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By Michael Harriot

Please don’t tell me you’re becoming one of those radical people calling for the abolition of public safety officers and law enforcement departments.

I would never consider such an insane idea. In fact, no reasonable person would even suggest something like that.

Wait. I thought this was one of those thinkpieces about abolishing the police. Am I in the wrong article?

No, you’re in the right place. I, along with many reasonably credible experts believe that it is time to abolish the police.

Wait … Are you off your meds? I know you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but I just asked you a question about law enforcement and public safety two paragraphs ago and you called it a crazy idea.

Yes, it is a pretty bad idea. But we can talk about law enforcement and public safety another time. This article is about abolishing the police.

I’m confused. Aren’t we talking about the same thing?

No, we aren’t.

To police something is “to control, regulate, or keep in order” or “to supervise the operation, execution, or administration of to prevent or detect and prosecute violations of rules and regulations.” But, because of conditioning, most people assume the government entity that polices human being is synonymous with law enforcement, crime prevention and general public safety. It is not.

To be fair, it’s easy to understand why most people accept the American form of policing as the only way to achieve these goals. It’s the only method we’ve ever used for controlling, regulating and keeping citizens in order, so we assume that we can’t abolish the police.

So why is that assumption wrong?

Great question.

Why don’t people call the police when they see a house go up in flames? Do cops inspect construction sites and perform tax audits? Would you ask a patrol officer to investigate aircraft crashes or securities fraud?

But those jobs are filled by people who are specially trained in these areas.


IRS agents and building inspectors are officers who enforce laws. Firefighters protect property and are an integral part of public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration, game wardens, postal inspectors and the Securities Exchange Commission all investigate and prevent crimes. The reason why we don’t ask postal inspectors to audit taxes or firefighters to work at the post office is that those jobs require people with special skills, training and experience. Yet, when it comes to policing – one of the most important jobs in society – we have one of the shortest, most inefficient and least rigorous police training processes in the civilized world. (Antarctica, the ocean floor and Florida aren’t technically “civilized.”)

In most states, becoming a licensed barber license requires more training hours than becoming a certified police officer. We hire people as young as 18, train them for an average of 18 weeks, train them to shoot people, give them the tools, the power and the immunity to kill people and then say:

“They probably won’t kill anyone.”

That’s why we need to abolish the police.

Come on man, we don’t “train them to kill people.” Don’t you think that’s a little inaccurate?

Not as inaccurate as when you refer to them as “law enforcement officers.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2018, the average police academy dedicated 73 hours to firearms training, 61 hours to defensive tactics and another 21 hours to less-than-lethal weapons (By the way, “defensive tactics” is defined as weapon retention, ground fighting, verbal commands, chokeholds and pressure point control).

Those 155 hours learning how to shoot, incapacitate, restrain and kill taxpayers is twice the average number of hours police trainees spend studying the actual law. More importantly, the average recruit only spends about 21 hours learning about the use of force, 12 hours studying ethics or integrity, 14 hours on cultural diversity and 18 hours on de-escalation.

That’s why we need to abolish the police.

Wait … Are you telling me that law enforcement officers aren’t required to learn the law?

No, sir. I’m not the one who surveyed 681 state and local law enforcement academies that “provided basic training to entry-level officer recruits in the United States.” I didn’t examine the training tactics used to train 59,811 police officers in 2018. My name is not “The Bureau of Justice Statistics.” That’s who’s telling you.

I’m just wondering why you call them “law enforcement officers” if they don’t know the law they supposedly enforce. How can anyone in this country be shocked by police brutality when we train them to be brutal? The largest part of their training is learning to shoot people and the smallest part of their training is learning cultural competence.

They are going to shoot Black people. That’s what they do.

Expecting cops to not shoot Black people is more insane than abolishing the police.

That’s a good reason to abolish the police.

But wouldn’t crime explode if we abolished the police?

Why do you keep bringing up this mythical notion that cops fight crime and enforce laws?

Police only solve about 2 percent of all major crimes, partly because most crimes go unreported. They solve less than half of violent crimes and about a third of the property crimes that are reported, according to Pew Research and the BJS. Those clearance and crime rates also include “police-created crimes,” low-level offenses that didn’t exist until police manufactured them using stings, traffic stops and stop and frisk techniques. When you include the fact that most crime victims know the perpetrator, you realize that police respond to crimes; they don’t prevent them.

So, in this magical, cop-free world where police are abolished, there’s no crime?

Of course crime still exists.

In my world, people still drive above the speed limit and murder people. There would still be car crashes and burglaries and assaults and mental health emergencies and noise complaints and white women who notice suspicious negroes waltzing through white neighborhoods. But, if America had to start from scratch and come up with a system to enforce traffic laws, stop crime, address drug use, respond to mental health crises, settle disputes between neighbors and catch criminals, no sane human being would say:

“OK, how about we just pass out guns to ex-high school football players — but only the least educated ones who aren’t skilled enough to work in any other sector — and see what happens?”

No one has suggested that we stop enforcing laws and fighting crime. But police don’t do any of that. These crime-fighting law enforcement officers of public safety do not fight crime, enforce laws or keep the public safe.

Did the Louisville cops who killed Breonna Taylor make the public safer by shooting through her apartment door of an occupied apartment building? What crime did the LAPD prevent by beating Rodney King? Which law was the “elite” Scorpion squad enforcing when they stopped Tyre Nichols?

They were policing.

That’s what we should abolish.

So how do we enforce the law, keep people safe and fight crimes after we abolish the police?

I know this sounds crazy, but if we were really concerned about public safety, we should hire public safety officers.

We know that ticketing speeders, issuing fines and performing traffic stops don’t make it safer to drive; it criminalizes poverty, makes it more expensive to drive and makes it more dangerous for police officers and citizens. In my crazy world, a combination of traffic safety officers, cameras and traffic control techniques would endeavor to make the roads safer.

We know that arresting someone for drug possession makes them more likely to die from an overdose. We know that prosecuting and incarcerating drug dealers does not decrease drug use. An effective drug enforcement agency would try to actually decrease the use of illegal substances instead of siccing police at the drug problem.

Solving and preventing crimes requires ingenuity, training and expertise. Instead, we assume that patrol officers who perform traffic stops and respond to 911 somehow become magically equipped with the education, experience and detective skills to solve complex crimes. Why not hire people with four-year degrees in criminology, forensics and the areas that make them effective at performing their jobs?

Of course, we’d still have bank robberies, shootouts, domestic violence and dangerous situations, so we’d still need people with guns. But when you have dispatchers sending mental health officers to mental health emergencies, trained detectives heading up criminal investigations, traffic safety experts improving traffic, drug agents and mediators mediating and analysts analyzing, guess what happens?

The number of gun-toting law enforcement agents needed would be so small, you’d be able to vet and hire well-trained, qualified cops who know about laws and have been trained in de-escalation tactics, cultural sensitivity and community collaboration. And since they wouldn’t be tasked with stopping cars, frisking pedestrians and busting into trap houses, they’d likely have fewer deadly interactions and use-of-force incidents. They’d also probably arrive at scenes quickly, which might allow them to save more lives.

Because we abolished the police.

Wow! Abolishing the police would actually be more effective at enforcing laws, making the public safer and fighting crime. So why haven’t we abolished the police?

Because white people don’t care.

If an over-the-counter drug killed 1,000 people, hospitalized another 85,000, and adversely affected another million Americans, the federal government would declare a national emergency and take it off the market as a matter of public safety. Police put up those deadly numbers every year. But since Black people are disproportionately injured, abused and killed by police, white people don’t care.

Tamir Rice did not commit a crime. George Floyd posed no threat to the public’s safety. Atiana Jefferson was not breaking the law. Yet, they are all dead because white people don’t care that Black people are policed.

Come on, you always say that you can’t know what’s in someone’s heart. So how do you know white people don’t care? Maybe they don’t understand that abolishing the police doesn’t mean abolishing public safety and law enforcement.

“Feeling” something is different from “caring.” A person can feel bad about a video of cops hurting a specific person, but if they cared about the issue, they would address it.

Numerous polls show that the majority of white people don’t feel that police treat Black and white people equally. Yet, most whites still don’t agree that we need more progress on police reform. A 2022 Gallup poll found that white Americans were the sole demographic that doesn’t feel as if “major changes are needed to address policing.”  In fact, can you do me a favor?

Name a single social, economic or political problem that has been ignored even though a majority of white people care about the issue.

America leads the world in mass shootings because white people are the only demographic that doesn’t feel that gun violence is a very big problem. Black people fought for more than a century for the right to vote, yet when white people felt their votes weren’t being counted, lawmakers immediately proposed more than 800 bills in 44 states. At least 33 state legislatures have introduced anti-critical race theory bills because white people were afraid their children were learning how not to be racist.

Conservatives who called for the abolition of the IRS don’t plan to get rid of taxes. States that abolished abortion made exceptions for incest and rape. And when we called for the abolition of slavery, no one jumped to the conclusion that we were eliminating the need to grow cotton or be lynch belligerent Black people. Abolishing the dysfunctional part of a system is the first step to improving it better.

Black people have been screaming about and protesting police abuse for more than two centuries. David Walker wrote about it in his 1829 appeal. Ida B. Wells spoke about it in 1909.  In 1963, at the largest protest in American history, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

Cops enforce laws, solve crimes and keep the white members of the public safe by policing Black people. Philando Castile was policed. Sandra Bland was policed. Michael Brown was policed. Eric Garner was policed. But, because white people are satisfied, Black people continue to be victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We will never be unsatisfied …

Until we abolish the police.