A guest post by Jon Ord.
The notion of working with the intention of making yourself redundant used to be a mainstream notion in youth & community work, perhaps it has now moved onto the fringes but in essence it still has a core of truth – ‘you work to establish, support and empower groups to be self-managing’ and then you are no longer needed. Such a view has a progressive vision of a possible future beyond the ‘here and now’ – and beyond what seems possible – not least given the pressing needs in many communities, and certainly challenges the status quo with its established assumptions, norms and values.
I would like to transfer some of this thinking to how we think about the police, criminal justice and youth work. I am grateful to my teenage son for shifting my thinking on this issue and moving me out of my tired middle-aged mind set with its patterns of ‘normality’ – yes I argued to his persistent claims of the need to defund the police what about ‘child abuse’, ‘organised crime’, ‘psychopathic murderers’ and ‘rapists’, we need someone to uphold the law – we need to improve the police force not get rid of it – we need reform not revolution…
But then I came across Alex S Vitale. One must, he argues, see criminalisation and policing in the context of industrialisation and urbanisation and the perceived need to ‘control the mob’. Writing about the US, Vitale argues the establishment of the police involved a ‘tight surveillance and micro management of black and brown lives’. How policing and the criminal justice system frames the lives of working class, often young, often black, lives needs serious reconsideration. Policing, Vitale argues, criminalises social problems and or criminalises acts that are in the main a consequence of poverty and destitution.
In their book ‘The Spirit Level’ in 2010, Wilkinson and Picket, dramatically evidenced the correlation between a wide range of social problems and inequality. No doubt a similar correlation could be produced between policing, social problems and social welfare expenditure. For example, Helsinki the second safest city in Europe which has a population of 600,000 and has a ratio of youth workers to police of I to 4 (400 -1,600). The figures for the UK (or the US) are less accessible in part because of the less established professional status of youth workers but it is no doubt far greater. The Met Police for example has 44,000 employees, there are no doubt less than a thousand youth workers in London, and it has a knife crime ‘epidemic’…
Defunding the Police does not call for an immediate abolition but a progressive restructuring of resources and priorities – shifting the emphasis to the causes not the symptoms of the problem – This vision asks critical questions about what kinds of policing (or not) would be required if we actively worked towards a society which minimised ingrained social problems, and invested significant resources to the issues of poverty as well as established an economic, social and political system which attempted to address poverty.
Further reading see: Alex S Vitale at: https://magazine.newstatesman.com/editions/com.progressivemediagroup.newstatesman.issue.NS202025/data/211622/index.html
‘The End of Policing’ available at:
[Note that the e-book version of Vitale’s ‘The End of Policing’ is still available free from Verso, as mentioned in a previous post]