The Fate of America Depends on Ending Its Culture of Policing

Reform is insufficient. It’s time to democratize public safety.

Tim Wise
GEN
Published in
8 min readMay 31, 2020

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Police in Washington D.C. on June 2. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

If America is to live, policing as we know it must die. It is that simple. If we aspire for it to become a multicultural, multiracial, and pluralistic democracy, America simply cannot go on this way much longer. Too many bodies are buried in the soil, too much blood has been spilled, and too many families have been shattered.

Those bodies and lives and families have been sacrificed in the name of law and order. But when the law becomes lawless, there is no order, and so here we are. We are watching it all collapse in real time, in HD, on the nightly news, on Twitter, on TikTok, as police respond to nonviolent protest with brutality. They gleefully shoot rubber bullets at journalists, mace children, and shove the elderly, anyone who dares criticize them for murdering black folks.

The back of the national camel has met its last straw.

That things are breaking down is no surprise. It is only surprising it has taken this long. The United States was conceived from the contradictory impulses of liberty and slavery, freedom, and oppression. It was forged from the fires of a fundamental incongruity: On the one hand, the inalienable rights of man, and on the other, the alienable lives of those deemed lesser than human.

Beset by its split personality from the beginning, America has demonstrated the impracticality of trying to walk the thin line between tyranny and liberty, of seeking to have it both ways. This doesn’t work. Once you establish a country around the precept some are to be free and others not, that some are to be protected and others subordinated, neither time nor pretty words will undo what has been done.

Law enforcement has always been the root of the problem. It is the fulcrum of white supremacy and has been so from the beginning. Remember, the Constitution says it right there in Article IV, Section 2:

No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such…

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Tim Wise
GEN
Writer for

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)