Abolishing Police

Should Christians Defund Police?

on July 14, 2020

Justice cannot be served until the police system—and the prison, court, and all associated systems—are abolished, according to panelists at a July 8 webinar hosted by Emory University’s Justice Involvement Coalition and Candler School of Theology. The webinar hinged on an assumption that “reforms never work” and that the state’s use of coercion for addressing crime is illegitimate.

Panelists were pulled from United Methodist-affiliated Emory University and, although labeled as “experts,” comprised of only one faculty member and one staff member. The rest were students.

Dr. Chanel Craft Tanner, Director of the Center for Women at Emory University, explained that defunding the police started as a feminist movement, but gained traction only after men called attention to their victimization. She argued that abolishing the police benefits everyone, and the most productive step towards this end is “defunding the institutions that oppress.”

Does this sound utopian? Abolitionists are often accused of naivety, but faculty member Dr. Michael Leo Owens addressed this dismissal by arguing that, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Black people would not dream of freedom but were freed. So, he asked, why shouldn’t we dream of a world that “doesn’t rely on brutality to solve its problems?”

However, this argument forces a faith dilemma on the Christian: the God who created everyone in his image and therefore despises racism was mistaken when he gave the sword’s authority to the State. A deity who is mistaken in one thing could be mistaken in anything, thus the Christian should not take the panelist’s proposal lightly.

That said, panelists observed that a majority of police calls are for non-violent offenses that other professionals could address. For example, Tanner said that police are called for fights between middle-schoolers, even though a school principal previously dealt with such skirmishes. In contrast, when a black man with schizophrenia wandered around Tanner’s community, people did not know who to call other than the police although he was not a threat.

Empowering local communities to handle these kinds of instances seems like a reasonable reform given that over 70 percent of Americans want to reduce the prison population by limiting sentence times.  Narrowing the police officer’s job description down to violent-related cases makes sense from many angles. But again, these are merely reforms. The panelists would not stop here.

For panelists, abolition is the chief-end of every reform. If it is possible to abolish policing without devolving into anarchy, the panelists still risk sky-rocketing crime. Historic data attests that crime increases as police legitimacy decreases. Even if the panelists are accurate in their description of the police system as “only protecting special interests” that “do not serve this general notion of public safety,” the solution would rest in reforming and promoting police legitimacy, not further disenfranchising the public. While we may never peg the exact causal relationship between “white supremacy” and police brutality, we can look at any number of historical examples to see the direct relationship between state police illegitimacy and crime.

Furthermore, Emory graduate student Darrin Sims noted that we have broadened “the way we define crime” in order to increase policing of marginalized communities. The Drug War supports this claim, but the larger crime trends do not. Between 1993 and 2018, FBI data shows a decrease in violent crime of 51 percent. If the definition of crime and police responsibilities keep broadening but the rates keep falling, then the future of violent crime in America seems to have a positive forecast.

But arguments against police abolition, Sims and Tanner claim, stem from people’s personal relationships with cops, investment in the court and prison system, or their inability to “decolonize their minds.” This is an extremely generalized and uncharitable take on the millions of Americans who simply feel safe because of the law enforcement and feel unsafe with prospect of following an unclear plan towards police abolition.

Arguably, the “concrete steps” the panelists outline towards police abolition simply repackage coercion. The panelists argued that one “cannot call the police on the police,” so there must be another support network people can contact. This seems like a fair reform. But once police are abolished, who will call the community safety officials on the community safety officials? Reform leaves room for checks and balances. Abolition does not.

Owns closed with the claim that “our country has a high tolerance for violence” which must be corrected. After IRD’s research into forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China or genocide in Nigeria, this statement was almost absurd. Yes, there is evil in our country and the impulse to violence exists. But the fact that we can discuss abolishing the police without getting arrested or killed for our “ideological problems” is an unprecedented privilege. We can recognize the blessings of our country while still pushing for justice.

Ultimately, there is room for reform and Christians ought to be the first to protect the vulnerable. The construction of just systems, however, stems from the humbling and realistic perspective that everyone is fallen, including those in local communities. Completely de-legitimizing the states’ right of the sword will do nothing to eradicate the fallibleness of our authorities and civilians. Indeed, de-legitimizing the state will lead to more instability and more crime.

  1. Comment by Jim on July 14, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    In mid June, Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben and Jerry’s called for the defunding of police. Ben and Jerry themselves made the same remarks. Corporate irresponsibility. Stores carrying Ben and Jerry’s products need to hear from consumers and make their concerns about community safety understood.

  2. Comment by Timothy on July 14, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    Citizens have the right and duty to participate in a free and open marketplace of ideas. Furthermore, citizens have a right and duty to keep a watchful eye on government. This means watching the activities of local, regional, state and federal government. The news media performed much of the watchdog duties many years ago, but sadly those days are gone. Civic minded individuals should form small taxpayer groups to study local government monthly expenditures, public policy, tax levies, etc. The noisy rabble in the streets should be replaced with well meaning citizens as one way to ‘check and balance’ the explosive growth of government taxes and spending. Start a facebook or twitter group to report local government actions. Yes, there’s tremendous waste, fraud, abuse and corruption happening under our noses.
    Many years ago, political observers in the USA would state our government is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ Now it’s almost the other way around.

  3. Comment by Lee Cary on July 14, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Dr. Chanel Craft Tanner, Director of the Center for Women at Emory University is an expert in policing?

    Isn’t a “Center for Women” a gender discrimination endeavor? Perhaps men can enter, but even then, it’s a center for only two of the genders? No “diversity” nor “inclusiveness” there. Not good.

    Dr. Michael Leo Owens asks why shouldn’t we dream of a world that “doesn’t rely on brutality to solve its problems”? Fair question.

    But who says we shouldn’t dream? Humanity is free to dream of anything that solves problems. Sky’s the limit. (We thinks Leo beats a straw person – metaphorically – no police needed.)

    “That said, panelists observed that a majority of police calls are for non-violent offenses that other professionals could address.” An excellent point.

    If, for example, a man/woman is being beaten by hir (the ubiquitous PC pronoun) partner/spouse, perhaps a relationship/marriage counselor – on speed-dial with the local PD – should answer the call. No armed police needed.

    A peeping-Tom/Jane is seen maneuvering through the neighborhood at work? Summon a sex therapist.

    Same for burglary. Stealing isn’t necessarily a violent crime. In fact, most aren’t. So, a Dr. Phil-like interventionist could be summoned to help the burglar sort out hir need to steal. “Where’s that urge coming from, and how’s it working out for you?”

    Someone trying to hot-wire your car? Do the charitable thing – give them your keys and, since it’s almost empty, ten dollars to buy gas.

    “Ultimately, there is room for reform and Christians ought to be the first to protect the vulnerable.”

    Absolutely, and often the most vulnerable are those whose actions prompt the summoning of the police. The thief, burglar, voyeur, and assailant: they should be attended to first.

  4. Comment by Bradley Pope on July 14, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Truly sad that Candler has now completed its journey to nowhere & has taken most of the UMC with it. These elitist white progressives truly don’t care how many of our nation’s most vulnerable, mostly minority, communities are going to be utterly destroyed by this ridiculous and dangerous notion. BUT for the Candler ilk that’s not their problem as long as they can feel the self righteous pride of being Uber woke

  5. Comment by Lee Cary on July 14, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Bravo, Bradley!

  6. Comment by Paula on July 14, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    Most of the panel & subsequent comments seem to come from an under-developed view of human nature. The progressive view that human beings are progressing toward utopia (if only conservatives would get out of the way) Is a hallmark of woke culture. It’s sophomoric & hopelessly flawed. We need the police because human beings are fallen and prone to wander. Police need accountability; we all do, in every profession and every walk of life. Again, because we’re fallen creatures. God gave the authority of punishing evil-doers to the state. The police are an instrument of that protection. To think we can improve our fallen human nature without God & His established order is foolish.

  7. Comment by Lee Cary on July 14, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    If this site had the opportunity to vote up or down, I’d push the “up” choice a dozen times re. your comment, Paula.

  8. Comment by Jim on July 14, 2020 at 7:53 pm


  9. Comment by Deborah on July 15, 2020 at 10:13 am


  10. Comment by Dan W on July 14, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    Police officers do a lot more than pursue and arrest suspected criminals. If a child or elderly person is missing we call the police. If someone living alone hasn’t been seen, doesn’t answer the phone or pick up their mail, we call the police for a welfare check. A trained law enforcement officer is often necessary in these situations.

    The Justice Involvement Coalition seems to have left a lot of stakeholders out of their discussion. Did they hear from crime victims or people who lost a loved one to a violent criminal? Did they hear from home or business owners who rely on the police to keep their neighborhoods safe? Did they hear from spouses/parents/grandparents who had to call the police to protect them from a violent family member? Or who stole from them? Before anyone suggests reducing the number of police officers in our communities, all stakeholders should be considered.

  11. Comment by Joe on July 14, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    It appears that the woke really ain’t as woke as they think they are.

  12. Comment by Joe on July 15, 2020 at 11:04 am

    I’ve seen an unfortunate tendency for Christians to mirror secular culture in how it percieves race relations rather than charting a path of their own. What I mean is that often Christians will take relexively a Blue Lives Matter position (standing in solidarity with police and ignoring America’s complicated history with race/corruption and abuse that needs reform) or a Black Lives Matter position (standing in solidarity with protestors and even going so far to promoting critical race theory reinterpretations of American history). There is clearly a need for justice in regards to racial inequalities and discrimination but the folks in favor of abolishing police ignore the overwhelming need for good policing. The rising wave of shootings and violent crime in inner cities which induldge in such nonsense is proof of this and yet to point out that people of color benefit from good policing is treated as a red herring. Such an approach is not the gospel, but ideology propagated without regard for the communities and people they purport to help.

  13. Comment by William on July 16, 2020 at 7:54 am

    This raging about police brutality is nuts. Of course there are some bad apples in any organization. But, these recent cases of police brutality — the officers were arrested and charged with MURDER. What do the revenge rioters want — public executions on national TV WITHOUT trials? Perhaps a little BALANCE is needed here. What about some discussion of the behaviors of people who end up having the police called on them? Of course I’m not going to like the police very much if I’m involved in criminal activity or have a criminal record when trying to get a job, a loan, et al. Or, maybe a little historic perspective — what has already been tried in the past and failed? Get real elites, police officers are NOT out looking for certain people to brutalize? What kind of stupid narrative is that? Police officers are busy enough dealing with CRIME. And sending other professionals into a volatile situation instead of the police? With relation to their own safety, would they be sent to the scene armed or unarmed? There are so many unanswered questions here and incomplete or suppressed information so as to make this whole thing beyond absurd.

  14. Comment by Theodore on July 16, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    The suggestion that we should significantly cut back on police responses within the community is a dangerous idea. It is an idea that rest on one faulty assumption and one unproven assumption.
    First is erroneously assumes that police over-reaction is the norm and is widespread. The recent statistical studies show this not to be true. This idea is from the very loud and public voices and is based on anecdotes more than evidence.
    Secondly, there is an assumption that a social worker is better suited to handle school violence or those with mental problems walking on our streets posing a danger to citizens. This is unproven and I am doubtful that this would be an effective idea. Yet I am open to giving it a try as a small experiment in one city.
    We must be sober minded about this dangerous idea. If this is implemented and results in more victims and more suffering, who will be called to account? Perhaps the theologians proposing this can be the ones conducting the funeral services for the future victims or ministering to them in the hospital and afterwards.

  15. Comment by Becky Garrison on July 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    As a Christian teacher I see fights in school and have never seen a policeman called to the school to break up a fight. Our principals still break up fights. Yes, we have school resource officers on campus. If you were to ask even the youngest children in schools you would hear them tell you they consider those officers friends. They have helped out kids and families out through some very difficult situations that include violent and non-violent cases. They help feed, clothe, transport, advise, and love on our kids. They aren’t there for “police” work alone. The officers at the junior and high school level provide advice for kids heading into the future and experiencing things in the most difficult times of their lives. They provide drug guidance, emotional support, and friendship to these kids. They are a positive influence for all of our students.

  16. Comment by Catherine on July 17, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Just one more reason I do not want to have UMC speak for me. Liberal bishops using this sad time of global illness to further promote their lack of Biblical orthodoxy. Such irresponsibility! Bashing African believers just like at G.C. John Wesley is turning in his grave. I want to go back to being a Wesley believing Methodist!

  17. Comment by Donald on July 18, 2020 at 10:37 am

    I’m sure the Atlanta Police Department would be delighted to allow Emory University no longer require their services. Make Emory a “Gun Free / Police Free Zone” and let the staff, faculty and students put their beliefs into real-world practice. Don’t let them off the hook and reinstate police presence after just one year. Give them five years so they can develop a credible research base for academic research.
    As Dr. Phil would say in about five years, “How’s that working for you?”

  18. Comment by Larry Burian on July 18, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    Using cities like Portland, Chicago and New York City as examples where the police are requested or ordered by their so-called government leaders to stand-down, are allowing (encouraging?) the rise of anarchy. And anarchy is a stepping stone to the demise of our Constitutional Republic. Anyone in their right mind (aka, the vast majority of Americans) do not want that to happen! It’s mind boggling and disheartening to see a United Methodist Church organization support such a crass and mindless scheme.

    Instead of a lawful, peaceful protest in many cities and towns, we are witnessing bodily assaults, shootings that include murder, rape, property damage and widespread unlawful societal disruptions by many of the purported demonstrators. Any alleged lawbreaker should be arrested, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and if found guilty, sent to prison.

    Defund the police? No! Absolutely not! We desperately need a strong Blue Line for our safety and protection that will help ensure the existence of peaceful communities across our great nation.

    Dr. Tanner, et al, who advocate defunding the police, have truly gone on an intellectual vacation.

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