Let's Read “The End of Policing” by Alex S Vitale

Reading for Further Context on Systems

A book cover with the following text: The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last forty years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself. Alex S. Vitale "The End of Policing"
"The End of Policing" by Alex S. Vitale
He goes out at night with his big boots on
None of his friends know right from wrong
They kick a boy to death 'cause he don't belong
You've got to humanize yourself

A policeman put on his uniform
He'd like to have a gun just to keep him warm
Because violence here is a social norm
You've got to humanize yourself
, Rehumanize Yourself

On , Verso Books made free the ebook of Alex S Vitale “The End of Policing”. White folks, please grab a copy and read. Consider donating the $10 you saved to the National Bail Fund Network

Alright, let’s look at the table of contents. This post will focus on the first chapter and will also be the anchor point for future posts.

I don’t know where this is going, but I’m certain I’m going to learn some very upsetting things.

Table of Contents for “The End of Policing”

  • The Limits of Police Reform
  • The Police Are Not Here to Protect You
  • The School-to-Prison Pipeline
  • “We Called for Help, and They Killed My Son”
  • Criminalizing Homelessness
  • The Failures of Policing Sex Work
  • The War on Drugs
  • Gang Suppression
  • Border Policing
  • Political Policing”
  • Conclusion

The Limits of Police Reform

There is no question that American police use their weapons more than police in any other developed democracy. Unfortunately, we don’t have fully accurate information about the number or nature of homicides at the hands of police. Despite a 2006 law requiring the reporting of this information (reauthorized in 2014), many police departments do not comply. Researchers have had to rely on independent information such as local news stories to cobble together numbers. One effort by the Guardian and Washington Post documented 1,100 deaths in 2014, 991 in 2015, and 1,080 in 2016—fewer than in the 1960s and 1970s, but still far too many.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

Let’s break that down. Despite a law saying, many police departments do not comply with that law. That does not sound like law enforcement.

Many of us watched the video of Derek Chauvin asphyxiating and murdering George Floyd. This act of impunity is the manifestation of racial targeting and failure to comply with the law.

Frame the above for a moment.

At work, how many of you are measured based on output and performance? And what would be the consequences if you failed to comply with a company policy? Or a law?

This [racial targeting] form of policing is based on a mindset that people of color commit more crime and therefore must be subjected to harsher police tactics. Police argue that residents in high-crime communities often demand police action. What is left out is that these communities also ask for better schools, parks, libraries, and jobs, but these services are rarely provided. They lack the political power to obtain real services and support to make their communities safer and healthier.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

My privilege helps me obtain services and support. Collectively, my city has successfully voted on referendum’s to fund and expand our single public high schools music program. This happened within a state which has School Choice and School Vouchers, which overwhelmingly syphon money from public schools to private schools (which are in turn held to a different standard).

Any effort to make policing more just must address the problems of excessive force, overpolicing, and disrespect for the public. Much of the public debate has focused on new and enhanced training, diversifying the police, and embracing community policing as strategies for reform, along with enhanced accountability measures. However, most of these reforms fail to deal with the fundamental problems inherent to policing.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

Police are now firing tear gas cannisters and “rubber” bullets at the heads and faces of protesters and reporters. When aimed at a person’s head, the velocity of these “non-lethal” weapons is enough to kill and certainly mame. And if you believe any peaceful protester or journalist should be injured, mamed, or killed, please do some self-reflection. What is it specifically of yours that you hold higher than their life? Once you’ve identified that, ask why that thing is so important. Then ask why of that new thing.

The “non-lethal” weapons have warnings and guidelines for usage. But the police ignore the warnings and I’d assume their training.

Why? Values.

In the case of Eric Garner’s death and George Floyd’s death (to name just two), both Daniel Pantaleo and Derek Chauvin ignored statements of “I can’t breath.” These two officers ignored their training, and demonstrated their values. Force with impunity.

Earlier in this chapter, Vitale highlights something key: When the police don their combat gear, they invoke a warrior mentality. They have armed themselves with both body armor and weapons, psychologically preparing them to react according to their equipment.

These are values of impunity (e.g., action without fear of reprecussions).

Vitale then lays out a history of academic research: Broken Window hypothesis and “The Bell Curve”. These works layout a few careful tenants:

  1. Laziness of lower-class people
  2. “Biological determinants of criminality”
  3. Moral failings of people with black skin
  4. Failed liberal leadership

Grade “A” bigoted shit. And you see other bigoted sentiments echoed in other phrases (e.g., “Women are too emotional to lead.”, “Women are the weaker sex”) .

Which leads to this:

What was needed to stem this tide of declining civility, they argued, was to empower the police to not just fight crime but to become agents of moral authority on the streets. The new role for the police was to intervene in the quotidian disorders of urban life that contributed to the sense that “anything goes.” The broken-windows theory magically reverses the well-understood causal relationship between crime and poverty, arguing that poverty and social disorganization are the result, not the cause, of crime and that the disorderly behavior of the growing “underclass” threatens to destroy the very fabric of cities.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

Oh boy, now we have moral authority. What other organizations systems invoke “moral authority?” I won’t be daft, it’s Christianity.

And for those familiar, Christianity rose to power and prevelance once it became an effective administrative tool. Always fear a political leader figure prominently holding a bible.

Broken-windows policing is at root a deeply conservative attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for declining living conditions onto the poor themselves and to argue that the solution to all social ills is increasingly aggressive, invasive, and restrictive forms of policing that involve more arrests, more harassment, and ultimately more violence.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

Hmm. About the time, , we get to “broken windows” theory we are seeing a shift in our progressive tax policies. The top marginal tax rate declines. Which leads to less state revenue.

And now with morality as our weapon, we begin a different kind of asphyxiation.

As inequality continues to increase, so will homelessness and public disorder, and as long as people continue to embrace the use of police to manage disorder, we will see a continual increase in the scope of police power and authority at the expense of human and civil rights.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

The system enforces its values. Got it.

Vitale spends two pages talking about the failing of training. Police receive lots of training. “However, even after training officers often have inadequate knowledge of the laws they are tasked to enforce.”

And in their training: ““Cadets are given little in the way of substantial advice about how to make decisions in a complex environment, according to two veteran officers’ memoirs.”

I don’t know about you, but that is a recipe to fall back on your values and the values of the system. And, those absorbed values de-value people with black skin.

And their safety training also reinforces the idea that any interaction can turn deadly in a split second.

When police come into every situation imagining it may be their last, they treat those they encounter with fear and hostility and attempt to control them rather than communicate with them—and are much quicker to use force at the slightest provocation or even uncertainty.
, The End of Policing (Chapter 1)

In my experience, genuine communication defuses situations and builds strong shared understandings. I’d hope that the police are training for that.

But instead we get information about independent training companies and the escalation of SWAT. Namely in the form of militarizing our police training.

Closing for Now

This gets me through the sub-section of Training in the Reforms section. I want to get this out the door, so that you can get a copy of Alex S. Vitale’s “The End of Policing.”