The Other Columbus: Policing is the problem

Once you recognize that reality, the solutions you subscribe to have to change if you mean them at all

Scott Woods
Protesters yell towards the police surrounding Columbus Division of Police headquarters.

A year ago, organizational memos and statements were the response du jour to police violence.

In the handful of years before that, it was blank profile pictures and safety pins. Every season of civil redress has its updated crop of recommended books. Almost no differences exist between the outcomes of these performative actions, but one thing they have in common is the misguided understanding of what the solution is: awareness.  

Everybody pretty much gets that there is a problem regarding policing and racism. We may differ on the reasons, merits and culprits behind that animosity, but at this point you’d have to be from another planet to not recognize an issue exists. Awareness isn’t the issue; acceptance is. Knowledge of America’s racist history isn’t the issue; disinvestment from its benefits is. If you’ve ever met a stone-cold bigot, you understand pretty quickly that they’re not that way because they’re unaware. They may not know certain things, but it is unlikely that if you made them aware of, say, the horrors of lynching, that it would affect their values. Their language, maybe — ain’t nobody trying to lose their job — but not their beliefs.

Relatedly, this is why I don’t spend a lot of time trying to change the hearts of racists through education. I would rather stifle their effectiveness through legislation and culture shifts than workshops and booklists. It’s faster, more effective and I don’t have to retraumatize myself by sitting in well-meaning meetings on the heels of yet another police killing. Education about the myriad issues that orbit policing is necessary, but there are certain levels on the matter of policing that aren’t really up for debate anymore. 

You may find that I refer to “state-sanctioned violence” or “police abuse” less and less in my criticisms, opting instead for the reductive heading of “policing.” I don’t do this because I’m worried about exceeding a publication’s word count, but because policing itself encompasses all of the problems we’re facing. 

When the departmental, civic and legal response to officers killing people over broken tail lights, exercising second amendment rights, standing in garages and walking into homes is that the officers ultimately haven’t done anything wrong — and certainly nothing racist — that’s a system functioning as designed. I don’t have to keep differentiating between police abuse and policing because apparently abuse falls under the job description. I need not define the violence committed by police officers as state sanctioned when it is brutally clear that the state will do everything in its power to protect police officers from the consequences of their actions, and for practically any reason. 

Police officers can never be seen to be potentially criminal, and to debate otherwise is to spit at a hurricane. Policing is the problem. Once you recognize that reality, the solutions you subscribe to have to change if you mean them at all. You may have to shift from reform to defund or abolishment once you see the problems as ingrained and molecular, and not just blithe unawareness. (Or worse, as the police see it: bad press.)  

In 17 years, policing in America will turn 200 years old. Police are a relatively new invention. America has had Black people at least twice as long as it has had police. It’s OK to take our word for it when we say policing is all of the things we’ve been saying that it is, and to start working from there.