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Libertarians don’t usually agree on much. It’s in our nature. If there are two Libertarians that are alone in a room, there will be three opinions on any single subject. Most of us, however, will agree that some form of police is necessary. The clear majority of us will even agree that it’s a legitimate function of government, even if we bicker about the details. There are, of course, those who depart from this opinion, and this creates strange bedfellows. Enter: Janaya Khan.
Ms. Khan is a Black Lives Matter Activist and ‘Afro-futurist’. Recently, she cut a video with Fusion arguing that police should be abolished and replaced with, among other things, ‘rapid response justice teams’.
Breaking Down the Nonsense
Ms. Khan exposes her willful ignorance of reality in one of her first statements in the video.
“Who hasn’t had a bad day? Who hasn’t felt anxious or depressed? The question is, should anyone deserve to die because of it?”
The obvious implication in this statement is that crime does not stem from a pattern of behavior or voluntary choices on the part of offenders. She seems to believe, or is at least arguing, that crime and violence all stem from mental illness and ‘bad days’. This is not just wrong, it’s idiotic. Most crime is committed by individuals who commit repeatedly. Of those who are incarcerated, seventy-five percent will be back in jail within five years. These aren’t people just having a ‘bad day’, they make a career out of crime. Most violent and property crimes are committed by people with long histories of offending.
So, our very first statement by Ms. Khan is demonstrably false. Not a great start. I’m sure that her next argument will be completely factual…right?
“The police’s sole responsibility is to manufacture criminals. So here you have for profit prisons. When you create space, you create demand. That means that bodies have to fill those prisons.”
So, the very next words out of Ms. Khan’s mouth are both wrong and leaving a lot of things out of the equation. This statement is implying that for-profit prisons somehow created the demand for inmates. This is completely backward. It was not an abundance of space that created a need for prisoners, it was an abundance of prisoners that created a demand for more space. That is why private prisons exploded only recently, after the major crime increases of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Ms. Khan’s argument also has one very large hole here. Not all states have private prisons. Therefore, there are large swaths of the country where the supposed demand for prisoners in private prisons does not exist. But I guess that’s just an insignificant detail, right?
“And we have seen that it’s largely transgender people. It’s black people. It’s native people. Its Latin people.”
This may be the first completely true statement of the video. While the underlying reason is up for debate, it is a fact that minorities are overrepresented in prisons.
“When you have that demand you also have to create incentives. That trickles down to police who also now have the incentive of creating criminals. Its not about justice anymore. Its about profit.”
This is what we in the business call, ‘Making shit up‘. It may come as a surprise to Ms. Khan and people who think like her, but local governments almost never make any profit off of law enforcement. It costs a lot to outfit police, operate courts, and house and feed inmates. The only financial incentive to be had is traffic tickets and fines, and those rarely outstrip costs outside of very small towns with a handful of officers. The officers themselves aren’t getting any extra money for arrests, either. All they get is extra effort and paperwork.
“I think we start with the demilitarization of police. Police don’t need assault weapons to protect people.”
This is basically the same argument used in regards to civilian gun ownership, except even more ass backward. Police deal with violent individuals every day. Some of these individuals have rifles and armor. It is not just illogical, it is immoral to tell police that they can’t have access to incredibly common tools like AR-15s because they are scary looking to ignorant people.
“The second thing we can do is really look at police budget and create models and economies for that divestment from the institution of policing and the reinvestment in the community models. That means taking money out of police budgets and slowly phasing out police because we don’t actually need them in our communities. They don’t keep people safe.”
As much as our AnCap friends would like to believe this line of argument (without the part about money for ‘community models’) it just isn’t realistic. American cities in recent years have already witnessed what happens when police decide to back off. It happened in numerous large cities, being labeled the Ferguson Effect. In cities like Baltimore and Chicago, violence and homicide soared after police disengaged due to political pressure. This stands in contrast to the country at large which continues to see lower rates of violence and crime.
“You know, when you’re looking at it from the lens of race, in this country, it’s absolutely easy to manufacture criminals around that. When people’s skin becomes weaponized, particularly black skin, a book becomes a gun, a cell phone becomes a gun, a bag of skittles becomes a gun.”
Despite the thinly veiled references to Keith Scott (who actually did have a gun) and Trayvon Martin (who nobody claimed to have a gun), this argument has no basis in fact. Studies of police decisions to shoot in simulations showed they had no bias in their decision making. Further a recent Harvard working paper showed that police may actually be more likely to shoot white suspects in similar situations. Sorry, Janaya. Swing and a miss.
“Undocumented communities know that they can’t call the police in the event that crisis happens. A lot of black communities know that too.”
In regards to the undocumented, that’s not quite the local cops’ fault, now is it? They can’t control whether or not an individual is in the United States illegally. Though I’ll cede the point, I can’t imagine illegal immigrants make a habit of calling cops. In regards to black communities, though, Ms. Khan is not quite telling the whole truth.
It is true that black citizens do report problems at comparatively lower rates than Whites and Hispanics. Despite this, black and white civilians who contract police say police acted properly and respectfully at the same rate. This implies that the lower call rates are not due to the conduct of the local police.
“And so, entire mosques, churches, and communities, they have agreements where they won’t call the police, should something happen.”
I simply cannot find any evidence of this. It may be true, but seeing as nothing is coming up in basic searches other than an Atlanta group telling people not to call cops and Ms. Khan did not cite a specific instance, one must assume it’s very rare, or she’s lying.
“And in its place, we’ve seen such a wonderful and diverse response when it comes to intervention in our communities. We’ve seen people rise up with training around mental health crisis, intimate partner crisis. We’ve seen rapid response justice teams, and I think that’s really what we need to be building.”
Much like the earlier claim of faith groups and communities refusing to call the police, I am finding very scant evidence here as well. There are certainly mental health response teams being started, most are started by city governments, and usually within the existing police and sheriff’s departments.
As for the ‘rapid response justice teams’ mentioned in the video, they don’t appear to exist. If they do, they sound a lot more like mob justice than anything I’d consider beneficial to society. I vaguely remember something called ‘rule of law’ that most of us agreed was a pretty swell idea.
So What Does it All Mean?
While I have to admire Janaya Khan’s apparent willingness to find more peaceful ways to solve issues, her solutions are not only unhelpful but counterproductive. Abolishing police will not decrease violence, it will increase it exponentially. Her ‘community model’ is mob rule by a more appealing name. It would be doomed to being both ineffective and unjust, and most likely much more violent than the professional law enforcement it would replace.
Instead of trying to abolish one of the most legitimate facets of our government, let’s seek to make the changes that will make it both more just and effective in protecting our communities.