Why we don’t want to merely “reform” the Police

Michael A Gold
8 min readJun 18, 2020
Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty Images.

Many people have heard, in the weeks since George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer, about calls to Abolish or Defund the Police. This call has been heard in Minneapolis and across the nation, as people at large begin to truly grapple with the role of police and policing in our society.

At the same time, many people have responded to calls to Defund the Police by insisting that we ought to instead Reform the Police. In my opinion, Americans are generally anxious about radical change. We tend to gravitate toward solutions that seem more sensible and more even-keeled, often without considering whether or not they tackle the actual root of the problem. I don’t want to take up much of your time, but I do want to lay out a few reasons why reform of the police, especially at this time, would not resolve the issues that we are seeing with policing today.

  1. Many suggestions for reform are unclear about how implementation would be enforced, or put too much trust in police to enact reforms themselves.

The best example of this is 8cantwait (https://8cantwait.org/). 8cantwait promises to be able to reduce brutality and is backed by research which you can find on their website. 8cantwait is admirable in it’s efforts to use research to pass policy. The issue is implementation. For example, chokeholds have been barred by the NYPD since 1993, however, that didn’t stop an NYPD officer from using a chokehold on Eric Garner, resulting in his death. You can find out more about the Earic Garner Anti-Chokehold Act here, intended to ban chokeholds across the State of New York, but it’s not clear how to resolve the issue that, according to this same press release, nearly 1000 people have reported being subject to chokeholds by the NYPD between 2014 and 2020.

More questions abound. If we are requiring that police give a warning before they shoot, how do we measure the efficacy of that warning? What is the rubric? If a cop says “I’m gonna shoot” as they pull the trigger, did they give an adequate warning? We might say no, but will the report reflect that reality? The problem with these use of force reforms is that they require that the police also believe in using them. In a time when trust of the police is at a critical low, we are asking the public to trust that…

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Michael A Gold

Michael writes about history, religion, and the Bible. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and Netflix account.