An introduction to the concepts of police defunding and police abolition

Alex Vitale

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Thursday, May 6 2021 at 7:00PM

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Alex Vitale

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An introduction to the concepts of police defunding and police abolition, with Alex S. Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of The End of Policing.

This summer’s protests over the police killings of George Floyd and other African American citizens have refocused the nation’s attention on the problem of abusive policing and its connection to larger issues of racial justice. The protesters’ demands raise a question: Can the police be reformed?

Following the protests of police killings of Mike Brown in Ferguson we were told that policing would be reformed through a series of procedural justice interventions designed to make police more professional, less biased, and more accountable. There is little evidence, however that these reforms have had the desired consequences. Police continue to kill over 1,000 people a year in the US and heavily policed communities continue to experience widespread police misconduct. Even when the police do perform in a lawful and unbiased way, they are often tasked with enforcing laws and managing social problems in ways that may actually make the problem worse. Uprooting homeless encampments, criminalizing children in school, and chasing drug dealers has done little to make communities safer and has contributed to the immiseration of those targeted.

Why don’t police reforms work? Can defunding the police be a viable alternative to police reform? What would it mean for high crime communities that have had to rely on police as the only resource for addressing crime and disorder? Does abolishing the police really mean getting rid of all police and how would that be achieved?

Alex Vitale will answer these questions based on 30 years of experience in both studying policing and advising community-based movements for police reform. He’ll discuss the historical role of police and their relationship to contemporary policing, and he’ll look at the current movement to defund the police and the specific policy proposals it supports, including initiatives to reduce gun violence, fix schools, and deal with substance abuse and mental health crises.

​Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilization, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Vice News, Fortune, and USA Today. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah