Beyond Prisons—Episode 18: The End Of Policing feat. Alex Vitale
Professor Alex S. Vitale joins the Beyond Prisons podcast to discuss his book, “The End Of Policing,” which provides a historical analysis of law enforcement and police reform in the United States and argues for alternatives.
Vitale tells us about how he came to write this book and walks us through the early history of police in the United States. He discusses the popular myths surrounding policing, underscoring their conflicts with the roles police have played as managers of inequality from colonialism, to the emergence of a mass industrial working class, to slavery.
Vitale discusses the litany of problems inherent to the most popular police reforms touted by liberals in recent decades. He discusses how these reforms fall short and why they distract and fail to address root causes. He also talks about how these reform approaches lack a critical analysis of the legal frameworks police use and how the strategy of professionalizing police forces has been more about restoring public confidence than addressing issues of safety and justice.
We discuss how police don’t make schools make schools safer, don’t deter gang activity, how they perpetuate homelessness, and more, and examine the enormous investments we make in law enforcement that could be put to much better use empowering communities in ways that reduce harm.
Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project there. He has spent the last 25 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have appeared in the New York Daily News, New York Times, Nation, Gotham Gazette, and New Inquiry.
Follow Alex Vitale on Twitter: @avitale
Get a copy of “The End Of Policing” from Verso Books—50% off for entire month of December 2017.
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Music & Production: Jared Ware
Jay Ware: Welcome to Beyond Prisons, this is Jay. Kim wasn’t able to join Brian for this week’s interview, but she will be back for next week’s episode. This week Brian talks to Alex Vitale. Vitale is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and coordinator of the Policing and Social Project there. He has spent the last 25 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. He is also a frequent essayist whose writings have appeared in the New York Daily News, New York Times, The Nation, Gotham Gazette, and (The) New Inquiry.
His new book, The End of Policing, attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice, even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world in covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad ranges of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve. In contrast, there are places where are the robust implementation of alternatives such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction, has led to reductions in crime, spending and injustice. The best solution to bad policing is maybe an end to policing.
Also, we finally got a new Patreon page up to help us make this podcast sustainable for Brian, Kim and myself. You can find it at patreon.com/beyondprisons and we greatly appreciate your support if you’re able to give something to help sustain this work going forward.
We hope you enjoy Brian’s conversation on The End of Policing with Alex Vitale.
Brian Sonenstein: Thank you so very much for recording this with us today, or with me today…Kim was not able to join us. I have to say the book was really excellent. It’s called the end of policing; it’s out on Verso (Books) now…I think just to start, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your work and how you came to write to this book.
Alex Vitale: I am a sociologist in Brooklyn College, and I run the Policing and Social Justice Project here as well. I’ve been working on policing issues for over 25 years now. I started at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness in the early 90s working on housing policy. A lot of the folks that we (at the coalition) were working with were reporting a real uptick in harassment from the police at that time and my boss asked me to look into it. What I discovered were the early stages of the implementation of broken windows policing across the U.S. Through a long, convoluted process, that [research] led to my first book City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics.
That book made me very aware of the dynamics of community policing and the ways in which it often allowed police to capture the community and reframe all the community’s concerns as policing concerns that often ended up just further criminalizing the most vulnerable populations in a community. So, over time I was noticing increasingly people calling for/on community policing as a solution to the problems of abusive policing. My analysis was always that this is a problem of over-policing and the brutality is just the top-end of that, the tip of the iceberg. What we need is an analysis of police reform that gets to the bigger problem of over-policing, not just these high profile, occasional incidents that happen to get caught on videotape. And so, that’s the origins of this book.
It was all sort of thought out of before Ferguson, before Eric Garner, and I kinda put it on hold for a couple of years to write dozens of op-eds and essays to try and get some of these ideas out there, test them out a little bit, get feedback, develop my research, etc. Then finally [I] was able to come back to it full time and get it out there.
Brian: Well I think it’s an incredibly important contribution, and there’s so much that we could cover today if we had unlimited time. To start, I would like to talk about the first two chapters of the book, which are primarily concerned with the history of policing in America. [It’s] the popular myths about policing that we have versus the reality of law enforcement and an overview and your analysis on many of the reforms that are being offered up today and how they may miss the mark and fail to address a lot of the root causes behind the issues that they are put on those beats to deal with. Would it be possible for you to provide a little bit of a historical overview of the police in the United States, mainly where policing came from, how it’s been used and who its benefited historically in the United States…just because I think it’s important if we are gonna talk about where we are and where we’re going, we gotta talk about how we got here.
Alex: So, we’re usually confronted with this kinda liberal mythmaking about police, that the police are kind of professional, politically neutral bodies whose job is to enforce the law; that they’re the front end of the criminal justice system. But I try to point out in the book, that the historical origins of the police have very little to do with law enforcement. They have more to do with the managing of profound inequalities. and in particular, the lengths between three very important 19th century political economic phenomena: colonialism, the emergence of a mass industrial working class, and slavery. That policing was a solution to a set of political problems that elites were facing in terms of how to manage the inequalities, resentments, conflict, [and] uprisings that these modes of economic exploitation, in essence, produced. Throughout the development of policing in the western world, we can see the interweaving of these three dynamics and how they are managed.
For instance, the first state police in the United States created around 1905 was the Pennsylvania State police. It was created because local police in rural Pennsylvania could not be counted upon reliably to shoot at striking miners. So, they needed a new force capable of putting down these strikes, including the use of deadly violence. The model for the Pennsylvania state police was the American colonial occupation forces in the Philippines that were there as a part of the Spanish-American War.
We can see similar dynamics with the emergence of the Texas Rangers, who are essentially a colonial police force that then morphed into a kind of Juan Crow policing, which is the suppression of Mexican-American communities, the denial of their voting rights, the suppression of unionization movements, etc. And of course, the legacy of slavery throughout the South and how the management of slave populations then becomes transformed into policing.
My book argues, in fact, that the Charleston [Guard and Watch], created in the late 1700s, probably is the modern police force in the Western world that predates the development of the London Metropolitan police in 1829. The primary (but not sole) focus of that was [Guard and Watch] was the management of a mobile slave population in Charleston that lived with their owners but worked in wharves, in factories, and warehouses throughout the city. [It] was the subject of a great deal of social anxiety by the white population, who are caught in this contradiction of wanting to have the cheap industrial work force but fearing that their social mobility could lead to uprisings, revolts, and even low-level criminality. This new police force is created to manage that population.
Brian: Great. The next thing I wanted to ask you, going off of that and on our way to talking about reforms today. I just wonder if you want to flesh this out a little bit. I remember in the beginning of the book when you’re talking of the role of reform in changing police forces over time, from this early period of policing in the United States, and the goals of that reform had more to do with appearances than outcomes, perhaps. Is there anything you want to say about that?
Alex: Not just appearances, not just appearances. See, part of the liberal myth, right, is that the police are neutral performers of the law.
Alex: Extending from that myth is that process is legitimate and desirable. When there are problems, what’s important is that we return to that mean, to that point of the professional, neutral enforcer of the law, and that deviations from that have to be understood as producing these legitimations crises for the police. The goal of that is always to restore that public confidence in the police. But what’s missing from that conversation is any kind of critical assessment of what the legal frames are that the police have been asked to enforce.
So, Naomi Murakawa, who I talk about in the book, her book The First Civil Right talks about how liberals who saw racist policing in the South and the abusive policing in the ghettos of the North, and their solution was not to address the roots of racial inequality, not to question the legal frames that police were using to carry out abusive and discriminatory policing. It was to further professionalize the police with the goal of restoring public confidence, i.e. confidence within the African-American community and a liberal white community looking on in horror at the abuses. We’re making the same exact mistakes today.
If you look at Obama’s 21st century policing report, it basically says the same stuff that liberal reformers said the 1960s: we need to better train the police, better equip the police, give the police more resources. The goal of that is to make them nicer, less biased, and more professional in their interactions, but never really addresses the mission that police have been given. In particular, this explosive expansion of the police mission over the last 40 years that’s tied to things like the War on Drugs, the rise of broken windows policing, the War on Terrorism, etc., and so much of the problems that communities of color with over-policing are tied to this expansion of policing rather than some problem of discourteousness or failure the law properly.
Brian: I really appreciate that part because of the resonance it has with the current conversation around police reform, probably criminal justice, and even prison reform today. [It’s] the same fundamental mistakes and mischaracterizations that we see. I was wondering next if we can talk about some of these popular forms and if you can just give your take on how they miss the mark and expand on this a little bit. One of them that we hear a lot about increased training of police officers, body cameras, diversity in police forces [and] things like drug courts. Can you speak to any of those things specifically? Then after that I would love to do is to dive in a little bit more into some of the specific areas that you bring up as chapters throughout the book.
Alex: Well, there’s a lot to talk about…
Brian: Yeah! *laughs*
Alex: …In terms of these failed liberal reforms, most of which lack real evidence to support them. So, you hear a lot about training, and the big areas of interest right now are things like procedural justice training and implicit bias training. I think these are both highly misguided. On the one hand, the backers of these kinds of training have strong evidence to point to. We do know that people have implicit biases. that these are not explicit, intentional racisms but that when in a split-second decision making is called for, we see patterns of bias. Similarly, with procedural justice, we see that people rate the effectiveness of the police or their acceptance of the police based on the quality of communication and the professional demeanor of the police rather than the concrete outcomes of the interactions. That’s a robust literature that’s pretty consistent.
The question is how should that be applied to the issue of police reform. So, implicit bias assumes that somehow we can develop training that will undermine this implicit bias so that officers are less likely to shoot black suspects, or less likely to profile people, or less likely to be discourteous in certain situations. So, first of all, there’s not much research to show that that part is true, that you can actually develop training that can do that.
Second, it doesn’t make any difference even if you do because of two other problems. One, there’s a lot of explicit racism in policing. Unfortunately, whenever we dig deeply under the surface, we find emails, we find radio transmissions, we find message boards that are filled with racist discourse from police. But the other is the mission that they have been given is predicated on reproducing racial inequality and the most obvious example has been the War on Drugs. A procedurally proper, unbiased, legally appropriated pursuit of the War on Drugs is still horribly unjust, and no amount of implicit bias training is gonna change that. Procedural justice, this idea that we can train officers to better communicate, this is not gonna work either, and there’s no real evidence to support that it will work. At best, what it will do is make people feel better about what the police are doing without interrogating in any meaningful way the mission they have been given and the implications of that mission for communities of color in particular.
Alex: Body cameras have been in the news a lot. There’s new research since the book came out that in Washington, DC that show they have absolutely no affect on the number of complaints, the number of injuries, people in police custody, etc. Increasingly what we’re learning is that they are being used primarily as tools of surveillance and PR for police departments and that people who have complaints that they have been arrested unjustly or have been abused in some way are not able to get the footage. The media can’t get the footage. But, any time the police save someone from a car crash, they immediately produce a PR clip and get it out in the media. Or when it exonerates an officer, that gets released immediately. So I think we have to really question this decision to give up a huge amount of privacy under the understanding that it would enhance police accountability because we’re really not seeing much on the police accountability side.
You mention specialized courts. We created a flurry of courts: drug courts, mental health courts, sex trafficking courts, and the outcome of these courts is not very good. The drug treatment, drug policy movement that back a lot of the formation of these courts has largely rejected them as a failed experiment. What they do is continue to maintain the primacy of the criminal justice system in addressing what are fundamentally social and public health problems. So, what’s happening is in many places if you need drug treatment, the only way you can get it is to get arrested and have a judge force you to go because of these services are in such short supply and these courts have captured the few available beds that they can give this appearance of engaging in problem solving. In many cases, people spend more time under criminal justice supervision. The outcomes are no better, sometimes worse, and it continues to conceptualize these problems as primarily ones of criminal justice management rather than public health.
Brian: Right, and I guess what it amounts to in terms of an intentional allocation of resources is that greater and greater investments in the police and the expansion of police forces while the communities, services and safety nets that really need these resources and the lack thereof are reproducing these problems over and over continues to ignore and I want to read just one paragraph here from your chapter “The Limits of Police Reform”, which I thought put this very succinctly:
“Any real agenda for police reform must replace with police with empowered communities working to solve their own problems. Poor communities of color have suffered the consequences of high crime and disorder. It is their children that are shot and robbed; they have also been to bear the brunt of aggressive, invasive, and humiliating policing. Policing will never be a just or effective tool for community empowerment, much less racial justice. Communities must directly confront the political, economic, and social arrangements that produce the vast gulfs between the races and the growing gaps between the haves and the have-nots. We do not need empty police reforms, we need a robust democracy which gives people the capacity to demand of their government and of themselves, non-punitive solutions to their problems.” I thought that was just a really great way to put it.
One of the other things that you mentioned that is the government, and our society are increasingly giving police various missions that they are not equipped to take on, or just shouldn’t be criminal justice issues in the first place such as public health issues, economic issues, or what have you. I thought, maybe, it would be a good idea just to talk about a couple of the ones that you raise in the book.
One of them is the expansion of school-resource officers, and we hear a lot about school-to-prison pipeline. I was wondering if you can give a little bit of an overview of the expansion of school resource officers in the United States but also this dynamic of tasking police with jobs and roles that they are not equipped or that are completely counter-productive, and how that plays out.
Alex: What I try to do throughout the book is look at concrete things we’ve asked police to do, and look at the origins of that, the outcomes of that, and then think about some of the reforms that have been proposed and critically assess them and then look at alternatives that don’t rely on policing at all.
The first example that I start with is the expansion of school policing, which is predicated on two ideas: one is that armed police will prevent the kinds of mass shootings that happened in Columbine. But one of the things people fail to often realize about that narrative is that there were armed police at Columbine that day. They made no positive difference at all in the outcome with that. It’s mania to put more guns in school as a safety measure. [It] seems deeply problematic to me and there is no evidence to support it in terms of outcome. School shootings continue to happen, and we have to directly deal with the causes of those school shootings, rather than engaging in this kind of target-hardening.
The second, and much more cynical and invidious is this notion of the juvenile super-predator, which emerged in the mid-1990s from deeply conservative criminologists engaged in an ideological project of demonizing young people of color based on extremely thin evidence. They claimed that we were producing a generation of sociopathic super-predators who would sooner kill you than look at you, and that we should expect an explosive wave of horrific juvenile violent crime. Well, every single year after that prediction was put out, criminal behavior by young people fell. Juvenile violence declined.
But [Bill] Clinton, and other politicians across the country picked up that rhetoric and used it to justify a whole raft of more intensive and more punitive criminal justice policies including the expansion of school policing, and Clinton puts millions of dollars into hiring school police and sort of creates an ideological framework for justifying this. But there’s no evidence that school policing makes kids safer. The whole premise is misguided, and I would argue basically racist. Schools were at the time and continue to be today the safest place that young people spend time.
By militarizing and policing these schools the way that they are policed, we create insecurity in the minds of these young people and fail to address the actual problems that undermine both their performance in school and their sense of safety. Increasingly, this model of school policing has been tied to the dynamics around charter schools and high stakes testing where young people who drag down the test scores in the school are basically criminalized and driven out as part of a policy of ramping up test scores.
Brian: Your chapters focus in a lot of different areas here, I wish we had time to go through all of them. I will encourage you to pick up the book, we talk about mental health services, homelessness, sex work, the war on drugs, immigration and political policing, policing of speech and protest. Two sections that stood out to me and that have relevance and not just with police, but prisons as well has to do with gangs and homelessness, And specifically gangs. You know, gang designations and the suppression tactics with dealing with gangs, just creates this system that is completely self-perpetuating. [These tactics also set] itself up for all kinds of human rights abuses, civil rights abuses and sets itself up for distrusting communities and actually creating blowback and making these conditions worse.
You point out, I believe, in the book that people who are charged and arrested and convicted for gang offenses get out of prison eventually and they don’t have any opportunities for employment or housing or their opportunities are severely limited. They go back to these communities and [the cycle] just keeps going on and on again. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the tactic around gangs and explain to people how this just creates a snowballing effect of gang violence and membership.
Alex: There are a series of things have been adopted in relationship in a kind of gang-suppression policing model, which treats youth violence as a problem to be criminalized rather than a problem to be prevented through a series of community based interventions. Some of the things we see are the development of gang databases in places like California, Chicago, New York and other places that are labeling people as gang members with no due process, oversight, and no independent monitoring. That designation is used to try and get enhanced charges against people, more punitive plea agreements, deny people bail and arrested, etc.
They’re also used for another form of this which is the gang injunction, where cities come in and declare a gang and everyone who’s associated with it as an illegal entity and places restrictions on them in terms of association and certain kinds of public behaviors. Again, there’s very little due process, often the individuals are not named. They don’t really have the right to contest their inclusion in these things and people basically can be criminalized for hanging out with relatives, lifelong friends, etc.
Third is the use of these broad-ranging conspiracy indictments where there may be some underlying violent crime like a shooting. But, what they’re doing is instead of trying to identify the shooter and those that directly took part in the violence. They’re trying to build cases against every single young person who they can link to the shooter in any way.
So, two kids get arrested in the park selling marijuana. Five years later one of them does a shooting. Now, they are saying that both kids are part of an ongoing criminal enterprise and that the shooting was in furtherance of that criminal enterprise, and thus they’re both guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. They’re dragging in dozens, over a hundred in some cases, young people from a single community and charging them all with these incredibly severe violent crimes, holding them without bail, threatening them with decades in prison, and in many of the cases the plea deals are based solely on the testimony of other young people trying to avoid similar fates. And no physical evidence and often no actual allegation of their actual involvement in any violence. So even if all of these were somehow effective, and there is very little evidence that they are, there are alternatives to driving more people into the criminal justice system and just recreating mass incarceration.
We can just look at a study that was just released a few weeks ago that was evaluating a bunch of pure violent sites here in New York. This is a kind of national strategy to do community based anti-violence work where folks from the community are hired to go out to talk to young people in hopes of breaking the cycle of back-and-forth violence and trying to direct kids into pro-social activities. The results here in New York are incredibly positive. They have had dramatic reductions in gun violence and those reductions have been compared to controlled neighborhoods with similar demographics and the results remain incredibly positive. Nobody goes to prison. No money gets spent on jail and policing. these programs are cheap to operate, and they develop communities; they don’t tear them apart.
Brian: Yeah, on that subject of money, I had another question about anticipating some of the arguments that we already hear and may hear. A lot of what this book is advocating, and I think very sensibly, is for a focus on the root causes of various social issues, uplifting communities, repairing and building safety nets, deal with these issues, and developing holistic, or I think as you call it in the book, “wrap-around responses”, instead of falling back on social management, coercion, and punishment.
But a lot of times what we might hear, especially with more conservative policy circles is the question, “Who is gonna pay for this? Where is the money gonna come from?”, without recognizing how we’re already allocating resources in this problem, and as you describe in the book, without good reason or evidence or positive effect. Could you address this topic of how we spend our money and how the investments in the alternatives that you describe might not only just have better outcomes, but are in a lot of ways, better uses of money because…for example, treating people for mental illness in prison is far more expensive than doing on the outside. I just wondered if you had anything to say about the economic side of it.
Alex: Well, let’s just talk about two dynamics in relationship to the cost of all of this. One is that we had a little research project here in Brooklyn a number of years ago where we looked at the addresses of people sent to prison in New York State. Not the address where the crime occurred, but the address of the person who was being incarcerated. And what we found is that there were single blocks here in Brooklyn where the state of New York was spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate people from that one block. If we aggregated this together in the whole neighborhood, we were talking about potentially tens of millions of dollars from single neighborhoods and the question was could a community figure out a better way to produce a public safety with those tens of millions of dollars that just sending people to prisons upstate. Maybe they didn’t wanna take every one of those prisoners, but a lot of them were there for low-level things and those people needed drug treatment, mental health services, decent employment and prison doesn’t any of those things. So, if communities could produce those types of things at the community level, then they would be producing safety and keeping people’s lives together instead of tearing them apart and it can be done with the money that’s already being spent on prison.
Another example is a growing of research about the impact of a fairly small number of very high-needs individuals who are homeless, often have mental health and/or substance abuse problems. We’re finding that we’re spending in many cases hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to cycle a particular person through homeless shelters, emergency rooms, courts, etc., and if we just spend that money on stable supportive housing, it would be cheaper and that person’s life would be more effectively stabilized than that constant cycling through these very expensive systems. Some of these places are starting to target those people and provide them with real support and it saves money. For that kind of money, you can put someone up in a five-star hotel and give them a personal assistant and it still would be cheaper than what we are spending on all these other services.
So, it’s just not rational. It’s driven by an ideology that says that all problems are the results of moral and individual failings and that the only way to respond of them is through punitive and coercive means. [This is] because the alternative would be to address the kinds of market failures, and the politics of austerity that are driving things like mass homelessness, untreated mental illness, and high levels of youth unemployment and we have to change the conversation to criminalizing people to reinvesting in people.
Brian: Absolutely. So, in the time that we have remaining here, I want to get to this conversation on the solutions a little bit more. With policing failures and misconduct so pronounced and widespread throughout the country, just like it is with prisons, there is a tendency, I think in these reform conversations, or maybe a temptation, to look for solutions from the federal government. Part of this might be because I’ve seen this from the Brennan Center and some other places that are producing policy ideas. it might be because of the federal government’s role in subsidizing and expanding a lot of these issues in the first place and using investment and grants to try and change behavior from the federal level. But as you note in the book, and as I have seen in a lot of other places, a lot of these problems and issues, they might be better dealt with locally or regionally.
Another thing you point out, which I also think was really important, is that it’s just not policy, legislation, rules and regulations that are needed to change, but a lot of it has to do with culture and cultural shifts. I was wondering if you can talk about this a little bit, and if you think there’s a role for the federal government here and what might that role be. Where do we locate power in order to change these things?
Alex: Well, there’s kind of a good news-bad news story here. The bad news, of course, is that the Trump administration is interested in rolling back any kinds of efforts to restrict police power or hold police accountable in anyway. He wants to further empower them, expand their role even more than it is already expanded. The good news is that his ability to do that is limited by the fact that policing is overwhelmingly a local concern. So, police departments are funded locally and they’re under political control locally.
Efforts by the Obama administration, for instance, to use grants and to use Department of Justice interventions to reform policing were largely ineffective. there was just a news story, I think yesterday in the Huffington Post about Albuquerque, which has been beset with horrible problems is not getting better and just refuses to do what the judge and the Department of Justice is ordering. The rest of the research about department of justice interventions is very thin in terms of positive results. Maybe a few interesting examples, but in general, those interesting examples are occurring because of a local commitment to doing something. Like in Seattle, where they have this community police commission that was formed in part because of really powerful community-based organizing and it continues to show interesting results because of that.
Alex: The problem is, of course, most of the local reforms that are being discussed are the kinds of reforms are those in the Obama 21st century report and that is not gonna be effective. However, there is a kind of growing chorus of organizations and academics who are seeing that the solution ultimately has to be a radical shifting of resources from police, courts, jails and prisons to community-based services that really make a difference in people’s lives. There are amazing groups around the country articulating this kind of message, fighting for it in Los Angeles.
The Youth Justice Coalition looked at criminal justice spending in LA County under local LA County control and they said if we just can divert ten percent of that we would be awash in money for youth services. Jobs, afterschool programs, recreational facilities, wrap-around services, we could do the whole nine yards with that money. It just requires the political will at the local level. Most of these cities are run by democrats who should be open to these ideas. But the problem is that they too are have been caught up in the politics of austerity, tax cuts for the rich, and declining services for everyone else, and it is that underlying political dynamic that has to be directly opposed as well.
Brian: Right. And just to bring it up again, the cultural element of this too. Because you mention this in the book that you can have these reforms, you can have these changes. But, if it’s still the same mindset pulling the levers then abuse will continue, rules won’t be followed, and so on and so forth, right?
Alex: Well, that’s true. I mean, the culture of policing has really shifted in bad directions towards militarization and this thin blue line mentality. While I think we do need to confront that, we need to also understand there are limits in our ability to significantly change that. What may be more important and more successful is to take away their power and their tools so that they are less of a force in our everyday lives.
Brian: Definitely. Before I get to my final question for you here today, question that we ask all of our guests, I was just wondering if you had any final comments about the book or the subject that we didn’t get to talk about today but that you want to press upon people who are listening.
Alex: I think one of the ideas that kind of guides the book is that instead of starting from imagining a world without police or something, what I say is imagine a community that has real problems that need to be solved. [Their] local government and the community come to the table together on an equal basis with all of their resources on the table and try to figure out a solution to that problem. When we do that kind of thing that what we find is that policing is always very far at the bottom of the list of priorities. But of course, we almost never have that kind of process. Instead, communities are told that there’s only one resource available to help them, and that’s more policing. More invasive, more aggressive, more disruptive policing. That’s gotta change.
Brian: So, my final question is a question that we ask all of our guests. As you may know, this is a podcast on prison abolition. we go a little bit beyond that; we’re talking about police, which are a very big part of the system, but we ask our guests every time what abolition means to them, and how they see their work as liberatory, and I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that.
Alex: So, for me, abolition is about a process. It’s about thinking about how to empower communities and solve problems in humane ways rather than relying primarily on coercive state power and punitiveness. So I always try to imagine the most cost-effective humanly dignifying way to solve a problem, and whatever we can’t solve that way then we can talk about what the state power that would be needed would look like. But I think for the vast majority for what police do, there are alternatives. many of them have been tried and shown good results and others need to be attempted, experimented, evaluated, etc.
Brian: Okay, great. Thank you so much Alex. The book is called the End of Policing. It’s available on Verso (Books) If people want to seek you out, and find your work, and follow you, where can they go, where can they find you on social media and stuff like that.
Alex: The best place is to follow me on Twitter, @avitale.
Brian: Thank you so much for your time today and for writing this important book. This is really great, and I appreciate your time.
Alex: You bet!