This week, antifa militants took over a police station and carved out territory in Seattle, Wash., to establish the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or — my personal favorite — “The People’s Republic of Capitol Hill.” On Wednesday, the Autonomous Zone sent out a flyer called “Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently Asked Questions.” That flyer called for a “police-free future,” complete with a “small, specialized class of public servants whose job is to respond to violent crimes.”
A flyer that was given out explaining what a police-free future would look like in Seattle: “To fight crime, we don’t need more cops. We need more jobs, more educational opportunities, more arts programs….” It adds they “may” need a small force to respond to violent crimes. pic.twitter.com/jr5jgsMxTP
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) June 10, 2020
That sounds a lot like “police,” doesn’t it? Except according to this flyer, these “public servants” aren’t really “police” because they’re “community-based,” or something.
The idea of a “small, specialized class of public servants whose job is to respond to violent crimes” comes up in the document’s response to the question, “But what about armed bank robbers, murderers, and supervillains?”
“Crime isn’t random,” the document argues. “Most of the time, it happens when someone has been unable to meet their basic needs through other means. So to really ‘fight crime,’ we don’t need more cops; we need more jobs, more educational opportunities, more arts programs, more community centers, more mental health resources, and more of a say in how our own communities function.”
Yet the document admits that “Sure, in this long transition process, we may need a small, specialized class of public servants whose job is to respond to violent crimes. But part of what we’re talking about here is what role police play in our society. Right now, cops don’t just respond to violent crimes; they make needless traffic stops, arrest petty drug users, harass Black and Brown people, and engage in a wide range of ‘broken windows policing’ behaviors that only serve to keep more people under the thumb of the criminal justice system.”
Huh, these concerns sound a great deal like legal reform and police reform proposals, not a wholesale abolition of the police, don’t they? Do the authors of this document understand that traffic stops and arrests of petty drug users result from laws the police are tasked to enforce? Perhaps changing the laws, rather than abolishing the police, might be the proper response. Perhaps citizens should organize and petition their government to change its policies, maybe even nominate candidates for election, or something.
No, instead these radicals have barricaded off part of the city and demanded change, because it’s not like they had representation or anything, right? It’s not like they could have changed the system from working inside it, right? But I digress…
Seattle @MayorJenny is allowing a dangerous situation to fester. #Antifa militants have taken over & created an “autonomous zone” in city w/their own rules. Police precinct abandoned. Antifa set up barricades to create a border. Calling for volunteers to provide armed guard. pic.twitter.com/ksQI4NI5kP
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) June 9, 2020
The document argues for abolishing police because they don’t live in the communities they police.
“The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises. Rather than strangers armed with guns, who very likely do not live in the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, we want to create space for more mental health service providers, social workers, victim/survivor advocates, religious leaders, neighbors and friends— all of the people who really make up the fabric of a community— to look out for one another,” the document reads.
Some of these criticisms make a great deal of sense. Police are not trained to deal with mental health situations, yet they often find themselves in the middle of domestic conflicts. Perhaps mental health professionals need to work with the police, to decrease tension and enable the cops to do their jobs.
Many police departments work hard to develop a rapport with the local community, but others likely fail in this endeavor. Police departments should work with community leaders, and reforms to encourage this would be healthy.
But it may not be wise to require police to live in the neighborhoods they patrol. It would be extremely awkward for a cop to have to arrest his neighbor while enforcing the law. While police need to develop a rapport with communities, it might be better for everyone’s safety and peace of mind if the local cop did not live two doors down from a violent criminal.
While the rhetoric of a “police-free future” is ridiculous, the document from antifa’s “autonomous zone” does raise some valid issues. It argues that “the web of policy, law, and culture that forms our criminal justice system has destroyed millions of lives and torn apart families.” While this is hyperbole, both Republicans and Democrats agree that criminal justice reform is necessary, and President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act to address it.
So why the absurd rhetoric of “defund the police” or creating a “police-free future?” Criminal justice reform is a bipartisan issue, and it’s just not divisive or sexy enough for anarchist collectives to champion. They want to tear down the system with their hands, not advocate for specific ways to fix an imperfect system.
The problem is, by seizing property and declaring themselves in opposition to the U.S. government, the antifa militants have declared themselves in open rebellion, and the rebellion needs to be put down. Like the rioters across America, they have torpedoed their own cause by perpetrating violence supposedly in pursuit of their aims.
True criminal justice reform is sorely needed, and it will come through the American system of representative government, on the local, state, and national levels. Petition, assembly, election — these are the tools to change a truly representative government. Violence only makes things worse, and it illustrates the need for law enforcement in the first place.
Perhaps America’s “small, specialized class of public servants whose job is to respond to violent crimes” — also known as the police — should respond to the violent crime of revolution in the streets of Seattle.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.