Friday, August 21, 2020

Abolishing Police Departments, Abolishing Communities

             If ever there was a blatant case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, it’s in the movement in the U.S. to defund or even abolish police departments.  There is no question that  blacks in U.S. have suffered enormously at the hands of many American policemen.  Many blacks have been hassled or harassed by policemen.  Many blacks have been physically roughed up by policemen.  Many blacks have been put in jail for crimes they didn’t commit or else put in jail for longer sentences than whites in similar situations would get.  Many blacks have, as has been discussed a lot lately, been killed by policemen.  Police departments are experienced by African-Americans as one enormous excruciating tension-pocket.  One enormous dangerous bundle of overstimulation.  The George Floyd murder is just an extreme instance of a very painful kind of overstimulation, not only for George Floyd, but for all the people in his life, all the people in Minneapolis and the U.S. who have lived up to now in a state of numbing indifference with regard to the plight of black Americans (and most Americans fall into this numbing indifference category).  This awful sadistic murder has been like a sudden trigger to awareness and a springboard to action.  All of a sudden, a large number of white Americans want to protect African-Americans from police violence.  They want to punish all the policemen involved in the George Floyd murder and make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again in the future.

            Which is why people have come up with the brilliant (lol) idea of defunding or even abolishing police departments.  Suddenly everybody has become fully aware of what is going on with African Americans.  And they want to solve the problem quickly and simply.  And the quickest simplest way of getting rid of the problem is to get rid of the source of the problem.

            Now, I know it will be said there have been many attempts to fix police departments and the problems involved.  But from my understanding, there is one aspect of the police department that hasn’t changed much and that’s the warrior model for what a policeman should be.  A warrior is not going to be thinking of how he can integrate his adversary back into society.  He is not going to be thinking of how to reform a young black lawbreaker.  The lawbreaker is simply perceived as a dangerous free-floating out-of-control figure that has to be neutralized and, in some cases, eliminated.

            Now rather than eliminate the police department entirely, there are some city governments in the U.S. that are considering another model for police identity.  This is the guardian model: the policeman as protector, even friend, who restores grounding in the community.  In Camden, NJ, the police department was literally recreated.  It was temporarily dissolved, but it wasn’t replaced with social service agencies like some seem to want in Minneapolis.  Instead, it was replaced with a police department built on the guardian model.  Crime dropped 42%.  So obviously, there was something to be said for a policeman that restored some grounding to people with troubled lives, people who were struggling in poverty.

            And yet the people in Camden still had a police department.  Social service agencies can handle some kinds of problems that police departments handle, but not hardened gangs, not terrorists.  I know Minneapolis has had major problems reforming its police department.  It should develop a solution similar to that of Camden.  If Minneapolis gets rid of its police department, it will create a void, an experiential vacuum.  People who already have a minimal conscience will suddenly feel less constrained and will get more involved in illegal activity.  Community organizations aren’t capable of effectively shutting down such activity.

            So many protesters today, overwhelmed, overstimulated by the tension-pockets of police corruption and police oppression, want to carry our cities to the opposite kind of problem: an understimulating experiential vacuum of no police.  This kind of bouncing back and forth between overstimulation and understimulation, between tension-pocket and vacuum is something I discussed a lot in my earlier articles, before I decided to focus more time on the effects of experiential vacuums.  But here, this bouncing back and forth is extremely important.  It is what happens when one lives in modern technological living environments with very little organic stimulation and one is looking for quick solutions to problems that manifest themselves as experiential distortion of too much or too little stimulation.

            The relative lack of organic stimulation is key.  It is the foundation for extreme  decisions, not only with regard to keeping or not keeping the police, but also with regard to many other life situations as well.  When we lack organic stimulation, we lack grounding.   So metaphorically speaking, we float off into a vacuum, into a feeling of numbness, until we find a cluster of figures that we can knock against, in order to feel alive.  Which creates ongoing instability both in our own individual lives, but also in the larger social situations in which we are living.  Police departments, such as the one in Minneapolis, may be so in need of reform that they have to be literally reconstituted from the ground up.  Which will take a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of fresh thinking.  But that doesn’t mean that we should eliminate police departments entirely.  The results could lead to anarchy in the communities where they had existed.  And anarchy which could result in a lot of random conflicts would be the social equivalent of entropic disintegration in a vacuum.  Just as matter can crumble apart, so can a community.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow 

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