Alex Vitale condemns the politics of austerity for creating the circumstances in which heavy-handed policing becomes the accepted means of controlling a poor, marginalised majority in a system which exists to serve the 1%.
It surprised me how far the US police and criminal justice system have been militarised. Local forces hold extensive, state-funded, stores of military hardware and the training of officers is undertaken by private companies who routinely train foreign militia and the military.
Chapters on mental health, homelessness, sex work, drugs and border policing illustrate the way in which the system persecutes and fails those who need the most help and the increasing impossibility of accessing services without going through the cycle of the criminal justice system.
The phenomenon of “suicide by cop” — deliberately putting oneself in a position to be shot by over-eager police — led seamlessly on to housing by cop, drug rehabilitation by cop and healthcare by cop. These unskilled tools of the state become the gatekeepers of much needed but underfunded services.
The police cannot solve the “quality of life” issues. Rough sleepers and groups of youths on street corners need community centres, housing, and jobs — not moving on by heavy handed police.
Individuals and communities are realising that inviting a criminal justice resolution is mobilising the machinery of their own oppression.
The increasing presence of armed police on our streets offering “protection” causes concern, particularly in poorer areas. Following recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, armed police aimlessly wandered the streets of my town. Thirty years ago many officers vowed they would leave rather than trust some of their colleagues with a gun. This armed presence certainly did not reassure me.
My partner, an ex-soldier, says that when the police started tucking their trousers in their boots things were changing — they were becoming a paramilitary force. He’s right!
This tour of the inequalities of the American criminal justice system serves as a warning about where the UK police are headed.
The description on the cover summarises it well: “The problem is not police training, police diversity or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion of policing in the last 40 years, a fundamental shift in the role of the police in society. The problem is policing itself.”
They are the front line of the state — bodies of armed men.
The presence of armed police with a warrior mentality in a battle with the public is a far cry from the “bobby on the beat” model delivering the Green Cross Code, stranger danger and water safety lessons to kids in schools.
Vitale says stop blaming the individual; stop ploughing endless money into policing; put criminal justice funds into housing, health, education and social services. End the politics of austerity. These are socialist principles clearly expressed.