The year 2020 has seen many issues overwhelming us with new information. Between the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID), the resulting economic issues that resulted from worldwide governments failing to contain the virus (particularly the United States), lack of universal healthcare in the United States, and, of course, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other murders of Black people at the hands of the police, we are all questioning our core beliefs around what makes a society safe.
Unfortunately, the answers can sometimes be counter-intuitive and very complex. Abolishing police entirely is unrealistic: We will still need some form of security force that responds to high-risk situations. However, we use the police as we know them in America to address a broad spectrum of issues that do not need an armed response with almost zero accountability. It is realistic to form a system of accountability where people are given true second chances, with the resources they need to thrive in a crime-free way, and divert money currently spent on policing to resources our communities need to thrive.
This relates to sexual violence in a number of different ways. Power and the abuse of trust is inherent to issues of sexual violence, and both power and an automatic assumption of trust are inherent in American military and policing. This can lead to situations where those meant to “protect and serve” become perpetrators with little accountability.
What follows are demonstrations of ways the police have abused their power, and proposed solutions that are well worth considering.
Ongoing Police Brutality And Misconduct
These videos and stories are graphic and upsetting, and illustrate a pervasive culture in which police use violence to instill fear and control people rather than listening to the communities they serve.
This video gives a rough summary of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police on May 20th, 2020.
In this video, you can see that almost as soon as the person is shot, medics were there trying to help, only to be forced away by police, leading to the death of the person who they were trying to help.
There are many, many more videos like these. Without seeing each one from differing viewpoints and asking, “What went wrong? Who started the violence? What caused the escalation?” you are unlikely to see that police are often the initiators of violence, and watching mainstream media of any political color ensures you only see part of the story.
Our perception of these stories are also colored by the media we consume and our own attitudes towards police. Many people in America have been raised to believe that the police are good – and that any video showing them otherwise does not show the complete picture or demonstrates that they are merely “bad apples.” There are many ways the legal system as a whole protects government actors – not just the police – from accountability. There are also many cultural and systemic issues at play. This means that our perception of these issues is almost always biased, and the proposed solutions are complex.
Police And Sexual Violence
You might ask why that is relevant to sexual violence. Again, sexual violence by nature includes issues of misusing power and trust, so when we see questionable conduct by people who are supposed to enforce the law, it follows that law enforcement is not blameless with sexual violence either. Several stories have hit the news about police who rape people in custody, like this one. The issue is also that a sexual violence case in the hands of the state represents the state’s interests, not the interests of the victim and those affected by the abuse. This takes agency away from a crime victim, and in some cases where self-defense becomes involved, criminalizes survivors. Many victim/survivors do not want police involvement.
Police are also known for having issues with domestic violence, a type of violence that often overlaps with sexual violence. Much work has been done to study how police criminalize sex work, and in so doing silence victim/survivors of sexual violence. In short, the police have a generally poor track record of treating victims of sexual crimes with respect (such as not testing or destroying rape kit evidence) and have very low rates of catching perpetrators.
It is not possible to talk about proposed solutions without talking about how the American political system works. This video gives you an excellent introduction:
Nearly all of the proposed solutions to the issues with policing in America revolve around gradually taking funding from the police and directing it towards resources the community needs to survive: Affordable housing, mental health resources, social supports, better jobs and businesses, resources for homeless populations, and beyond. Two resources you can check out on differing proposals are here and here.
Another proposal that is a hot topic is restorative justice circles. Restorative justice circles are a community-based accountability system where the victim of a crime has the option to request one or more community meetings involving many of those affected: The perpetrator, victim, friends and family, and community members affected by the crime. The idea behind these is to offer a restorative approach: Helping the perpetrator see what they did, how it affected people, and explore ways of making better decisions, support or resources they might need, etc.
The differences in the details of each proposal are beyond the scope of this site, but it is safe to say that a community that focuses on having policies that improve public health is preferable to communities that rely heavily on police.