Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations

This is the fifth and perhaps the last post in a five-part series on the issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition. (I came across an article on unions and the police (not police unions) and may write a post on that still). It is more theoretical than the first four posts since it deals with references to philosophies that try to link the present to the future and the future to the present in a much more general way. The issue has general significance for a socialist strategy.

The context of this post is explained thus (from the previous posts):

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

I also quoted Mr. Rosenfeld in a previous post:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

It is my contention that Mr. Rosenfeld has a mechanical or external conception of the relation between the present and the future, as well as the relation between the future and the present. This mechanical or external conception is characteristic of all reformist socialists. It is, in other words, a pattern that is consistent with what I called a bad aim in the previous post. By contrast, the abolitionist stance incorporates the future in the present and the present in the future. This internal purpose or aim is characteristic of the more profound philosophies in the past.

The linking of the present to the future in an internal way goes back at least to Aristotle, perhaps the greatest ancient Greek philosopher. From Alfredo Ferrarin (2004), Hegel and Aristotle, pages 21-22 :

But, Aristotle asks, does not a physician cure himself? When such a phrase is used we must indicate that what we actually mean is that the physician heals himself qua [as] patient, not qua [as] physician. Here the doctor is an active principle of change in another thing or in the same qua [as] other. The distinction of respects is crucial, and such examples can be multiplied. Yet Met. Θ 8 [reference to Aristotle’s work Metaphysics] proves that this does not extinguish the question. This “active principle of change,” dunamis, must mean generally “every active principle of change and rest. Nature . . . is an active principle of change but not in another thing but in the thing itself qua [as[ itself” (1049b 5–10). So there do seem to be cases in which agent and patient are the same, and in which different respects cannot be distinguished. Such cases still have to do with becoming, but with a highly qualified notion of becoming. If I use a tool, say, a saw to cut a piece of wood, here agent, means, and patient fall asunder [apart]; but in the case of a living being, agent and patient are identical; the animal acts on itself qua [as] itself. Such cases have to do with a peculiar kind of activity, an activity in which the end and the agent are the same; but in such cases the idea of a self-actualization of sorts, a becoming that is not external to the patient because it is effected by and directed to itself, is central.

Life is constituted by self-movement and self-change; change in this case is the same as self-change and is different from mechanical or external change. External or mechanical change does indeed occur, but there is no identity of the beginning, the means and the end or result.

Aristotle views internal ends to be very distinct from external ends (pages 23-24):

Activities are ranked according to whether their ultimate end is internal to the agent or outside of the agent. The end of production is the product, an object external to the producer; here the activity is instrumental to the usage, so that the ship captain’s expertise and knowledge of the form and end is architectonic and directive for the ship builder’s art. In action, by contrast, producer and user are the same, for good action is the end (Eth.nic. VI 2, 1139b 3–4; 5, 1140b 7), [reference to Aristotle’s work Nichomachean Ethics] and action has no end outside itself (Pol. VII 3, 1325b
15 ff.) [reference to Aristotle’s work Politics]. An end that is chosen for its own sake is a complete and perfect end in an absolute sense (haplôs, Eth.nic. I 5, 1097a 30). This praxis or action is a complete activity (Met. Θ 6, 1048b 18 ff.), which gives a determinate meaning to individual existence.

The importance of the incorporation of life–and its internal purposefulness–for philosophy is also seen later. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, incorporated purpose into his philosophy in what is called his third critique Critique of Judgement (the first two were Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason). Kant’s incorporation of internal purposiveness into his philosophy was itself incorporated into the philosophy of another German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. From Karen Ng (2020), Hegel’s Concept of Life: Self-Consciousness, Freedom, Logic, pages 5-6:

In order to provide a systematic account of the concept of life, this study will defend three interrelated claims. The first is that the core tenets of Hegel’s philosophy, and particularly those that concern his concept of the Concept, center on the purposiveness theme, inherited from Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790).5 In the third Critique, a text that is considered by many to be the key for the development of post- Kantian philosophy,6 Kant introduced the problem of nature’s purposiveness in connection with an investigation into the powers of judgment, essentially arguing that a principle of nature’s purposiveness is the condition for the non- arbitrary operation of judgment in its pursuit of empirical knowledge.7 As part of his investigation, Kant introduces an idea that I argue is central for the development of Hegel’s concept of the Concept— namely, the notion of internal purposiveness manifest in the self- organizing form of an organism or natural purpose (Naturzweck). The idea of internal purposiveness is the Kantian ancestor and model for Hegel’s concept of the Concept, and Hegel repeatedly attests to its importance, claiming that “reason is purposive activity,” and more emphatically, that internal purposiveness is “Kant’s great service to philosophy” (PhG ¶22/ 3:26; WL 654/ 6:440).8 [Reference to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit]. Although the details of Kant’s own account are, to be sure, much disputed, what is indisputable is Hegel’s unequivocal endorsement of Kant’s conception of internal purposiveness and his insistence that it plays a positive, constitutive role with respect to the activities of reason and thought.

Let us now listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda. Further, considering what it would take for a socialist government to challenge capital and bring in critical transformations of the state and the economy, policing would certainly have to change, but it would have to play a role in dealing with those who organize to oppose these changes.

If a socialist society involves the abolition of the police as a separate power, then that end, if it is to be internal to present activity, must function to organize our activities in the present towards that end. Otherwise, the reference to striving “to move in that direction” involves an external purpose that has no function in the present. It is a mere “ought” that will never arrive since it always pushed into the future rather than linked to the present.

The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel criticized the ought typical of this point of view. From The Encyclopedia Logic (originally published in 1830; new publication 1991), page 30:

However, the severing of actuality from the Idea is particularly dear to the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to
learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

Hegel also saw clearly that, theoretically, this ought is really an aim that is designed to never be reached; he called such an aim the “bad infinite.” Mr. Rosenfeld’s socialist society (100 years from now) is like the (bad) infinite that lies beyond the finite world in which we live. From G.W.F. Hegel, The Science of Logic (originally published in 1812/1816 , new publication in 2010), page 111:

When, therefore, the understanding, elevating itself above this finite world, rises to what is the highest for it, to the infinite, the finite world remains for it as something on this side here, and, thus posited only above the finite, the infinite is separated from the finite and, for the same reason, the finite from the infinite: each is placed in a different location, the finite as existence here, and the infinite, although the being-in-itself of the finite, there as a beyond, at a nebulous, inaccessible distance outside which there stands, enduring, the finite.

Another interesting aspect of Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is the arrogance expressed in the article towards more radical views. Mr. Rosenfeld characterizes explicitly more radical views as “ridiculous” and “sloganeering”:

Calling for the abolition of the police force sounds ridiculous to most people because it is. Radical sloganeering is no substitute for engaging with the complexities and requirements of serious left strategies for change.

Mr. Rosenfeld shows explicitly his real contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force–for that is the issue, not his ridiculous characterization of the problem. His “reformist sloganeering” is also ridiculous since he provides an external model of how we are to move from where we are now to where we want to go–by offering us an external model of aims.

Mr. Rosenfeld also explicitly expresses his contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force in the title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking” [my emphasis]. Mr. Rosenfeld, apparently, does not even understand what intelligent thinking involves. Among other things, it involves linking means to ends, and ends to means, in an internal fashion. From John Dewey (1938), The Logic of Inquiry, pages 9-10:

Reasonableness or rationality is, according to the position here taken, as well as in its ordinary usage, an affair of the relation of means and consequences. In framing ends-in-view, it is unreasonable to set up those which have no connection with available means and without reference to the obstacles standing in the way of attaining the end. It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials and processes which would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences which are different from the intended end; so different that they
preclude its attainment. Rationality as an abstract conception is precisely the generalized idea of the means-consequence relation as such.

Mr. Rosenfeld, by using a model of thought that is characterized by an external relation between means and ends, necessarily engages in unintelligent or irrational thinking. He then accuses anyone who disagrees with his model of sloppy thinking.

It is interesting that Mr. Rosenfeld had the opportunity to comment on some of my views on the police in a couple of posts (see Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One  and   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). The first one was posted on August 30, 2020, and the second one on February 21, 2020. On May 29, 2020, Mr. Rosenfeld made the following comment on the article I posted (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three): “Well, I’ve finally had enough.” He unsubscribed from my blog. I guess this is the expression of the democratic nature of of the social-reformist left–a lack of debate and discussion. The accusations of “being ridiculous” and engaging in “sloppy thinking” also express the democratic nature of the social-reformist left.

This does not mean that the police can immediately be abolished (any more than can the enemy in any war)–but it does mean that we need to begin to organize for the purposes of abolishing the police (just as, in any war, we need to begin immediately to organize to engage in battle and–to win the war)–and calling for such abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld forever will push the abolition of the police into the future–like all social-democratic reformists. Mr. Rosenfeld’s means do not correspond to his end, and his end does not correspond to his means. He engages in irrational thinking.

As I will show in another post (while criticizing Sam Gindin’s views (a political colleague of Mr. Rosenfeld here in Toronto and joint author of a book, with Leo Panitch, on globalization), the issue of an external purpose versus an internal purpose is relevant for determining or characterizing the nature of socialist society and socialist relations.

John Dewey, perhaps the greatest philosopher of education, incorporated the life process–and internal purposiveness–into his own philosophy. He has this to say about the present and its relation to the future (and to the past): will leave him to provide the last word philosophically on this topic. From Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), pages 238-239:

For the purposes of a particular inquiry, the to and from in question may be intelligently located at any chosen date and place. But it is evident that the limitation is relative to the purpose and problem of the inquiry; it is not inherent in the course of ongoing events. The present state of affairs is in some respect the present limit-to-which; but it is itself a moving limit. As historical, it is becoming something which a future historian may take as a limit ab quo[from which, as in a beginning] in a temporal continuum.

That which is now past was once a living present, just as the now living present is already in course of becoming the past of another present. There is no history except in terms of movement toward some outcome, something taken as an issue, whether it be the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Negro Slavery in the United States, the Polish Question, the Industrial Revolution or Land Tenure. The selection of outcome, of what is taken as the close, determines the selection and organization of subject-matter, due critical control being exercised, of course, with respect to the authenticity of evidential data. But the selection of the end or outcome marks an interest and the interest reaches into the future. It is a sign that the issue is not closed; that the close in question is not existentially final. The urgency of the social problems which are now developing out of the forces of industrial production and distribution is the source of a new interest in history from the economic point of view.

There is accordingly, a double process. On the one hand,  changes going on in the present, giving a new turn to social problems, throw the significance of what happened in the past into a new perspective. They set new issues from the standpoint of which to rewrite the story of the past. On the other hand, as
judgment of the significance of past events is changed, we gain new instruments for estimating the force of present conditions as potentialities of the future. Intelligent understanding of past history is to some extent a lever for moving the present into a certain kind of future. No historic present is a mere redistribution, by means of permutations and combinations, of the elements of the past. Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not of the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. History cannot escape its own process. It will, therefore, always be rewritten. As the new present arises, the past is the past of a different present. Judgment in which emphasis falls upon the historic or temporal phase of redetermination of unsettled situations is thus a culminating evidence that judgment is not a bare enunciation of what already exists but is itself an existential requalification. That the requalifications that are made from time to time are subject to the conditions that all authentic inquiry has to meet goes without saying.

Present problems include the oppressive, racist and deadly power of a separate group called the police that preserve the existing class power of employers as well as the systemic racism that has accompanied it in various countries. Socialist relations between people would not require such an oppressive, racist and deadly power. To link the future in the present, and the present in the future, by proposing the abolition of the police, is to think and to act intelligently.

It is not sloppy thinking to incorporate internal purposefulness  into our actions; it is intelligent thinking. Some of the greatest philosophers have incorporated such a view into their own philosophies.

What do you now think of Mr. Rosenfeld’s title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking”?

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument: 

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.” 

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses? 

Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives

This is a continuation of an earlier post on the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition.

In the last post on this topic, I indicated that I would provide an outline of some possible alternatives to police as a separate organization that might be created in the present.

Let me, however, fully admit that one of the reasons why people accept the separate existence of the police is the need for protection from activities that may harm them, such as personal theft of their property or murder. Mr. Rosenfeld is certainly not wrong when he points out that workers do rely on the police to protect them from such activities (although he certainly overestimates the effectiveness of the police in carrying out that function and ignores completely the fundamental or main role of the police as violent defenders of the existing organized exploitation and oppression of millions of Canadian workers and billions of workers worldwide).

As Kristain Williams argues (2007), in Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, page 224, the police rely on the protection function, such as it is, to legitimate their own continued separation from the rest of us–as does the capitalist government or state:

C R I M E AS A SOURCE OF STATE POWER

There is a question that haunts every critic of police-namely, the question of crime , and what to do about it. This is a real concern, and it deserves to be taken seriously. The fact is, the police do provide an important community service-offering protection against crime. They do not do this job well, or fairly, and it is not their chief function, but they do it, and this brings them legitimacy. ? Even people who dislike and fear them often feel that they need the cops. Maybe we can do without omnipresent surveillance, racial profiling, and institutionalized violence , but most people have been willing to accept these features of policing, if somewhat grudgingly, because they have been packaged together with things we cannot do without crime control, security, and public safety. It is not enough, then, to relate to police power only in terms of repression; we must also remember the promise of protection, since this legitimates the institution.

A personal experience drove this protective function home to me. The mother of my daughter, Francesca, was born in Guatemala. In 2013,  Francesca graduated from high school, and I promised to take her to Guatemala when she graduated before I moved to Toronto. However, I looked at the murder statistics in Guatemala, and they were even higher than during the civil war–a difficult feat given the massacres that the Guatemalan military had carried out during the civil war.

I wanted my daughter to improve her Spanish. I myself had learned Spanish in Guatemala in two cities: in Quetzaltenango (locally called Xela), and Hueheutenango (known as Hueheu by the locals). At the time, I did not know how dangerous it was in Xela or in Huehue. I opted for another city in Guatemala–Antigua (not Antigua and Barbuda of the Caribbean). I had heard of Antigua when I was learning Spanish in Guatemala, and I made a point of not going there since I was told that it was very touristic–and it still is. However, given that Antigua had extra police in Antigua–tourist police–I opted for Francesca to study Spanish in Antigua rather than in Xela or Hueheu–for protective reasons. Despite my evident dislike of the major police function of protecting the power of the class of employers, the protective function of the police was something that I considered when making a decision concerning Francesca’s safety.

Proposals for the abolition of policing thus need to take into account the importance of the protective function for people.

The protective function of the police needs to be integrated into the community once more–not as “community police” (which so typically combines the carrot and stick) but into the community protecting itself through its own organizational efforts—self-organization of the community. Williams mentions two historical movements that shed light on the potential for communal self-protection: the labour movement and the resistance of Afro-Americans to police oppression and their own internal need for self-protection (page 226):

The obvious place to look for community defense models is in places where distrust of the police, and active resistance to police power, has been most acute. There is a close connection between resistance to police power and the need to develop alternative means of securing public safety.

In the United States, the police have faced resistance mainly from two sources-workers and people of color (especially African Americans) . This is unsurprising, given the c1ass-control and racist functions that cops have fulfilled
since their beginning. The job of controlling poor people and people of color has
brought the cops into continual conflict with these parts of society.

He outlines the creation of an alternative worker-protective force during the 1919 Seattle general strike (page 227):

The classic example is the Seattle General Strike of 1919. Coming to the aid of a shipbuilders’ strike, 1 10 union locals declared a citywide sympathy strike and 100,000 workers participated. Almost at once the city’s economy halted, and the strike committee found itself holding more power than the local government. The strike faced three major challenges: starvation, state repression, and the squeamishness of union leaders. Against the first, the strikers themselves set about insuring that the basic needs of the population were met, issuing passes for trucks carrying food and other necessities, setting up public cafeterias, and licensing the operation of hospitals, garbage collectors, and other essential services. Recognizing that conditions could quickly degenerate into panic, and not wanting to rely on the police, they also organized to ensure the public safety. The “Labor War Veteran’s Guard” was created to keep the peace and discourage disorder. Its instructions were written on a blackboard at its headquarters:

The purpose of this organization is to preserve law and order without the
use of force. No volunteer will have any police power or be allowed to carry
weapons of any sort, but to use persuasion only.

In the end, the Seattle General Strike was defeated, caught between the
threat of military intervention and the fading support of the AFI.:s international
officers. While the strike did not end in victory, it did demonstrate the possibility
of working-class power-the power to shut down the city, and also the power
to run it for the benefit of the people rather than for company profit.

The strike was broken, but it did not collapse into chaos. Mayor Ole Hanson
noted, while denouncing the strike as “an attempted revolution,” that “there
was no violence . . . there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings.” Indeed,
there was not a single arrest related to the strike (though later, there were
raids) , and other arrests decreased by half. Major General John Morrison,
in charge of the federal troops, marveled at the orderliness of the city.

The Afro-Americans developed, first, the Deacons for Defense and Justice and, later, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in order to deal with police oppression and the general need of Afro-American for their own protection (page 227-228):

Almost fifty years later, more sustained efforts at community defense grew out of the civil rights movement. As the militancy of the movement increased and its perspective shifted toward that of Black Power, African Americans prepared to defend themselves-first against Klansmen and cops, later against crime in the ghetto. As early as 1957, Robert Williams armed the NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina, and successfully repelled attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and the police. Soon other self-defense groups appeared in Black communities throughout the South. The largest of these was the Deacons for Defense and Justice, which claimed more than fifty chapters in the Southern states. The Deacons made it their mission to protect civil rights workers and the Black community more generally. Armed with shotguns and rifles, they escorted civil rights workers through dangerous back country areas, and organized twenty-four-hour patrols when racists were harassing Black people in Bogalusa, Louisiana. They also eavesdropped on police radio calls and responded to the scene of arrests to discourage the cops from overstepping their bounds.

Williams and the Deacons influenced what became the most developed community defense program of the period-the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. ‘The Panthers, most famously, “patrolled pigs.” Visibly carrying guns, they followed police through the Black ghetto with the explicit aim of preventing police brutality and informing citizens of their rights. When police misbehaved, their names and photographs appeared in the Black Panther newspaper.

The Panthers also sought to meet the community’s needs in other ways, providing
medical care, giving away shoes and clothing, feeding school children breakfast, setting up housing cooperatives, transporting the families of prisoners for visitation days, and offering classes during the summer at “Liberation Schools.” These “survival programs” sought to meet needs that the state and the capitalist economy were neglecting, at the same time aligning the community with the Party and drawing both into opposition with the existing power structure.

The strategy was applied in the area of public safety as well. The Panthers’ opposition to the legal system is well known: they patrolled and sometimes fought the police, they taught people about their legal rights, and they provided bail money and arranged for legal defense when they could. But the Panthers also took seriously the threat of crime, and sought to address the fears of the community they served. With this in mind, they organized Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE) , an escort and bussing service in which young Black people escorted the elderly on their business around the city.

A further example of self-organization of the protective function is the women’s liberation movement. The women’s liberation movement in the 1970s led to the formation of women’s organizations designed to address a lack of protection from the separate police force: (From Vikki Law (March 2011), “Where Abolition Meets Action: Women Organizing Against Gender Violence,” pages 85-94, in Contemporary Justice Review, volume 14, Number 1), pages  86-87:

The 1970s (women’s liberation: defending themselves and each other)

Women’s liberation movements of the 1970s allowed women to begin talking openly
about their experiences of sexual assault. Discussions led to a growing realization that women need to take their safety into their own hands and fight back.

Some women formed street patrols to watch for and prevent violence against
women. In Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, members of Women’s Liberation group
Cell 16 began patrolling the streets where women often left their factory jobs after
dark. ‘We were studying Tae Kwan Do and decided to intentionally patrol, offering to accompany women to their cars or to public transportation,’ recalled former Cell 16 member Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. ‘The first time two of us went to the nearby factory to offer our services to women workers, the first woman we approached looked terrified and hurried away. We surmised that my combat boots and army surplus garb were intimidating, so after that I dressed more conventionally.’

Later efforts were better received: Dunbar-Ortiz recalled that one night Cell 16
members met Mary Ann Weathers, an African-American woman, at a film screening. ‘After the film we introduced ourselves and told her we provided escorts for women. We asked her if she would like us to walk her home, as it was near midnight. Mary Ann Weathers, who joined our group, marveled over the bizarre and wonderful experience of having five white women volunteer to protect her’ (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2001, p. 136).

Dunbar-Ortiz also recalled that she traveled around the country speaking and
encouraging women to form similar patrols. Students at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky responded, forming patrols on their campus.

The lack of police and judicial response to gender violence led to increasing recognition that women needed to learn to physically defend themselves from male
violence.

In 1969, Cell 16 established Tae Kwan Do classes for women. Unlike existing police offered self-defense classes that promoted fear rather than empowerment, Cell 16’s classes challenged students to draw the connections between their learned sense of helplessness and their role in society as women (Lafferty & Clark, 1970, pp. 96–97).

Self-protection of women by women emerged not only in response from attacks from strangers–and the lack of protection afforded by the police–but also in response to attacks from people women knew (page 87):

Although much of the 1970s rhetoric and organizing around gender violence presupposed that women were attacked by strangers, women also recognized and
organized against violence perpetrated by those that they know, including spouses and intimate partners. In Neu-Isenburg, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, a group of women called Fan-Shen decided that, rather than establish a shelter for battered women, they would force the abuser out of the house. When a battered woman called the local women’s shelter, the group arrived at her home to not only confront her abuser, but also occupy the house as round-the-clock guards to the woman until her abuser moved out. When the strategy was reported in 1977, Fan-Shen had already been successful in five instances (‘Women’s Patrol,’ 1977, p. 18).

Sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, armed themselves with weapons after it became clear that the police were doing little to protect them (page 89):

In March 2006, police responded to the murders of three sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, by cracking down on prostitution. In one weekend, 10 people were arrested in a prostitution sting. Recognizing that the police response did more to target than to protect them, street prostitutes began arming themselves with knives and other weapons to both to protect themselves and each other and to find the killer. ‘We will get him first,’ declared Tonya Richardson, a Ridgewood Avenue prostitute, to Local 6 News. ‘When we find him, he is going to be sorry. It is as simple as that’ (‘Daytona Prostitutes,’ 2006).

Montreal sex workers formulated a different strategy: they used shared information to protect each other and to organize to advocate for the decriminalization of their profession (pages 89-90):

In Montreal, sex workers have taken a different approach to ensure their safety. In
1995, sex workers, public health researchers, and sympathizers formed Stella, a sex
workers’ alliance. Instead of knives and other weapons, the group arms sex workers
with information and support to help them keep safe. Stella compiles, updates, and circulates a Bad Tricks and Assaulters list, enabling sex workers to share information and avoid dangerous situations. It also produces and provides free reference guides that cover working conditions, current solicitation laws, and health information. Recognizing that the criminalization of activities related to the sex industry renders sex workers vulnerable to both outside violence and police abuse, the group also advocates for the decriminalization of these acts (Stella, n.d.).

Other examples could be given, but the above examples of grassroots self-protection should be enough to show that we do not need the protective function to be embodied in a separate organization called “the police.”

Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the demand for the abolition of the police is absurd is itself absurd. He also claims that Mr. Wilt’s call for the abolition of the police is an example of “sloppy thinking.” Intelligent thinking, however, requires inquiry in one form or another–or it is just sloppy thinking.

Since Mr. Rosenfeld’s article presents little evidence of having engaged in inquiry into the nature and function of the police in a society characterized by a class of employers, on the one hand, and historical examples of communities organizing to protect themselves without the police on the other, it can be concluded that Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is a good example of the sloppy thinking characteristic of some of the social-democratic left here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere).

It is too bad that the social-democratic left rarely engage in self-criticism in order to prevent sloppy social-democratic thinking from becoming public.