latest from the magazine
latest journal issue
avid Correia and Tyler Wall have written a guide to the logics of policing that has uncompromisingly abolitionist implications. Their text speaks to this moment of heightened and persistent crisis over the legitimacy of the police. It sits alongside several other explicitly abolitionist books on policing published in the past two years alone: The End of Policing by Alex Vitale, Policing the Planet edited by Jordan Camp and Christina Heatherton, the Truthout collection Who do you serve?, Who Do you Protect?, and Invisible No More: Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color, a 352-page intervention by Andrea Ritchie. These volumes are aimed at popular audiences, all with different styles and tones, a breadth of distinct approaches and political differences that speaks to the widening scope of the abolitionist movement. Correia and Wall’s field guide form suggests action, providing a resource for making translations between euphemistic copspeak and meanings that can inform urgent action to abolish the police.
As we know, this is a time when so many people are making demands for an end to killing, impunity, and everyday harassment by police. The persistence and rightful rage evident in this moment also is one where abolitionist thinkers—within and without the academy—anticipate the next round of reform, which Correia and Wall define as the “sine qua none of police legitimacy. Without reform there is no police” (171).
Correia and Wall center their critique on order, property, and force as core values (among others) of police. Within a racial capitalist order, the state defends private property and the “state’s use of violence to enforce property relations is how capitalism defends what is just” (81). “Property is thus a form of police violence” (81). Their entry on Order considers Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 essay on broken windows policing in which “it is being poor or being Black that defines disobedience and disorder” (86). The production of order—otherwise known as pacification—is a “policy of war-making” (91). The dystopian worldview of pacification and securitization is that of “an unruly world populated by disobedient subjects who refuse to go along with the state’s vision of order” (91). Pacification, they continue, “is about the fabrication of order, and order-building requires dispossession, first and foremost. … Pacification is the amnesia that a liberal capitalist order requires” in order to sustain ongoing settler occupation and capitalist dispossession (92).
We know from Gramsci that coercion is not cheap. Violence also requires the reproduction of consent to racial capitalism and part of this comes through the copspeak definition of reality. One of these is the police definition of force, a concept that refers to physical coercion and the “capacity to convince and control” (110). As the state has delegated legitimate violence to the police, criticisms of the use of “excessive force” or “unjustified force” end up sustaining the legitimacy of police violence. In copspeak, “force is the use of physical coercion to impose order, whereas violence is the domain of criminals and criminality and is the very thing that police force is arrayed against” (111). The counter-definition to this police view is that police is violence, it is force, it is enacted routinely, it is the fear of its routine practice.
“Legal violence is the principal dynamic that renders an equal exchange between cop and non-cop an impossibility” (103).
So, rather than the story that police tell of the thin blue line separating civilization from savagery, Correia and Wall want us to recognize “police as they are: an armed wing of the state out to defend the status quo, out to keep you in your place, out to protect business interests. Nothing more” (87). But there is something more. In their entries on Rape and the Body Cavity Search, Correia and Wall articulate how each of these forms of violence are central to policing, settler colonialism, and racial domination.
“This is because police power is a patriarchal power. The security state, including police, is animated by a masculine logic that seeks to call domination, in all its forms, protection” (48).
While articulating the relationship between (hetero)patriarchal power and the police in this passage, I find it troubling that the authors do not consistently draw feminist conclusions throughout the book. For example, the Rape entry concludes, “As long as we have cops and capitalism, we’ll have Officer Holtzclaws” (50). I have to insist that as long as we have heteropatriarchy and racial capitalism, which is to say gendered and sexualized racism, we’ll have state sexual violence.
I am glad that these necessary entries are here, but I want to push for an analysis of police and its abolition more fully informed by Black feminist praxis. Andrea Ritchie’s Invisible No More does this work and follows on her book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (2011) written with Joey Mogul and Kay Whitlock. Another key text is Beth Richie’s Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. For Richie—a longtime activist in the anti-violence movement, co-founder of INCITE!, and professor of African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice at UIUC—the prison nation “reflects the ideological and public policy shifts that have led to the increased criminalization of disenfranchised communities of colors, more aggressive law enforcement strategies for norm-violating behavior, and an undermining of civil and human rights of marginalized groups” (3). Her concept prison nation
“points directly to the conditions that have made violence against Black women worse in recent years. The term connotes the set of conditions that surround the abuse; externally imposed state policies that control marginalized communities and limit access to services, resources, and power” (17).
Within a prison nation, failure to follow heteropatriarchal norms of loving (in public and private spaces) or family composition create the conditions for violence for marginalized Black women in particular.
This analysis confronts the everywoman paradigm created by the antiviolence movement, which created an understanding of domestic or IPV as social and not personal or private, but also failed to advance an analysis of gendered and sexual violence as uneven and interlocking with class and race. The articulation of the everywoman paradigm with the carceral state has facilitated the expansion of policing and prison nation. Richie concludes, “While one could argue that a conservative state agenda creates limitations for all women, ideological and substantive control of gender and sexuality are worse for Black women in communities that have been disadvantaged by divestment” (163).
Richie’s black feminist analysis is fundamental to understanding the scope of police abolition. If we return to Correia and Wall’s entry on the Patrol, we come to understand that the patrol is a particular production of space, and here they focus on how private property is “made, how it is defended, and how it comes to be so taken for granted that no discussion of its politics is even necessary” (177). In their entry on The Public, they talk about the “highly racialized, classed, and gendered dynamics of the public” (262).
“When certain publics take to public space to resist or contest the public authority and its role in inequality and injustice, then it is only a matter of asserting public order, or the security of the public good, over public space and public assembly” (263).
Yes, and there is more. The specificity of why “it could be panhandlers in one place, or sex workers in another, or Native trans women in another” (262-3) is consequential and requires an intersectional account. To draw an example from Richie, when in 2006, a group of self-identified Black lesbian women friends (among them Terrain Dandridge, Renata Hill, Vernice Brown, Patreese Johnson, who became known as the NJ4) were arrested after defending themselves from homophobic street harassment and assault, they were the ones who were arrested by police and charged with ‘gang assault’. Their presence in public in the now gentrified Greenwich Village is a story of the police view of order and private property, in Correia and Wall’s terms. It is also a story of racialized heteropatriarchy in which these women did not have the right to defend themselves (we can think here of Mariame Kaba’s work on No Selves to Defend or CeCe McDonald’s analysis of her imprisonment for self-defense).
Moreover, while the police may make “no distinction between public and private” space (157), their violation of Black private space—Black homes (think of the death of Eleanor Bumpurs alone) and Black collective spaces of organizing and worship—is about more than the defense of private property. These are also violations of Black geographies and collectivities. So, when throughout the book the authors address “you” the reader, and remind us that the police are “out to defend the status quo, out to keep you in your place” (50), this “you” is not a singular subject position, but one structured through racialized heteropartiarchy within conditions of racial capitalism and settler occupation. Not every “you” is equally vulnerable to police violence.
Another reason why more fully centering the insights of Black feminism is so crucial to abolition—police and otherwise—is because reform is being implemented in the name of feminism and gender-responsiveness. The notion of the police as protectors is re-legitimated in the name of protecting her from dangers facing everywoman, a reboot of the white supremacist conceit that white womanhood needs to be protected from Black, brown, and Chinese immigrant men. As Sarah Haley (2016) observes, this construct applied to a particular segment of white women, and created greater vulnerability to state violence for Black women and men.
To elaborate a more trenchant feminist critique, I suggest a few entries and analytical threads to the online version of Police: A Field Guide: carceral feminism, trafficking, U-Visa, gender-responsive prisons, #sayhername, chemical endangerment, inadequate supervision. I don’t have space to provide definitions of these entries, but they are necessary because they are the discursive terrain on which the police are working to re-legitimate themselves. And what is sure to emerge from these reforms is increased vulnerability for already vulnerable women, including trans women, women who do survival sex work, or women who are put at greater risk for deportation and police violence because they are obligated to interface with the police to pursue a ‘protective’ visa. Abolishing the police will mean abolishing these false forms of protection.