What if there were no cops? On a world without police and military forces

The gunman in the recent Paniqui incident was a cop who’s now charged with double murder. It’s not an “isolated case,” as police authorities have claimed. Although the incident may seem “isolated” because the brutality unlike most, was a properly documented one, as the murder was filmed on a mobile phone. If you got extremely agitated by this one video, here’s a list of news articles compiled by Hacktibista, an activist collective, to prove that there are more reasons to be angry about. 

The list shows a wide range of criminal, inhumane, and horrendous acts that police and military forces committed this year. Extensive as the list may be, it may not necessarily include narratives from the collective experiences of communities in far-flung provinces, where lack of access to communication and media coverage has resulted in possibly a lot more of unreported atrocities.

Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, investigated the drug war deaths in the Philippines. According to a news report from the organization, “Police killed 50 percent more people between April to July 2020 than they did in the previous four-month period.” In addition, “155 persons were killed in the past four months.”

“Nearly 5,000 suspected drug users and dealers have died from July 2016 to September 2018, while the police said in mid-2018 that more than 23,000 killings were under investigation since the start of Duterte’s term” says Bloomberg in an article. Amnesty International published a report called “Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines” which detailed the failed disciplinary practices and torture practiced by policemen.

The Commission of Human Rights (CHR) also said that 89 human rights defenders were killed from 2017 – 2019. CHR commissioner Leah Armamento added that they are investigating the recent killings on activists. According to Armamento, the activists were in surveillance of the PNP and were red-tagged by the institution. Unfortunately, the police are not participating in CHR’s investigations.

Can you imagine how many more incidents like this have been committed but left undocumented? And yes, quarantine violator and police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, no amount of fear tactics can stop people from taking videos that could expose the violations perpetrated by the institution that you head.  

To be clear, police brutality and abuses are not exclusive to this country. Violence by state forces happens everywhere, especially under authoritarian regimes, to silence dissent. As the list here indicates, most of the victims of police brutality are  activists and citizens who have criticized government policies and asserted their rights. 

Calls to defund the police have made rounds this year all over the world. All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB) has become a rallying cry in many countries. Aside from the police, the protest also seeks to abolish other military institutions that enable such atrocities.

While some people may argue that there are “good cops” too, it must be stressed that police abuses are an institutional problem. Inside these agencies, men and women are trained to think and act with a militaristic and punitive mindset. It does not help that the president himself has continued to enable a culture of impunity.  

Abolishing the current police institution can lead to the creation of a new police force that is more community-centered, instead of having officers who seemingly act like mercenaries. However, as discussed by feminist activist Angela Davis, the better alternative is to build a society without the need for police and prisons. We should question the social relations which have made police and prisons necessary, especially when the poor enforcement of the law selectively punishes people based on class and gender. 

The law certainly raises questions when a 79-year-old man was kept in jail for stealing chocolates, while Imelda Marcos, convicted of graft, continues to live luxuriously. How come Joseph Pemberton, who murdered Jennifer Laude, was granted absolute pardon by the president? Even President Duterte, a “self-confessed killer” as per Senator Leila De Lima, also “jokingly” admitted to sexually abusing his family maid, has yet to be held accountable. Suspects of petty crimes are often poor folk, while plunder, graft and fraud are committed by national leaders and large corporations. 

If current standards for sanctions and punishment seem to be determined by class and gender, then we should shape a society with social and ideological landscapes that could replace prison-like institutions. 

 

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We should nurture liberating educational institutions that encourage learning outside the present neoliberal economic framework that is  focused mainly on producing and exploiting workers. We should establish a health care system accessible and available to everyone, especially in a society that criminalizes drug use that should be seen as more of a health problem. Our justice system should be focused on reparation and rehabilitation instead of retribution. 

The film “Walang Rape sa Bontok” by Lester Valle showed clips of Bontoc Women Brigade grandmothers tasked to maintain the peace and order in the community. Armed with flashlights, the women aged 30-80 roam around their community to assist in implementing curfew and liquor ban. While this method may still align with the contemporary and established understanding of “policing,” (given that they were still accompanied by policemen at night) the women brigade may be considered a contemporary example we could look into and further modify in the Philippine setting. It is composed of grandmothers belonging to the same culture and community who have not undergone training similar to state forces. In fact, the community cooperated easier because of these women. 

Photo of Bontoc Women Brigade grandmothers from Inquirer

It may be difficult for some people to imagine a world without cops, especially when the taught response to problems is to “call the police.” But who do we call when it’s the police themselves who are committing these felonies? Doesn’t that leave us at a dead end? An alternative way you can initiate in your community is to engage with a network of people or a support group that you can trust. 

Delegitimized by the state, the Commission of Human Rights, whose function is to investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights is tasked to seek a probe into these killings. But during the first few hours of the video on social media, some people were looking for Raffy Tulfo to seek justice, and this can be very problematic

The fact that people are pinning their hopes on a YouTube channel and radio show, says so much of the state of our decaying justice system and the systemic problems that come along with it. It’s as if people have been turned away by the government to seek justice, and they cling to “Raffy Tulfo in Action,”, a show that profits from their problems. 

State forces are trained to carry guns, their main solution to problems. The president recently called for the police to carry these even when they’re not on shift, and has refused to call it back even in the wake of the Gregorio murders. Also, remember how the president deployed thousands of state forces to handle the pandemic and even appointed military officials to head the task force against the virus? Thanks to this militaristic solution, there were multiple arrests of so-called quarantine violators instead of mass testing as health experts had recommended.  The president’s cabinet is filled with police and military retirees and this has proven Duterte’s hollow populism, leaving many Filipinos suffering on top of a global pandemic.

Imagine if there were no cops who perpetrate these problems? As it is, the need for the police seems to exist only to maintain the status quo. To dream of a better society means to build a world with social relations that do not support structures that enable crimes. 

We have a lot of unlearning and relearning to do about the way we were taught about crimes, punishment and justice. In the future, we hope never to again hear the threatening words “Ayan na si mamang pulis” to discipline a child because there would be no more police to instill fear. Instead, we’d have a society that recognizes how grave punishments are not a way out of our problems. Rather, we need comprehensive social solutions that are also economically, culturally and ideologically viable.

 

Header by Chris Henry on Unsplash / Bontoc Women Brigade photo from Inquirer

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