An Idealist Essay on Restorative Justice

Now that we’ve reached the end of series II and III I would like to take a moment and look back on the discussions we’ve had about police and incarceration while offering an idealist vision for how these institutions can be changed for the better. As part of this I will present some ideas that may seem radical on the surface level, but as we’ve discussed previously, my work within the first New Federalist book I is aiming to prime my audience for ideas that are outside the norm in our status quo by showing them why urgent action is needed due to the massive disenfranchisement Americans are and have been experiencing. Thus in book II we will have the inevitable discussions of restorative justice, regulation, and pragmatic policy options as a whole. Before we get there people need to understand why our reality must change, how millions of Americans are being hurt, and where to even begin trying to make a difference.

After the last two series we undoubtedly know how our justice system and policing is harmful; the ways in which cops restrict our freedoms and the trauma that is forced disproportionately upon poor and minority communities. I realize these topics have been heavy, dealing with the darker aspects of our national institutions and posing uncomfortable questions for those who may not think about the issues of policing because they are insulated. This essay will be more positive, I want to provide hope that not everything is grim and peek into the developing second book which will aim at brining us together in collective praxis. With that being said, let’s examine what an ideal America could look like with restorative institutions and law enforcement that is accountable for their actions.

When examining potential options for defunding and reorganizing our traditional modes of law enforcement the typical counter arguments are some combination of 1. Who will protect us with no police and 2. We have crime and drugs everywhere so we need someone to enforce the rules and get these criminals off the streets. In the last two series I have shown many examples and made what I believe is a very strong argument that the way our current law enforcement structure works, police create more crime and their presence not only poses more danger to citizens, but perpetuates the black markets we see as threats to our safety. Often back the blue folks paradoxically call for cutting costs in every governmental department possible except when it comes to police; they believe billions of dollars in weapons, pensions, and protective equipment to protect these “brave” first responders are necessary. Therefore, I will make yet another convincing economic argument for why we need a policy of defunding and restructuring.

Every year tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on the police; some departments get regular shipments of bayonets from the federal government. Not only are completely unnecessary weapons like these sent, armored vehicles, stun guns, new sidearms, rifles, grenades, and “less lethal” crowd dispersal tools are constantly being sent to departments across the country. On top of this the economic loss as a result of activities that police engage in is astounding. Over $40 billion of economic activity per year alone is lost from prisoners sitting incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of them locked up for little more than possession of weed or some other drug use. There are additionally thousands of people murdered by police every year, taking major tolls on their families and communities. Not to mention the amount of people illegally taken in by police for suspicion or bias, who have been harassed for simply existing as a person or color or poor citizen in the wrong neighborhood.

Rather than a heavily armored force of prejudiced bullies (we’ve examined this fact in depth), for a vast majority of cases someone trained in deescalation or trauma care is needed. However regardless of the situation police are the only option to dispatch to someone in distress. Why then would we continue sending them when the only consistent outcome is that the person who is disabled, in mental distress, or dealing with a traumatic episode gets murdered by the responders who are supposed to protect them? Police are told to shoot first and ask questions later while viewing everyone as a threat due to CQB training and nightmarish scenarios that are ingrained in their heads as certain to happen. When confronting someone who may not be coherent or is having a mental health episode and isn’t responding immediately to their commands, the first instinct is to shoot or use some kind of brutal force to “neutralize the threat” because that is all they see, a threat.

In circumstances when police are responding to an active threat, more often than not by the time they get there the danger has passed. Or in cases such as the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, the campus officer turned tail and fucking ran when he heard gunshots. For the most part, these thugs only act brave when they clearly have the power, when they’re able to flex being a big bad strong man to someone who can’t retaliate. On top of this like I’ve mentioned, it is shown that police cause more crime in the areas they patrol and are extremely ineffective at actually stopping crime in progress or solving cases when it does occur, instead relying on profiling citizens as “preventative” methods of policing. Of course you’ll find something illegal if you search enough people, and we know that police disproportionately target black men, latinos, and other POC as likely suspects due to their race. The crimes people view as most dangerous or the strongest argument for police are those such as sexual assault, rape, murder, or shootings. We know that police officers themselves are exponentially more likely to be a domestic abuser than the average person, and as an institution law enforcement has committed mass (child) rape and sexual assault. A rape case is just as likely to be solved whether it is reported to police or not and most victims are far too terrified of police to report their assault. Again, the profile of an average individual in law enforcement is someone who gets off on having all the power, likes to brutalize with no accountability, and is deeply insecure.

With this knowledge of what economic and physical havoc they wreak upon the communities they patrol, I’m not sure how anyone could continue supporting the status quo. One option that we can easily push for is community led policing, where individual citizens take the responsibility of monitoring their neighborhoods into their own hands. This is being done in places like Milwaukee and Minneapolis. At the very least we must create an external oversight board for police that can hold them accountable if they continue to be deployed. However imagine a scenario in which people experiencing mental health crisis, dealing with trauma, stealing because they can’t afford food, homeless on the street, using drugs, or in a generally aggressive state were met with a force that understood how to de-escalate and help them rather than demand they get on their knees, tackle, punch, and electrocute them with a taser.

It is true that America needs more robust mental health services in general, and one way in which we could address this is through a restorative justice framework. If someone is in the midst of a PTSD episode and violently thrashing, there could be a team of psychologists trained in inpatient care dispatched to calm the individual down, or practice a trained hold that is safe for all involved (NOT wrenching their hands behind their back and planting a knee firmly on their carotid artery while another officer smashes their face into the asphalt). When youths or adults steal or rob, which is far more often than not a reaction to adverse circumstances, there could be a framework for addressing why they’ve done harm and help them achieve some security in having their basic needs met. Too often children are labelled a criminal at an early age, thrown into juvie and the justice system while they are still developing, and expected to somehow magically become a productive member of society.

In terms of traffic patrols, ticketing, and even serving most warrants, a police officer is not needed. If we really wanted to have a highway patrol force or some insurance that people were getting ticketed for parking incorrectly there could easily be a civilian force responsible. I understand cities make a large portion of their revenue through activities like this, so why not create jobs while saving lives? Another option for going after minor offenders like this is to simply reduce the severity or number of micromanaging laws like this in the first place. Rather than paying police to ensure someone has a ticket for the train, why not cut that service and make the train ride free? The same line of thought goes for sex workers and homeless populations; people trying to survive in a savage capitalist market should not be criminalized. We view homeless people as a drain on society because they aren’t contributing to the sacred economy, so we allow police to sweep them out and treat them like garbage. Similarly we view sex workers as less than human because of our inability to let things go if we are jealous, angered, or it doesn’t fit with our personal morals. If a man or woman is choosing to engage in sex work to make a living and doing no harm, why should we as a society tell them it’s wrong to pursue a living? We could save millions of dollars per year and prevent sending police into situations where they are very likely to abuse their power by decriminalizing minor offenses like these (as Joseph Arpaio would know, he sent dozens of his deputized Arizonans out on a prostitution sting in which they solicited and received sex from women then arrested them instead of paying).

Another way in which we can significantly reduce the number of people incarcerated, help them be productive members of society, and lessen the need for police would be by decriminalizing, or even making legal under federal distribution, drugs and illicit substances.

When someone is addicted to drugs and running naked in the middle of the street they need to be met with empathy and taken to a rehabilitation center rather than thrown in a cell to rot (which statistically does nothing to change behavior in this circumstance, people can’t easily or safely come down through withdrawals in prison anyways). Imagine laws that were crafted around a humanitarian and socially conscious mindset. Rather than go after anyone who is a drug addict or deals substances as a means to survive the state could very easily decriminalize those substances and create safe distribution that is taxed in the same way we do with cannabis or alcohol. Not only would this create massive tax revenue, it would ensure people were getting the substance they intended without the risk of dealers cutting fentanyl or some other highly potent substance in. It would also free half a millions prisoners, over a million parolees, and massively reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars needing to be allocated to prisons or policing while providing an increased stream of revenue for the state if we enacted laws similar to other controlled substances.

If someone really wants to try cocaine or pop a pill at a concert, they are going to regardless of if it’s illegal or not. At the same time those who don’t want anything to do with drugs, know the risks associated, and have decided they don’t want to partake are not going to suddenly go to the dispensary and start shooting up heroin if illicit substances were made safely available. Think of how many lives could be saved if we had safe use areas where addicts could be monitored while they used and were prevented from dying of overdose or sharing contaminated needles. Further, think of how many people could be eased off of a substance in time and under supervision; many addicts don’t want to be addicted yet have no viable options for safely maintaining sobriety or taking steps to get there. I want readers to understand that it is not someone’s choice to become hooked on a substance; millions of Americans have a reliance on opiates because they were prescribed oxycontin or some other painkiller that big Pharma relies on customers getting addicted to. Why would anyone begin taking a substance they knew was going to ruin their life unless they were in a situation like extreme poverty, had a trusted doctor prescribe them an addictive substance, or were led to it through mental illness? Parents, grandparents, even younger people dealing with chronic pain have been unwittingly subjected to crippling addiction because once they started taking painkillers they couldn’t stop. When pills become too expensive for those outside the upper middle classes they often turn to the cheapest alternative; heroin.

The point is that we must think collectively in terms of how we can help people in crisis, not push them to the side and let them wither away while we go about business as usual. This circles back to the ideas of growth and dehumanization through capital pursuit that we’ve discussed; when you don’t see your peers as equal or worthy of respect, of course you’ll end up with a brutalized version of law enforcement that treats humans as commodities rather than people with emotions and needs. If we begin transitioning into a society that values our people and actively strives to help them prosper (as my writing is attempting), we will see a huge reduction in the relatively low rates of crime we do see. When people are able to have their basic needs met from social welfare, a universal healthcare system, a job that pays them a livable wage, and aren’t constantly told they are worthless unless they contribute in a very specific way, that society is going to be much more open to compassion and won’t rely on harming others to meet their needs. Right now America is devolving into Mad Max, where it is everyone for themselves trying to survive in this country ruled with an iron first by the establishment. An establishment that benefits from us living in fear, divided, and unable to see the humanity in each other.

This essay obviously was not an exhaustive list of potential restorative options and I do believe there is some needed capacity for an armed police force because yes, unfortunately there are violent crimes and active threats that do require a forceful response. However that police force should be used extremely little and in the most necessary of circumstances. The point was to show readers that we don’t have to be complacent with the status quo, there are options that will keep us safe and not leave thousands of our brothers and sisters dead every year. My goal is to inspire you to think more empathetically, to contemplate how we can make the country a better place for all communities and all Americans. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I hope you enjoyed this preview of what is to come in our future discussions of pragmatic policy.

As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from anyone with ideas for policy discussions or just food for thought because like I said, I don’t have all the answers nor should I, and building a better country is a collaborative effort.

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