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An expert explains what 'Abolish the Police' really means
It turns out big ideas don't always fit in sign-sized slogans.
- People are talking a lot about abolishing police lately, but what does that mean?
- We spoke with an expert on the subject, who reveals the nuance in the idea.
- Like any broad concept, there are a diversity of ideas expressed in the slogan.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are undoubtedly aware that Americans are taking to the streets in opposition to police brutality in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. One of the protesters' demands is articulated by the seemingly rash statement, "Abolish the Police."
On the face of it, this demand can seem like anarchistic nonsense. One might ask how society will function with nobody filling the duties of the police departments. However, getting past the rhetoric allows us to dive into the idea behind the phrasing. There, we find a more nuanced notion with plenty of intellectual history behind it.
An interview with Maira Khwaja
To learn more about this, I spoke with Maira Khwaja, the Engagement Director at the Invisible Institute in Chicago. A lightly edited transcript of our interview appears below:
How would you describe the idea of Police Abolition?
"Police and prison abolition is like a mindset of trying to imagine and work towards a society where police would not be necessary. It's not about 'we end police tomorrow.' It's about trying to create a world where we don't need police and prisons. For somebody just learning about it for the first time, I can imagine it would sound impossible. The point is about imagining what else we need to come up first."
Why is this preferable to reform efforts?
"Abolitionist reforms seek to take power from the police and put it elsewhere where it would reduce crime at its source. In Chicago, if somebody is struggling with homelessness, you have to go through the police in order to get any homeless services. This can make people too afraid to get the help they need. What if there was a different front door to access the services they need? An abolitionist reform might be to create an alternative first responder for dealing with homelessness in the city. Chicago has 'advanced' reforms. We need officers to record each time they pull a gun. Anecdotally, we can see this isn't happening."
Is police abolition the same thing as "defund the police" that you see on so many protest signs these days?
"Not the same, but defund the police is part of abolition. The critical thing is that defund the police doesn't go far enough. It must be defund and invest. We have to take the money from the police and put it into something that has been defunded a lot. In Chicago, this would be education and housing. 'Defund' sounds radical until you realize how many other social services have been defunded over the last few decades."
In the mind of a supporter of police abolition, how do the police work? How does this impact the viewpoint?
"Think of abolition as 'What if the police didn't exist at all? What would we have to do to deal with people's help and safety and crisis response?' We would have some group to fight crime. Pure abolitionists would say 'policing should not exist.'
I say, I'm not entirely there yet on not having any system of policing. There would be crime and exploitation. I would like to see an alternative kind of first response when crimes are committed.
Jaime Kalvin (also of the Invisible Institute) suggested that there is a core function of police, reacting to situations where people feel physically threatened. I would have police address that core function and leave everything else to other services and just have the police address the truest emergencies."
Is that everything then?
Now, Maira Khwaja can only speak for their point of view, but they identify many key points in the abolitionist cause. Namely, reducing the number of things the police are called in for, taking police funding and putting it into programs that prevent crime, and considering what alternative methods of dealing with crime and safety exist that don't involve the police force.
Who else has written on this? What do they say?
The significant points behind the police abolition movement have been floating around for decades. Former vice presidential candidate and activist Dr. Angela Davis has been discussing the idea for years. Her work in the related concept of prison abolition does too. In one of her recent interviews, she further explains the idea:
"Defunding the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement and doing nothing else. And it appears as if this is the rather superficial understanding that has caused Biden to move in the direction he's moving in. It's about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It's about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It's about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety. And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It's not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it's about reenvisioning. It's about building anew."
Mariame Kaba, the director of Project NIA, has been involved in the prison abolition movement for a while and lays out their ideas in a New York Times OpEd which argues that our current model of crime prevention is less effective than you think and that alternatives would not only reduce police brutality but prevent more crime in the long run.
Professor Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College explained his stances in an interview with Jacobin, where he argues that police brutality is a feature of our current system which has endured despite decades of well-meaning people admitting the problem was real. He then argues that dramatic change is necessary to solve the problem. His ideas can also be found in his book "The End of Policing," which is currently available by download for free.
As Maira Khwaja said, the concept is broad, and there are many views within it. Some of these thinkers advance ideas that others would reject as too much or too little. Despite this, the fundamental concepts of reducing the number of issues we delegate to the police and taking the money this saves and putting it into things like education, healthcare, and social services remains.
Activists are not known for getting the phrasing of their demands reviewed by savvy media gurus who can make them inoffensive or grant them laser-like precision. While the phrase "abolish the police" is an inaccurate depiction of what many, but not all, activists want to do, it is a bold enough phrase to ignite the fires of debate –which is precisely what activism is supposed to do.
Given that you've just read an entire article considering what the idea is, it seems like the phrasing has worked wonders.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.
- Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
- The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
- The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.