Volume 110

Policing Is Not a Good

by India Thusi

During the 2020 protests against police violence, activists demanded that we defund the police, a demand that deserves serious scholarly engagement. Scholars and activists often refer to the policing of Black communities as suffering from a paradox of both overpolicing and underprotection. At the same time, many critics of defunding the police have focused on the issue of underprotection to argue that the defund movement is unrealistic and unconcerned with community safety. In this Essay, I argue that the underprotection framework conflates protection with police and co-opts the arguments of people who want to make all communities—including Black ones—healthier and safer. It is premised on the notion that policing can be a public good that brings security to everyone. However, the underprotection argument for more police examines police administration in a vacuum. These claims about underprotection and policing as a good are rooted in micro- and meso-level issues, such as individual police encounters and crime rates. These claims tend to avoid macro-level considerations that situate policing within its relevant social, political, historical, and cultural context, ignoring its role in racial subordination and its inherently violent nature. Embracing a macro perspective on policing reveals that increasing the number of police officers does not necessarily translate into healthier and safer communities. This Essay argues that adopting a macro-level analysis of policing takes the underprotection problem seriously by also considering the qualities of policing that reinforce racial subordination and compromise community safety. 

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