Eaton: ACAB for the average citizen

The radical case for not so radical change.

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Emily Eaton

This past summer, I sat across from my father at our dining room table. For weeks, our dinnertime conversation seemed to cycle back to the same topic again and again: police brutality and what to do about it. I argued for abolishing the institution, while he insisted progress could be made via reform. There was one area that we agreed upon: the term “ACAB,” or “All Cops Are Bastards,” is inadequate. Vilifying every law enforcement officer without specifying that the root of the problem is a bastardized system provides only half the story, only half the context. And, in these politically fraught times, half the context is never enough.

Defunding and/or abolishing police forces across the country has surged as a hot topic for conversation and consideration in recent months. But, what does defunding actually look like? Does it mean police officers will have to confront dangerous people like active shooters without any weaponry? Does it mean that you will never again feel that deep chest-pounding fear when you barely make it through an intersection on a yellow light and realize that familiar blue and black emblem is right behind you? Or, does it mean communities will police themselves?

These are all good and valid questions. Well, maybe not the second one. But, I’d like to take a moment to consider the other two. While some activists are calling for dismantling or removing the police from society entirely, many are instead focused on defunding the institution. This means reducing the resources allocated to police and redistributing those funds, often to social services like housing, education and employment — aspects of the social safety net that can help reduce crime and recidivism. Commonly, this takes the form of disarming officers. To the everyday American, this idea sounds radical. The average Minneapolis Police Department officer carries one to two fully loaded handguns, an impact weapon (otherwise known as a baton), a Taser and a chemical agent (tear gas) and must have a riot stick readily available whenever on duty. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Norway, among other countries, do not arm law enforcement at all.

Police in the United States have become a catchall support system for many problems communities face. Burglary, vandalism, car-jacking? Call the police. Your elderly neighbor hasn’t answered the door in a couple days? You’ll likely call the police. A stop light is out on a busy road or the bar in your neighborhood is blasting music too loudly? Once again, your local police department will be answering the phone. Most of these crimes are nonviolent and do not necessitate police carrying firearms to effectively handle the situation. In fact, many police departments spend only about 4% of their time addressing violent crimes. We can create a community that is safer for everyone by ensuring that police have access to firearms when the situation necessitates them while still lowering the risk of police violence in otherwise nonviolent scenarios.

Let’s say we’ve all agreed that reallocating police funding is in our best interest. Unfortunately, the situation is still tricky. While neighborhoods like Stadium Village, Dinkytown and Marcy-Holmes are policed by the Minneapolis Police Department, the campus itself is covered by the University of Minnesota Police Department. So, who do we even defund? Looking at the City of Minneapolis crime locations map, significantly more crime occurs off campus than on. Disarming UMPD is theoretically easier as it is under the jurisdiction of University governance, meaning that we as a community would also have greater control over how funds are redistributed. However, disarming UMPD does little to solve the greater problem at hand. It is but a small drop in a very, very large bucket.

The reality is that disarming UMPD is a symbolic gesture. It is not meaningless, but the legitimate effect it will have on the surrounding community will not be obvious or hugely transformative. Crime will still be an issue on and off campus. Police brutality toward minorities will not disappear. But, disarming UMPD is a crucial step in distancing ourselves from the racialized, militarized policing tactics of the past. More importantly, it allows us to accept that disarming and defunding police departments is not just another insane, unachievable idea of the radical left. ACAB may strike fear in the hearts of moderates everywhere, but the core idea is one we can all agree on: We, as a society, cannot sustain this level of violence. Creating a society that is more equitable, peaceful and compassionate starts with change in our own communities.