The Police Can’t Be Reformed

“As a profession, we are demonized daily by many who have created a dangerous false narrative that is perpetuated by the media. Many careers were destroyed over the last year. Many officers had to leave the profession because of the experiences they were put through during the violent protests last year. Those experiences proved to be too much for them. They were unable to process the events and continue in the profession where they felt a calling to protect and serve the community. Their lives and their family’s lives are forever changed.”

—Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sgt. Sherral Schmidt.

“Nearly 200 Minneapolis police officers have left the force in the wake of the death of Floyd, with many filing post-traumatic stress claims due to the civil unrest that followed.”

—Fox News

In 2016, the word snowflake was put on the Collins English Dictionary words of the year list. They explain its usage: “The young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations”. Depending on what you read, being part of the “snowflake generation” may be as benign as taking selfies or talking about feelings too much, or it may infer a sense of entitlement, an untamed narcissism, or a form of identity politics that is resistant to free speech.”

Last year I predicted that as a ploy to get more support for police officers, the media would frame a defunded police force as the reason for a rising crime rate. The headlines by the same media companies who claim to be woke read daily about crime. The media intends to scare the public. But their plan has hit a hiccup. The police are the ones scared, not the public.

What am I referring to? The movement by police to cancel themselves and go on leave! While this did create the shortage of cops the media fear mongered about it looks a little different when the cops walked out on their comrades.

This all of course begs the question about revolution. A revolution done too fast, without the proper organizing done to provide an alternative society, is bound to fail. This may have been done in Stalinist Russia but here in the United States the revolution may be going too slowly.

The American police have more funding than any military besides our own or China’s. This certainly makes any sort of revolution, no matter the strength of organizing, extremely difficult. Despite this mismatch, we see a weak spot: the police themselves.

It they can’t even handle criticism, they likely will continue to roll over when class contradictions heighten. The American Right, while horrifying in their institutional power, extremism, militancy and stupidity, are above all a small and cowardly lot. They are overrepresented in the courts, the cops and in political office.

But without a whole lot of dark money and big guns behind them, they fold, and fold quickly. In some ways it may be surprising that the largest chunk of police abolition has been by the police being so snowflake they can’t hang with massive peaceful protests. Yet this is a sign that this approach is working. Noam Chomsky has recalled the unprecedented nature of the global protests following George Floyd. These protests worked to defund the police, even when politicians predictably opted mostly for symbolism.

For now, the politicians and businessmen need the police to back their agenda because no democracy could support this stage of capitalism. Changing the politicians and taxing the billionaires are vital steps but it seems the first step of the revolution has been to nullify the authority of the police protecting them.

The police may well be defunded by politicians or businessmen afraid of revolution. The most useful tool in the toolbox so far has been the police themselves who defund the police at the first sign of trouble.

As long as some police remain though, the danger is just as great. Money will still be wasted on them, even when they don’t respond to emergency calls for the purpose of their own PR. As a result, we will still have lots of problems and little recourse. The police will be more angry and spiteful and will embrace the false label of underdog.

What the police can’t win over is the public, who is seeing right through the bait and switch. The game is up. From the beginning, the media telegraphed their approach of “less police, more crime”. Now we see how many civilians they were willing to let die in order to achieve their narrative.

The lines now are more blurry. Reforms, needed to hold off a revolution, are too much for the police to handle, so they go on leave. This leaves the door wide open for revolution.

The police know that they can’t “do their job” if they are held accountable. Their job is to control with force. In that way they are right to recognize there is no more room for police in society. It would be unfair to ask police to reform their approach, because the role of police is to be a violent oppressor. When more police see this contradiction they will walk out.

Our job is to drop the reform model and continue to push for abolition. The police and activists both know that if the police are doing their job description, it goes really badly. To change the police into a tidy woke group won’t work when their job description is to kill poor people of color. The police know they can’t be two things at once. And since they always arrive late to the scene, we must know it too.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at