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Does “Abolish the Police” = “Abolish Law Enforcement”?

In my recent response to R. Scott Clark, someone replied:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.49.01 PMThis type of response just confirms my complaint that Clark and others are being too simplistic. They just beg the question. What is meant by “there should be no police”? Is it the same thing as “there should be no enforcement of the law” (i.e. “there should be no administration of justice”)? I highly, highly doubt that is what was meant (again, no source is provided to determine for sure). The error is that Clark (and Sanduleac above) are simply equating the police with law enforcement rather than seeing the modern police force as one possible type of law enforcement. The modern police force is modern. It has not always existed. Proponents of “social justice” are commenting on the modern police force in America, not Rome or ancient Israel or 16th century England (just as American colonists were commenting on King George specifically, not all civil government in general).

The idea of a professional, uniformed police force is so firmly ingrained into our concept of society that it’s easy to think of the police as one of the most ancient governmental institutions. It may be surprising, then to learn that the idea of police officers as we know them is an extremely young concept, dating back to only the 19th century. As did most governmental institutions, law enforcement agencies in society evolved slowly over time.

In ancient societies, there was no official law enforcement function and very little, if any, attempts at organization. Instead, individuals, families, and clans took it upon themselves to take revenge against those who may have injured or offended them. The idea of crime prevention was almost nonexistent in the early history of law enforcement and criminology…

After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the responsibility for maintaining order fell once again to local authorities. In England, society reverted to the ancient notion that individuals were responsible for themselves and their own protection.

English law provided individual subjects with the authority and responsibility to use force in order to maintain control. Neighbors were expected to help each other. This form of social control was referred to as “Kin Policing” by English historian Charles Reith because it relied on the idea that families and clans were responsible for the actions of their own members.

Early History of Policing

God’s revealed law for Israel functioned in that manner (Num. 35:9-34; Deut 19:1-13; Josh 20:1-9). So did Ancient Greece. “No Greek community had a police force in a modern sense of the term.” There have been many different ways in which justice has been enforced throughout history. Law enforcement (the administration of justice) does not require a modern police force, which dates back to the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.

Early law enforcement was reactionary, rather than pre-emptive—the watch usually responded to criminal behavior only when requested by victims or witnesses… A new and improved law enforcement system [was] implemented first by England in 1829: a stronger, more centralized, preventive police force, designed to deter crime from happening, rather than to react once it had occurred.

The Early Days of American Law Enforcement

So when someone says we should get rid of this modern attempt at law enforcement because it’s not working, there is no reason to run screaming for Romans 13.

The concept of a centralized, professional police force was a tough sell initially and was met with a tremendous amount of resistance. The public feared that a police force would essentially behave as another arm of the military. As result, there was an understandable reluctance to agree to be controlled by what many assumed would be an occupying force… Over the next century and beyond, the concept of policing evolved in the U.S.

The History of Modern Policing: How the Modern Police Force Evolved

Note: “agree to be controlled.” That’s the consent basis of government. Some people today no longer consent to this modern version of law enforcement, which has evolved and become more militarized (as initially feared). For example:

For decades before the fateful Simi Valley verdict [the King riots], however, the LAPD had been the nation’s leading model of “professionalized policing.”

When the legendary Bill Parker took over the LAPD in 1950, he immediately began applying his experience as a decorated World War II veteran. Effectively, he made his police force into a kind of domestic military.

Seeing egregious problems with corruption and inefficiency, he slimmed down the force, creating an administrative structure that was meant to insulate his officers from political and public pressures. Parker wanted his department to set its own agenda, and he wanted his officers thinking of themselves as crime-fighting professionals, not on-call neighborhood boy scouts. On his watch, the sleek and imposing squad car replaced the friendly beat cop. His police academy trained recruits in tactics modeled on military peacekeeping efforts. Some credit the legendary chief with coining the term “thin blue line.”

How Expecting Police To Be All Things To All People Can Fuel Violence (The Federalist)

All arguments to “abolish the police” that I have read are arguments to abolish the modern, present day police force – not to abolish the administration of justice and enforcement of law.

We don’t consider the abolition of police a viable position to take because we believe they’re the only thing standing between upstanding citizens and the violence of the deranged… But does this mean we want police, or safety and security? Safety and security are ideas, ones that may never be fully achieved, and the police are an institution that have proved themselves capable of only providing the illusion of safety and security to a select few. The bulk of their jobs has nothing to do with violence prevention… The police are not performing the function we say they are, and there are real ways to achieve a world with less violence that don’t include the police. We simply haven’t tried.

Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality.

“our police is not working—we need to replace it with something new,” Jessica Disu says. “It’s more than a repair. We need something new.”…

The idea of police abolition can’t be understood separately from the wider prison abolition movement [Note Vern Poythress’ recognition that prison is unjust and unbiblical. -BA]…

“For me prison abolition is two things: It’s the complete and utter dismantling of prison and policing and surveillance as they currently exist within our culture. And it’s also the building up of new ways of intersecting and new ways of relating with each other….

That’s because Kaba, who recently moved back to New York after more than 25 years in Chicago, insists that abolition is not about destruction and anarchy—it’s about building alternatives…

“The closer you get to it, and the more you work on it, the more you realize that the system is not fixable the way it is,” says attorney Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which has litigated civil rights lawsuits on behalf of Illinois prisoners for years.

Abolish the police? Organizers say it’s less crazy than it sounds.

They want to get rid of this modern system because they see the problem as systemic. There’s nothing unbiblical about that (though it is certainly possible to go about it in an unrighteous manner).

You may be thinking right about now: But what do I do if someone breaks into my house? Or if someone attacks me? How could peace circles possibly solve Chicago’s rampant gun violence problem?

Kaba says these kinds of skeptical questions are normal.

“The options when harm comes to you in this country are what?” she asks. “Call the police and get somebody from the outside involved in your process, or figure it out on your own. Doing nothing is not a good option for a lot of people . . . you shouldn’t have to choose between going to the state or doing nothing.”

Gosh, that sounds almost like the ancient practice mentioned above.

In fact, read this account of the very biblical alternative they are practicing in some instances (Ex. 22:3):

Ucker and other volunteer facilitators also make themselves available to help resolve conflicts for neighbors and friends seeking alternatives to calling the cops.

“There’s another infrastructure here, there’s another system here,” Ucker says, contrasting peace circles to policing. “But it can respond just as effectively to harm.”

Some people call this approach “restorative justice,” where the desires of the people harmed are prioritized alongside accountability for those responsible.

Ucker illustrates the idea with an anecdote:

“There was a robbery at this store in the community. One of the people at the store whose stuff was taken said, ‘Look, I don’t want to call the cops. Is there anything we can do? . . . They found on Facebook that this young person was selling their stuff, and that young person happened to go to a school where we’d done some circles, so I knew a teacher at the school and could say, ‘Hey, this is where we’re at.’ ”

Eventually, he says, robber and robbed were brought back together.

“That young person ended up returning what he had that hadn’t been sold, and then working at the shop in restitution for everything else,” Ucker says. “Then it turned out he really liked working there, and after this agreement was over, he continued to go there and volunteer. There was a relationship built there.”

As Poythress explains, this approach is much more biblical than the modern prison system that punishes people for crimes against “the state” rather than requiring restitution to the actual victim.

So enough with the knee-jerk superficial responses to this issue. Let’s roll up our sleeves a bit more.

(Just to be clear, as I said in the previous post, I do not necessarily agree with “social justice” assessments of current problems, and I definitely disagree with many of their proposed alternatives. This post is specifically about demonstrating “abolish the police” is not an unbiblical proposal).

 

For Further Reading:

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