The Militarization of the Police: Has It Gone Too Far?
A longtime advocate of police reform, Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale doesn’t believe that training police in issues of sensitivity, racial bias, and mental health will improve policing in the United States. Instead, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project writes in his new book The End of Policing, the role of the police needs to be scaled back dramatically.
Over the past few decades, Vitale argues, the police’s role has expanded and become more intense in American society. “The militarization of policing that we identify with armored personal carriers and Robocop uniforms [is] the tip of a broader iceberg in which the political leadership of the country has told the police to wage a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, gangs, disorder, and that has shaped the way the police have approached their mission,” he says in a CUNY Book Beat podcast.
Vitale argues there are less punitive and coercive alternatives to much of what police do. Government agencies and private organizations can leave the police out of certain situations by providing better shelter for the homeless, or responding to a mentally ill person in distress. The latter is especially important. “At least one quarter of all people killed by police are having a mental health crisis at the time that they’re killed. Nothing is ever done to address their underlying health problem, so they are allowed to spiral out of control,” he says.
Vitale says he’s lost faith in politicians to make the radical changes that are needed. He hopes his book — which has been reviewed by The Nation and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications — connects with a broader public because he believes grassroots organizations can lead the way in demanding that the police scale back the intensity and breadth of their mission.