund community and social services that actually meet these needs. People may find it difficult to imagine a world without police. The truth is that the alternatives to police always have, and always will, exist.

Alternatives to policing look like:

  • Unarmed conflict mediation and crisis intervention teams

  • Decriminalization of nonviolent crime

  • Restorative and transformative justice

  • Adequate mental health care and support

  • Urgent responders trained in de-escalation

  • Prioritizing accountability over punishment

Call to action

So you’ve read this piece and want to join the abolition movement? Here are some tangible actions you can take:

  • Stop calling the police. Period. Here are some alternatives to calling the police.

  • Contact your local elected representative, and demand that your police department be defunded and disarmed, if not completely dismantled.

As abolitionist and activist Mariama Kabe often argues, police abolition already exists. “In communities with well-funded schools, food security, ample jobs, reliable transportation, and access to health care—communities where people's needs are met—police are mostly invisible.”

It can be helpful to assume that many statements that evoke discomfort come from sets of historically-rooted justifications. We hope this guide has helped unpack the sentiments behind abolishing the police, and reimagining what true 'service and protection' should look like.

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