Are our communities strong enough for police to be obsolete?

Cindy Milstein considers the possibility of society without a police force.

Submitted by Cindy Milstein on January 10, 2015

A new wildly fanciful and completely essential goal, with so many potential tactical and strategic angled to make it materialize, seems to be emerging out of this upsurge -- uprising? -- ignited by Ferguson. It adorns this particular banner, carried through Denver's snowflakes on January 3, 2015, in a Justice for Ryan Ronquillo demonstration. In June 2014, according to one newspaper report, Denver "police estimate that 12 shots were fired [by them] at the 20-year-old [Ryan] — who was not armed — killing him."This somber, wintery image captures the feeling that I have too often that the social order and our social relations overall seem cold, cruel, and chilling. Each stolen life, such as Ryan's, is additional ice. One can almost believe that in this photo, all the footprints without bodies are ghosts, walking somberly too, as memories of lives lost to white supremacy and the police state.

So to get through the storm that is here, we more than ever need (and I desire) "strong communities." Such communities, if self-sustained together, in nonhierarchical and egalitarian ways, would almost by definition "make police obsolete."

Yet what truly, I think -- and I want to trust -- would make police a thing of nonnecessity is our ability to envision, prefigure, and actively practice, vigilantly, communities of care in which we understand ourselves to be interdependent, empathetic, and loving -- humanists in the best sense of word.

We would, for instance, not rejoice at the slaughter of those we understand as our "enemies"; in fact, we'd not see whole categories of people as the enemy. We would recognize that instituting a new culture -- of resistance, yes, but of creation and autonomy, freedom and dignity, would mean we'd rejoice at our ability to make better and better lives for and with each other, so all could enjoy better and better deaths, and not by murder.

I fear that we are so far from any sort of humanistic world -- indeed, as far as my home of San Francisco is from this winter scene, despite the "cold" spell here in the Bay. I carry an emptiness inside myself, always, that I'll never even remotely reach this place, this no place that is the some place of possible utopias in there here and now. It feels like a gnawing anxiety, a heavy gloom, a blizzard of aloneness; it is, also, seemingly paradoxically, what keeps me fighting and hoping.

I trudge, as if through wet and icy snow, through this life, with as much resolve, strength, and sense of promise as I can -- a foolhardy yet romantic dreamer -- in search of mapping out geographies with others of humanly scaled and ecological communities that just might start to touch on the care that I know that we're capable of, that I've seen people be capable of at specific moments, especially when they feel that something dire is at stake -- such as life itself.

What we miss, though, is that we shouldn't wait until those spikes of adrenaline -- what we call uprising or riot, social movement or rebellion -- to forge community, and then, just as quickly, let it slip away -- when those self-created spaces of resistance slip past us.

Making strong communities, making strong friendships, relationships, partnerships, bonds of affection, ties of tenderness and intimacy, the threads that hold us close, through whatever inclement conditions we face, is truly the stuff of what will make police and policing (including each other) obsolete. It is the stuff that makes notions like alienation and commodification, and all the other systemic outerwear that keep us insulated from being honest, open, and held by each other throughout this all-too-brief life of ours, obsolete too. Is the stuff, more crucially, of us reappropriating our imagination about what's possible -- more specifically about what's possible within our hearts as human beings, newly being and becoming.

"Police" have become a badge of sorts for all the ways we are compelled to endure, often disproportionately based on our perceived identity categories, damaging and deadly forms social control and domination, top-down structural violences of many inventions, and profound social misery and precariousness.

It is also the badge that we pick up, sometimes too happily or at least unthinkingly, to shield ourselves from each other at the macro and micro levels. As lived reality and metaphor, police -- the abolition of policing and imprisonment -- expansively understand, is the key to unlocking this cage we are born into without our permission and yet seem, too frequently, to learn to like or at least put up with existing within, however much we complain. We get used to the harsh weather of this bitter world, and almost wholly believe it's just a given, unchangeable, merely something that sometimes offers a bit of sun and warmth, and at other times ice and treachery.

Lately, I've been trying to toss around "prefigurative ideas" about making police obsolete, as many others are doing in this window that's opened up in history, called #BlackLivesMatter.

At best, when the window closes -- because it suddenly get sub-degree cold due to repression and/or our own ability to conceive of a world beyond this one, among other reasons -- we could have a lot fewer cops on the street and beat, and a lot fewer people black, brown, and indigenous, especially, getting murdered by them. Equally, if we could come out of this moment with people -- us -- who police ourselves less, not merely as "organizers" and "protesters" but as what it might mean to be truly humane and human within ourselves and toward others, that seems nearly as profound a victory. We, too, are the stuff of the currently weak communities, in which us humans seem to have become almost obsolete.

So perhaps now is the time to share prefigurative notions for making police obsolete as well as how we'd make our communities and ourselves strong, as in strongly interdependent and caring beings. For, to turn the banner slogan pictured here around a bit, "If police were obsolete, would our communities be strong?" And what might that look like?

This piece originally appeared on my blog, Outside the Circle, at You can sign up there to receive word when I write new pieces and/or also follow me on Twitter at @CindyMilstein. Enjoy, share, reprint, post, tweet any of my writings as long as it’s free as in “free water” and “freedom.”



9 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by jojo on January 11, 2015

If the police were obsolete and disappeared over night total mayhem would ensue, of a violent and destructive force unseen as yet. Capitalism without the police would be even worse than capitalism with the police. The two go together.

Once we have communism though the policing of society will be unnecessary.

To talk about "making our communities strong" in the context of capitalist society is an idle dream.

Gregory A. Butler

9 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Gregory A. Butler on January 12, 2015

In America, most of us live in racially and economically segregated enclaves - and we get up every day and go somewhere else to work

We aren't primitive gatherer hunters living in autonomous settlements isolated from the world

We're part of a global world

Focusing on "communities" ignores that fact

Also, under capitalism, with it's misogyny, it's racism, it's unemployment and jobless men driven by hunger to make their living with their wits and their fists, a society without police would be a rapists and burglar's paradise and a living hell for those not strong enough or well armed enough to protect their bodies and belongings with fists and guns

If you want a world without police and jails....that's going to have to wait until we have a world without money, wage labor, misogyny, homophobia, racism, and violent crime

In other words, some time after the triumph of libertarian communism, that would be a possibility


9 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by kurekmurek on January 14, 2015

I liked this peace, particularly how it connects #BlackLivesMatter with prefigurative politics of anarchism. It does not explain it much but I hope some strong social and political content develops (or developing) around this issue in USA. I would love to hear more on it.
Of course alternatively we can just wait and abolish capitalism and everything evil after revolution and that is a god-given/material/concrete/science :D