Police State/Civil Liberties

How (Not) to Abolish The Police


There has been lot of talk about police abolition over the past year and a half. But very different proposals coincide under this language. The coming years could see the phasing out of police departments—and in their place, an array of other agencies, activists, psychiatrists, and neighborhood watch organizations enforcing the same social order under a different name.

Abolition from Above?

In March 1856, in response to unrest throughout the Russian empire, Tsar Alexander addressed his fellow nobles, proclaiming “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it is abolished from below.” At the time, few Russians could imagine the abolition of serfdom; many believed that it would lead to crime and chaos. Yet by taking the initiative to introduce reforms himself, Alexander was able to do away with serfdom without abolishing the gulf between the poor and the ruling class. This staved off real social change in Russia for half a century.

In Minneapolis, in response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, people rose up and abolished the Third Precinct of the police outright, chasing the officers out of the building and setting it on fire. That was abolition from below. Politicians always run along behind social movements, promising to grant them whatever they demonstrate themselves to be capable of achieving through direct action; consequently, some Minneapolis politicians suddenly proclaimed themselves to be advocates of police abolition, and many critics of the police once more vested their hopes in state reform.


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