“[Police:] A term which describes both individual officers and a system, or institution in society that exists only at the split between those who have and those who do not. Historically and currently, the police system has served/serves mostly as a tool for the powerful in racial and class conflict. There have not always been police institutions. Before the 19th century people took care of “crime” without an institutional police force. The police arose with the rise of the nation-state and with industrialization. They served to pacify the populace in both instances. In the U.S., the police have even more sinister origins: slave patrols (see “The Gospel or a Glock”). So the police serve interests, usually those of the more well-off in society, while the less well-off often have a very different view of the police. Additionally, the police in the western world are largely militarized. Many police departments in the United States, for example, have budgets and weaponry that far surpass the armies of small states. The police can react to the slightest domestic disturbance with extreme and overwhelming violence. Finally, the police represent the state’s monopoly on violence. Even if the police only carry tasers or handcuffs, they represent a collective power to overwhelm anyone who resists their authority.”
Above is what I believe to be a pretty decent definition of “police,” which comes from Jesus Radicals.
I think it’s really important to keep in mind historical context when having the sort of discussions that many Americans are having right now—I’m of course referring to discussions about institutional racism and the police (e.g. the notion that America was founded by white people for white people might be kind of an important thing to keep in mind when talking about stuff like this…). For many people, they cannot imagine another way to live in a society other than the one that they were born into and currently exist within. I find this lack of imagination extremely depressing. I also find it very sad and frustrating when people display shock, amazement and, ultimately, disbelief when I point out that there are indeed other ways to organize societies that don’t involve submitting to hierarchical, violent, coercive systems like the police, military and/or other government operations in order to feel safe. Just because our inherited politico-economic system (neo-liberalism) advocates/encourages hoarding resources, ruthless competition, individualism, and de-values human life, does not mean that we have to believe this system, and only this system, is the almighty Truth handed down from God!
I wrote yesterday that I would love to see police and citizens simultaneously disarm themselves in an act of solidarity and faith. What if small communities started doing this? What if small cities and towns just started actually acting like communities, voted to turn in their guns and started trusting each other (incidentally, I can’t think of a better symbol of insecurity and distrust than that of a gun being carried on one’s person). Admittedly, it would take a hell of a lot of courage to do this. Both sides (the police and the people) would be left vulnerable, but it would be a positive step, in my mind, toward something like mutual aid, where cooperation is valued over coercion and people in community work together to insure that no person is victimized by another, and that community standards of civility, mutual respect and mutual freedom are observed.
Police officers in a society like this then—one that is not coercive and authoritarian, but cooperative and persuasive—would begin to look a lot more like legitimate peacemakers, where the emphasis is NOT on things like retribution, punishment, correction or other forms of coercion or social control, but on real reconciliation that comes about (in part) by identifying and transforming the conditions that cause injustice and dis-ease in the first place (e.g. perhaps cops begin to look a lot more like therapists and doctors), with the ultimate goal being to restore shalom.