A movement calling to abolish the police has been growing throughout the country, including on college campuses like GW’s. After a series of high profile police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the idea that we must reform our police system has become apparent – which is why reform has garnered bipartisan support. Some proposals, like curbing the power of police unions, ending no-knock warrants and ensuring police are not the only ones responding to mental health emergencies, are reasonable solutions. Other proposals, however, are anything but.
Calls to abolish the police fall into this latter category. In fact, it is still baffling that this is a proposal that people have taken seriously at all. Students must resist efforts to abolish the police because it would hurt its intended beneficiaries and would doom the United States to be the world’s next utopian failure.
First and foremost, abolishing the police would hurt vulnerable populations living in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods the most. It is for this reason that polls show those who live in these communities do not want police to go away but instead want a greater police presence. In Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods, for example, only 5 percent of residents say they would like the police to spend less time in their neighborhood, while 68 percent say they would like the police to spend more time. This should not be surprising, as most of the people who live in high-crime neighborhoods are not criminals. As a result, they have the same desire for safety as anybody else.
Taking away the police in these neighborhoods would pave the way for unnecessary loss of life. Last year, the murder rate increased by 30 percent in major cities across the nation, and it increased 19 percent right here in D.C. One of the reasons for this may have been the disempowerment of law enforcement. In total, almost 1,300 additional people were killed. Based on this, it is hard to imagine just how much more it would increase if we simply got rid of the police. While abolishing the police may attract support in activist circles, it does nothing to protect human life in the real world. Many students at GW who would like to abolish the police are too removed from the actual threat of crime to have the policies they support impact them in any real way. In other words, it is the height of privilege.
The typical reply to the argument laid out above is that crime rates are simply exacerbated by over-policing and that, in short, community resources are the answer to the root problem. This argument makes a rash assumption – that crime can actually be fully stopped if only there were enough of these community resources to distribute to residents. It is true that we should invest in better mental health resources for underserved communities, but the truth is that there will always be crime and there will always be people who victimize others. The idea that we can simply get rid of police, when we know dangerous people will always threaten the lives of others, is a recipe for disaster. Given this basic truth, it is impossible to see how the abolition of law enforcement could solve more problems than it creates.
At the root of calls to abolish the police is a dedicated rejection of unfortunate realities in our society, which leads advocates of abolishing the police to propose utopian solutions. After all, it may be great to live in a world without police, but that would necessitate that we live in a world without crime. Unfortunately, a world totally without crime is not possible.
It cannot be overstated how truly dangerous utopian solutions can be, even if they originate with good intentions. There has never been a utopian experiment in world history that has worked. Rather, they invariably lead to poverty, violence and even genocide for the simple reason that they overlook the importance of individual rights in pursuit of a grander vision. In this case, those who want to abolish the police will overlook the thousands of additional people that are killed when crime is able to flourish because, in the end, all that matters is achieving a policeless world. In order to convince oneself of the morality or practicality of such a position, one must ignore unflattering realities about the world we live in – one of which is that crime will always exist in some form or another.
It is undeniable that some type of police reform is needed. But attempting to completely take away the police – which is such an important mode of protection for law-abiding citizens – is not high-minded or noble, no matter how appealing one can make it sound in a class paper. Rather, it will hurt the people it is attempting to help and put us on the path to become yet another failed utopian project. Thoughtful citizens at GW and beyond must reject it.
Jack Elbaum, a freshman majoring in international affairs and economics, is an opinions writer.