• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On The Abolition Of The Police

June 2020

Better no rule than cruel rule—that’s the Aesopian conclusion upon which, in a flurry of passion and a height of despair, many of our brightest minds in politics, journalism, and academia have settled. Despite the emotional circumstances through which they’ve worked, they’re completely well-reasoned in having done so. Though Aesopian in origin, it’s a fundamentally American ideal, a kind of binary choice for which some of our greatest men, like the intrepid Patrick Henry (who enumerated as his only conceivable options to the cruelty of the British monarch to be liberty or death) are so famous. It was a call to which, over the passage of long time, both Greek philosophers and Founding Fathers would jointly respond. Millennia haven’t yet quieted its resonance, and still it echoes in the listening hollows of our searching ears.

It is, I think, an entirely unexceptionable stance to hold, a commendable posture in which any upright and free individual will choose to carry himself. After all, man has an inviolable right to the freedom of which he’s so natural an inheritor, has a claim to that sublime gift over which no one else can declare possession. He has an expectation, from the first stirrings of his heart in the warmth of his cradle to the final breaths sweeping him to the descent to his grave, not to be oppressed, and he’d rather hasten his arrival to the latter if ever that were the case.

As such, thinking myself so erect and unfettered a man, this is a position, that no rule is better than cruel rule, with which I fervidly agree. It’s one to which my deepest sympathy extends. License before malice, screams the pulsating beat of my heart, freedom before tyranny is the cry of my open soul. Predictable law is good, so long as it’s wise in its conception and consistent in its work, but when it’s whimsical and mean, it’s abhorrent in every way. It’s anathema to the spirit of man. Made in the image of something greater than ourselves, there is no human ruler to whom we should think ourselves inferior, none from whom, with outstretched necks, we should meekly receive the weight of a capricious yoke.

On this point, most Americans agree. If they don’t, that’s the malign influence of some foreign, authoritarian belief. It’s the effect of a backward, despotic opinion with which they’ve been infected, an illness marked by a lust of power of which, if they’re to live in a civilized nation, they must be purged. Better no rule than cruel rule, all the rest of us converge to say, yet those of that political or academic persuasion do so with a conviction unsusceptible to nuance. They’ve over-extended the idea and drawn its boundaries far too broad. They’ve misapplied it to a topic to which it’d preferably remain unfamiliar. They’ve done so without a reflection on the lengths to which that precious claim might, and probably will be stretched. They’ve done so in their chastisement of the police.

Aesop’s insight, persistently relevant then as it is, undyingly, today, is a truth at which, thanks to a string of recent police-led atrocities from Minneapolis to Louisville, Baton Rouge to Baltimore, Staten Island and beyond, those in favor of the abolition of the police have unhesitatingly arrived. Anarchy—or, the “no rule” part of that memorable maxim uttered above—heard through the speaker of these terrible events, now carries with it an enticing and melodious ring. Contrasted with is baneful, tyrannical alternative, many intellectuals think it’s finally time to listen to its tune and dismember the police. No police, so their thinking goes, is better than cruel police. It’s the newest mantra to which the elite has begun to dance, but I fear that to which they rhythmically sway is but a siren’s song.

This idea of abolishing the police, shocking though it first might seem, is an argument with which, for no reason other than its growing popularity, we ought to begin entertaining ourselves. It makes for a fascinating, though positively daunting, exercise in the abstract consequences of radical social change and a new approach to penal law.

Of course, in order to accept its logic and the radical conclusion of which it’s so startlingly productive, one must agree to the premise on which it’s based. Unfortunately, that the police are irredeemably cruel is not a truth that’s exactly self-evident. One must approach it not with a set of statistics by which, for what they’re worth, it might be rather convincingly refuted, but with an agenda or a strongly-held bias.

Doubtless, the police forces of America, taken in their collective and variegated whole, have their shortcomings and their faults. Yes, they have their “bad apples”, those by whom, in the eye of the public, the rest of the bunch is irretrievably spoiled, and their fair share of rogues and brutes, but are they, for this reason, totally to be condemned? Are they, as an overwhelmed, under-funded institution, by which our communities of color feel themselves disproportionately hurt, to be damned cap-a-pie? Are there no aspects of their work by which they might be redeemed? Are there no laudable qualities for which they might gain applause? Have they no underlying merits atop which improvements might be built?

I tend to think, overall, that our police departments do serve an invaluable role for the societies for which they’re created, upon which they’re dependent. Generally, they offer an indispensable service, a great benefit to our communities for which they might more gratefully be acknowledged. I tend to think as well that there is no imperceptible rot at their core, no ugly infection by which the rest of their body is to be thought malignantly corrupted. Despite all the fears, no such disease exists. It’s not yet so clear that it can be diagnosed.

The institution, I’m glad to say, hasn’t yet gone completely septic. It hasn’t yet moved from police to pathologic, from law enforcement to public blight. Nor, at this point, do I think that it will. The risk of it doing so is quite low, the prognosis far less than grim. It might be gangrenous here and there and, thus, in need of an occasional excision, but it need not be starved of life and prematurely killed. It might need closer treatment and an inhalation of fresh life, it might even need a bolus of reformation, but it ought not be suffocated of air and left for dead in the precinct.

Still, no rule is better than cruel rule, and no police is better than cruel police—or so goes the current thinking. While I might not grant the invidious and overly-broad tone of the premise, and while I might argue from the minority chair in favor of the police’s continued importance, I’ll admit that my curiosity has been piqued. Let some of these Democrat-run cities implement this idea. Let them demonstrate the courage of their convictions and, contrary to all precedent, actually defund a public program from which, as has been made clear, so few are benefitting. Let them abolish the police. We shall see, in a grand and potentially horrifying experience, if “cruel police” is really so much worse than its alternative.

We might then learn yet another Aesopian lesson—that we often despise that which is most useful to us. We might reconsider the utility, rather than the alleged “cruelty”, of the police.

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