I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always been afraid of the police.
Not that I have any negative experience to make me afraid. No, I grew up White and privileged, shielded from the things they did to others.
Yet I was afraid. And I was right to be.
Because if the police can pull you over for a broken taillight, insist on a search of your car, and choke you to death when you resist said illegal search, you never want to be pulled over.
If the police can raid your house on an anonymous tip and kill your dog when it tries to protect you from the armed intruders violating your home, then leave without even an apology when they learn it’s the wrong home, you never want to have them pay you a visit.
And if they have the power to insist that the only way you’re going to get help with your heroin addiction is to plead guilty to a crime that hurt no one but yourself, you never want to ask them for help.
But that’s where we are, in the United States. We’ve expanded the role and powers of police so much, that the often the only hand being held out for those who are homeless, or addicts, or mentally disturbed, is the one holding a gun.
As we re-examine the place of police in our society, Vitale’s book is essential reading. It’s not a screed, and not wishful thinking about how everything would be peaceful if the police went away.
Instead, it takes a hard look at what the police are for, and then dares to ask the question: Are they successful at it?
As it turns out, they’re not. They’re not any good at solving homelessness, or making sex work safe, or getting addicts into recovery, or reducing gang violence, or helping the mentally ill get treatment, or disciplining school children, or even something as mundane as actually preventing crime.
Police, in a word, are a failure. They’re an experiment that we need to end.
Because the problems we’ve asked them to address can be, just by different means.
We can get the homeless into homes, and use that as a foundation to get them standing on their own again.
We can invest in businesses in and around gang-troubled neighborhoods, to give the people who might join those gangs the opportunity to do something better.
We can find other ways to discipline children than having them handcuffed and marched out of school.
The End of Police is both a passionate plea for us to find a better way, and a dispassionate look at how badly our approaches to these problems have gone wrong.
It’s not too late to try something else. We just need to make the choice.