What are the police for?

I will admit that the phrases “defund the police” and/or “abolish the police” make me uncomfortable. Which is to say, they make my privilege uncomfortable. I take for granted that the police will protect me. That they won’t shoot my children. That they will come when I call them. I believed that…until I listened to this podcast by Radiolab called No Special Duty. If you are asking “well, who will stop crime if there’s no cops?” as I was, listen to this episode.

For any of my people that are uncomfortable with the idea of defunding or abolishing. Listen to this episode.

And then sit with it.

I’ve listened to it 3 time now. I’ve read about the absolutely devastating Supreme Court case. I’ve read the news articles about the subway attack. And the question I asked myself is this: “Why do I believe the police will protect me or my property?” And here’s the thing — it is because I’m white, yes, but that’s not the whole story. The reason I believe the police will protect me is because of this silly hero narrative we tell ourselves about law enforcement. Are there police officers that are heroes — of COURSE there are. But there are also non-police people that are heroes. So that lead me to this question: “Why do I have an implicit belief that police officers are heroes?” The answer is partly because of my privilege, sure. I haven’t had many encounters with law enforcement in my life and the ones I have had were entirely harmless. But it’s not just privilege at work here — it’s a collective story we tell about the law. It’s a collective story we tell about morality. It’s an indoctrination by culture, books, movies, television, religion, and media all seeking to compel us. Compel what from us? That’s the real question. Our time. Our money. Our power. Our voice. Even our very lives. YES, all of that. So that, in the end, survival depends on capitulation. On acceptance of a story wherein police enforce the laws that protect us. But I see this story for the mirage that it is. And I’m finally in a place where I can articulate my thoughts.

(I suggest you listen to the podcast now before continuing to read. Or at least read the Castlerock v. Gonzales case. The podcast is WAY more entertaining, FYI.)

If you want to believe that the police enforce the law — that they “protect and serve” — you may do so. But do it with the understanding that you are telling yourself A STORY. Not stating fact. It’s just a story. Do it with the understanding that in a court of law — a place in which we like to tell ourselves that justice lives — police are under no obligation to protect you. Let me say that again — or here — I’ll use the words of Justice Scalia who wrote the majority opinion on the case.

We conclude, therefore, that respondent did not, for purposes of the Due Process Clause, have a property interest in police enforcement of the restraining order against her husband. It is accordingly unnecessary to address the Court of Appeals’ determination (366 F. 3d, at 1110–1117) that the town’s custom or policy prevented the police from giving her due process when they deprived her of that alleged interest.
And then he goes on to punt it back to the states and the cities to determine some recourse for the mother whose 3 daughters were murdered by a man they said they’d protect her from. There is, I’m sure a long stupidly opaque conversation to be had about tort law and precedent. To which my majority opinion is this: “Bull shit.” (And that’s not the rabbit hole into which I intend to descend right now….or ever.)

Assuming you’ve listened to the podcast now….My follow up questions for you would be:
What makes you think there are no better ways to protect communities than the current system?
What makes you believe that abolishing law enforcement as it currently exists would result in anarchy?
What keeps you up at night?

I stay up thinking about my kids. I stay up trying to figure out how I can help them live full lives. I want them to experience the breadth of their own humanity. I stay up thinking about this fucking world — this “civilization” — this system that will surround my children for their entire lives. I stay up thinking about the stories I tell myself. The ones I believed when I was a child. The ones I no longer believe. The ones I wish I’d never believed in the first place.

Whether or not you choose to believe it — whether or not it affects you personally — whether or not it ever will affect you — the story IS FALSE. The one we tell is incomplete. Our impulse to reduce everything, to make everything simple, comprehendible, it is a dangerous impulse. It is dangerous because the smallness of the story has left space for too much darkness. Too many shadows navigating beyond the light of our charming little story of good and evil. And the fear — it blossoms in the dark. Until we are too afraid to look beyond this story. This one right here. This one we have in our hand. It is so small. And we are small because of it. And the smallness makes us pliable. And it makes our memories short. And it makes our courage falter. And we lack the imagination to create a better story for ourselves or our children. THIS is what keeps me up at night. My mind stretches, wanting to see a bigger thing, any thing more than this basic story. I claw at the walls. I pace along the borders of a system of belief that seems to be collapsing far too slowly.

I do not have answers. But I am a storyteller. I do know a good story. And this one — this one where very few people hold the power to write, to tell, to narrate for everyone else, to call theirs the official account — the best way — the only way. This is a tired story. Tired. Hollow. Devoid of the complexity of humanity. It is predictable. And it reaches it’s predictable end again and again. The death of those without power. The silence of the unaffected. The strengthening of those with power.

The death of those without power. The silence of the unaffected. The strengthening of those with power.
To believe that this system is the best one is to accept this story. Do you?

I don’t.

Photo by Sides Imagery from Pexels

So — what is the story we tell about power? What is it? Who has it and why do they have it?
I think I’ll tackle those questions in another blog.
For now, listen to the podcast. Then — let’s talk!

Also, I have to add — I’m not the only one asking these questions and ruminating this way about our stories. I am directly inspired by many things but recent inspiration and credit goes to:
Exterminate All the Brutes (docuseries on HBO)
Robert Jones Jr.
Throughline (podcast about history)
HIdden Brain (podcast about psychology)
More Perfect (podcast about Supreme Court)

There are many more credits I owe to folks I follow on social media. Ask me and I’ll share their handles with you! There are SO MANY!

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