Friday, September 25, 2015

Our enemies in blue

Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams
This week I heard from two old friends, an ex-police chief and a current chief. Echoing sentiments in our recent book You In Blue, one offered, “there needs to be a new narrative”. The other, surprisingly, referred me to the controversial anti-police book by Kristian Williams,  Our Enemies in Blue: Police Power in America.

Our Enemies attempts to string together a series of violent police incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore into a wider historical chain stretching back decades. According to Williams, links showing up today - zero-tolerance, order-maintenance policing and quality-of-life policing - are but the latest manifestation of an age-old chain.


Agree or not, Williams is not the first to suggest alternatives to the criminal justice system. Restorative justice, CPTED, the Interrupters, and SafeGrowth are all modern examples. Williams’ examples are a tad more unconventional and less stable. (The now defunct Black Panthers is one.)

Still, Williams’ central theme has been widely researched in the police literature: “The police do provide an important community service - offering protection against crime. They do not do this job well, or fairly, and it is not their chief function, but they do it and it brings them legitimately.”

Williams curiously ignores decades of collaborative problem-solving in the POP world - no doubt because POP refutes his point. But the fact that most police basic training academies ignore POP, reinforces it.


Williams asserts: “it is a bad habit of mind, a form of power-worship, to assume that things must be as they are, that they will continue to be as they have been... The first step toward change is the understanding that things can be different. This is my principal recommendation: we must recognize the possibility of a world without police.”

I’m not sure what that world would look like. But the fact that this sentiment has sizable voice and more listeners than ever before tells us the ripples started in Ferguson are splashing on shores far and wide.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

JL said...

Just because mistaken and biased observations stir up more baseless and riotous action doesn't mean either the observations or the riotous actions have merit or justification. Prejudice and agendas don't automatically equal "sizable voice" or the basis for true justice. The latter works both ways. Killing police or hating them for misplaced conclusions and some kind of anger does not mean we should accord such actions credibility. There are poor and bad performers in all sectors of our world; NONE should be tarred with the brush of unreason or conclusions based on fantasy or warped and biased thought.

Greg Saville said...

I'm afraid you lost me on that one JL. Williams doesn't rely on "agendas" to write his book, he relies on data. Given the upswell of public dissent - unprecedented since the 60s - and the expanding public attention onto police violence (including the President of the US's recent crime commission on the topic), it is rather difficult to ignore the reality of the sizable voice!

As for fantasy, I'm still reading Williams' book, but thus far it seems well researched and not at all substantiated on biased observations. Most of the reviews say the same thing:

Even unpopular anti-police critiques are worth a read!