In the wake of the questionable shootings of Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina and Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma, activists are renewing calls for police reform. Some writers (including a contributor to the Nation) are calling for the complete abolition of police forces in the United States.
Calls for abolition may seem extreme to the outside listener. This makes sense, given the word’s use to denote the complete and total elimination of the institution in question, and the worry of having a lack of protection. But the call for this radical form of justice makes sense as a way to dismantle an inherently unjust system and replace it with a new set of institutions designed to serve communities fairly and in a way that allows liberty to thrive: decentralized, community-controlled police departments. This is an area where Black Lives Matter activists and libertarians can work together toward a common goal.
Recent scholarship and popular research-based books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow have explored the ways that arbitrary and unchecked use of police force, criminal legal structures, and the prison system work to disproportionately affect the freedom and prosperity of black communities. With the influx of scathing reports on institutionalized racism such as the 2015 Ferguson report by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and other research confirming the institutional nature of these problems, there is no doubt that a threat to freedom exists.
Moreover, crime levels and poverty are correlated in clear patterns, revealing the dark end of the often-cited causal link between freedom and prosperity within libertarian circles. If a primary goal of a free society is to leave people uninhibited to make choices which will lead to their prosperity, a system with high rates of recidivism produces citizens who cannot prosper and therefore are more likely to reoffend. They are neither free in the literal sense nor free in the market sense, a sham of justice for those who believe in a meaningfully free society.
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