In this Upstream Conversation we spoke with author Alex S. Vitale about his new book, “The End of Policing,” which was published by Verso Books on October 10th, 2017.
Alex Vitale’s work is based on a deep examination and structural critique of the fundamental nature of policing. Vitale stresses that it’s not enough to enact superficial reforms to a system of policing which was, at its core, designed to maintain systems of oppression and inequality. Vitale argues that instead of our current approach of inhumane and ineffective punitive force, we should be going upstream to focus on the root causes of problems, focusing our attention on addressing inequality and providing community and social programs for those in need.
In the first half of our Conversation, Vitale walks us through the dark origins of policing, beginning with the eras of colonialism, slavery, the early industrial capitalism. How did early policing grow directly out of the militias and military units that were used to exterminate and expropriate colonized peoples and lands? What role did the police play in maintaining the oppression of African-Americans during slavery and also during the post-slavery era in the south, where vagrancy laws and convict leasing systems proved to be just as bad, if not worse, than slavery itself? And how did vagrancy and vice laws, again enforced by the police, help to culturally shape an emerging working class during the rise of industrial capitalism, forcing a the new system of wage-labor onto a population that fiercely resisted it?
The second half of our Conversation brings us into our modern neoliberal era, where policing has really exploded into one of its most brutal and all-encompassing forms yet. Here we explore how the rise of neoliberalism has led to all sorts of societal and community crises which have led to a startling increase in the scope, funding, and militarization of police forces that are now being used to enforce failed drug-war policies, crush social movements, criminalize poor and African-American communities, and maintain the systems of inequality required by austerity-driven neoliberal capitalism.
Upstream co-producer Robert Raymond interviewed Alex Vitale at his home in Brooklyn, New York. For more on Alex Vitale’s work: http://www.alex-vitale.info/
The End of Policing can be purchased through Verso Books.
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