For the Abolition of Police

August 5, 2015 - Editorial

A police force, where there are no crimes to discover and delinquents to arrest, will provoke or invent crimes…

— Malatesta

People involved in law enforcement are agents of the powerful against the weak, who readily mobilize and deploy arbitrary and unpredictable violence and destruction. The hateful and demented pro-police comments made in mass and social media in the wake of the cops’ fully exposed immunity from Ferguson to Staten Island (well, everywhere) show that better than any political treatise. The pro-police camp persists in perpetuating some of the most banal lies of authoritarian morality: The state exists to protect the weak from the whims of tyrants. The system of law and justice is impartial. Cops only arrest the guilty. The guilty deserve whatever the police do to them. Prisons are only for bad people…

Anarchists know (or should know) that the police are not only the first line of protection for the maintenance of capitalist property relations; not only the primary institution for the enforcement of dominant cultural norms through the targeting and (often extra-judicial) punishment of deviance; not only an increasingly militarized formation to quell social disturbances/riots/rebellions. Outside of the realm of wage labor, policing has always been the primary way any authoritarian and class- based society informs those trying to survive in it that their lives are not their own. The police are the most public face of the multi-tiered institutions of criminal justice that create and reinforce the category of (law-abiding) citizen — a category that can be rescinded at any time, with any pretext. The police exist to remind citizens and criminals that whatever the ruling class and its supporters and lackeys do is legal.

Anarchists know (or should know) that individuals who enter institutions usually come face to face with possible conflicts between institutional norms and their personal integrity. Those who remain end up perpetuating those norms regardless of any possible intention to alter them. But the observation that institutions change people is not the whole story. Power corrupts, but the already corrupt and the easily corruptible seek to join powerful institutions precisely so they will have professional opportunities to exercise their corruption.

The laughable institutional excuse of supposed bad apples continues to be deployed at press conferences. These supposed bad apples are the ones who join the police in order to harass queers, beat up detainees, demand freebies from sex workers, steal from dealers, frame suspects, punitively deploy crowd control weapons, exercise disproportionate violence, and antagonize and terrorize non-compliant people — up to and including murder. .And who then have the bad taste to get caught. But no Field Training Officer has to teach them how to do these things. When there’s a too-big- to-be-ignored episode of alleged misconduct, all the good cops and their supporters line up with the bad apples, making every person standing with them complicit. Institutional self-preservation doesn’t dissipate even a little in the wake of embarrassing multi-million dollar settlements to survivors of police abuse.

The momentum of the recent protests against police impunity has waned; a tactical reliance on emotional outrage at racist excesses coupled with a (deliberate?) lack of analytical focus on the quotidian functions of policing may have something to do with this (nevertheless, the constant placing of bodies in the way of the smooth flow of capital is to be heartily applauded). Various suggested reforms of the police — retraining, civilian oversight, increased ethno-racial/cultural sensitivity, anger management, etc — are incapable of addressing the problems inherent in the model of a professionalized police force that has a linear history of physically disciplining people perceived as social threats. In the US, this begins with attacks against (usually unarmed) natives and the creation of slave patrols, continuing through Jim Crow, extending into strike breaking, culminating in a generalized suppression of any form of socio-political and/ or cultural dissent. Calls for better policing cannot be taken seriously in a context of racial profiling, the unleashing of brutality against anyone the police decide is uncooperative and/ or undesirable, and a per capita incarceration rate that outstrips every other country in the world.

The most recent refusals of Grand Juries to hand down indictments against killer cops should make it abundantly clear that the criminal justice system and the standard operating procedures of policing and punishment are functioning exactly as they are designed to in a classist and racist society. Protesters whose messages and demands are geared toward making these institutions more human(e) presume that moral appeals have the potential to motivate those who make and enforce the law. But their targets don’t have any ethical qualms about meting out harsh discipline or quashing deviance and dissent — that’s a large part of what they signed up for; among prison guards, cops, legislators, and judges there’s no seed of cognitive dissonance to exploit.

Initiating and furthering a serious discussion on the possibilities and ramifications of taking an explicitly abolitionist stance toward police is something that anarchists can do; a relentless critique of policing has always been an analytical weapon in the anarchist arsenal. Many people are already divided by how they relate to the police. With a more explicitly radical analysis, there’s a chance that anarchists can help nudge that polarization toward an irreversible breaking point.

for further reading:
Cop Block on Facebook
Fire the Cops, by Kristian Williams
Political Parties, by Robert Michels (from which is derived the Iron Law of Oligarchy)
“Wild Justice,” by Bob Black (ajoda *72\73 at:

› tags: AJODA #76 / editorial /


  1. Dean says:

    Great article. I just discovered your site, very cool. I’m interviewing John Zerzan tomorrow via Skype, who’s a primitivist-anarchist.

    Looking forward to his take on the state of the world. Keep getting the message out… humans want to be free.

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