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The End of Policing: Alex Vitale on How Cops & Their Unions Cover Up Inequality, Exploitation

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Professor Alex Vitale argues the answer to police violence is not “reform.” It’s defunding. The author of “The End of Policing” says the movement to defund the police is part of “a long story about the use of police and prisons to manage problems of inequality and exploitation.” He asks, “Why are we using police to paper over problems of economic exploitation?” He also discusses the role of police unions. “They become, in many cities, the locus, the institutional hub, for a whole set of right-wing 'thin blue line' politics that believe that policing is not only effective but it’s the most desirable way to solve our problems. And embedded in this is a deep racism that says that certain populations can only be managed through constant threats of coercion.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. This weekend, activists in Washington, D.C., updated a massive mural unveiled last week by Mayor Muriel Bowser on the two-block stretch of road that leads to the White House. What she had printed, in enormous block letters that can be seen from space, “Black Lives Matter,” in yellow block letters. They put right next to it “Defund the police,” referring, of course, to the whole movement now.

We are going to turn right now to Alex Vitale, who has long argued the answer to police violence is not reform, that it’s defunding. He’s a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Program, author of the book The End of Policing.

Can you talk about the whole defund the police movement in terms of the end of policing, what exactly you mean, Professor Vitale?

ALEX VITALE: Sure. So, part of what we’re dealing with here is a long story about the use of police and prisons to manage problems of inequality and exploitation. And this goes back — this is a story goes back hundreds of years. But we’re also talking about a story of the last 50 years, about neoliberal austerity and the way in which it has concentrated inequality in the United States, producing problems like mass homelessness and mass untreated mental illness and mass involvement in black markets because of economic precarity, and then using police to manage those problems. So we’ve seen this incredible explosion of the scope of policing.

And what the defund movement is talking about — and all your guests have just been amazing in their discussions of this — is about rethinking not just what are police doing, but why are we using police to paper over problems of economic exploitation. And the defund movement, which was occurring in dozens of cities before the events in Minneapolis, is about concretely identifying police spending that could be shifted into specific, targeted community interventions that will actually produce public safety without coercion, violence and racism.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to what’s happening in New York, the pressure that de Blasio has been feeling, the mayor, from community groups talking about cutting some of the budget of the police, and then, of course, this historic moment in Minneapolis where the City Council says they have a veto-proof majority to dismantle the police department?

ALEX VITALE: Yeah, I think we’re dealing with an economic — I’m sorry, a political earthquake here — right? — that things that seemed completely impossible two weeks ago are now being implemented. And while I agree with Linda we cannot trust the mayor at all in this, we need to keep the pressure on the City Council to follow through with these cuts and to make not just the cuts, but the reinvestments that communities have been begging for at a significant level. And the mayor has not been our partner in this endeavor. He has undermined our efforts. He has increased the police budget consistently during his mayoralty, including adding 1,300 additional police to the headcount several years ago. So, we have to keep the political pressure on.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of police unions, Alex?

ALEX VITALE: So, you know, you heard from Mr. Ellison lay out exactly what we’re up against. It’s not just the unions. It’s not just their rank-and-file memberships. They become, in many cities, the locus, the institutional hub for a whole set of right-wing “thin blue line” politics that believe that policing is not only effective but it’s the most desirable way to solve our problems. And embedded in this is a deep racism that says that certain populations can only be managed through constant threats and coercion. It is the logic of slavery. It is the logic of colonialism. And we have to take concrete steps to dismantle their political power. And one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen this week —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

ALEX VITALE: — was in New York, this effort to get politicians to reject those political donations and turn them over to bail funds and mutual aid projects.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Vitale, thanks so much for being with us, Brooklyn College professor, author of The End of Policing.

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