SUMMARY: From rising homelessness that the police are tasked to deal with to shootings of both minorities and police officers to endless mental health issues involving both police officers and the population American police are simply expected to do too much. Author Alex Vitale argues that the structure of American policing, and the U.S. legal system, protects the interests of those in power and/or with money and needs to be dismantled. Simply put, Americans need to rethink the mission of the police and how we police those within the borders of the United States.
The End of Policing starts with a history of policing, police forces were created, and what the primary objectives American police were attentive to. The historical facts of policing are important to establish as the past affects the now and the future. He finishes the book critiquing the policing of the homelessness, the mentally ill, schools, sex workers, immigrants, and the War on Drugs.
“Policing needs to be reformed,” Vitale writes. ” The culture of the police must be changed so that it is no longer obsessed with the use of threats and violence to control the poor and socially marginal.”
Vitale critiques both the left and the right and doesn’t lay the blame squarely on the police or either political party. For both Republicans and Democrats the police have become the de facto responders to every social problem. Homelessness on the streets, send in the police. Trouble at school, send in the police. Addiction and mental health issues, send in the police.
According to Vitale body cameras, more training, and more reforms are a waste of time and money if we do not recognize the history of policing and the system it operates in. This may be the crux of the book. Police reform has been going on for decades, body cameras are being worn more and more, and more training is required in police departments then ever before and yet far too many people are getting shot.
“By conceptualizing the problem of policing as one of inadequate training and professionalization, reformers fail to directly address how the very nature of policing and the legal system serve to maintain and exacerbate racial inequality,” Vitale writes. “At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the law and the police, since it’s early origins, is to be a tool for managing inequity and maintaining the status quo.”
That is why we think Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro (watch Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops) are onto something as the duo are attempting to change the culture of policing. Why should Christians care? American policing and a retributive justice system that favors those with money and power is at odds with the Bible that commands Christians to advocate and look out for the vulnerable in society.
While you will most likely not agree with every word Vitale says, and the title may be too provocative for many, there is much information to digest and think about. From moving funds from the police to mental health institutions thus lessening the load on the police to restorative justice (instead of retributive justice) to permanent housing for homeless people there are a wealth of ideas to consider that line up quite nicely with Biblical values.
KEY QUOTE: “Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives. More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the War on Drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental health care, and creating low income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.”
BONUS: Download the e-book for free at VersoBooks.com.
BONUS II: Don’t have time to read the book or want to know more? Listen to Vitale talk about The End of Policing on the Novara Media Podcast.
DID YOU KNOW?: Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
DIG DEEPER: We have curated four guided learning paths to help you think distinctly Christian about policing.
More curated books on policing:
For those wondering if the issue with policing is a couple of bad officers or if it is the system, 28-year law enforcement veteran Matthew Horace unequivocally paints a picture of a broken system in his memoir The Black and the Blue. Before critiquing the system, Horace unequivocally says he is a cop while also being unequivocally a black man. He has lived on both sides of a police gun.Read more
Former gang member Victor Rios grew up in the ghetto of Oakland, California so he knows the realities of Black and Latino males in the ghetto, but this is not his story. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys is based off of Rios Ph.D. thesis at Berkeley that he penned after spending three years following 40 Black and Latino males in Oakland.Read more