No Police. Imagine That.

June 23, 2020

Defund the police. From a marketing perspective this was a poor choice of words. It’s never wise to brand an idea with a label that is so provocative and that so immediately demands an explanation that seems to begin with that’s not really what we mean. Because for most people the idea of not having a police force is unacceptable. 

However there was a time when having a police force would have been equally as unacceptable. In ancient Ireland there were no police and no jails. They weren’t necessary. The Brehon Laws guided their justice system, a system that was restorative rather than punitive. Under these codes, everyone was honored and everyone had value.

Sure, there were crimes committed. Theft, abuse, and even the occasional murder. They were, after all, human. But when a crime was committed, the objective was to restore what the victim lost according to their honor price. This restoration was not only the responsibility of the person who committed the crime, but also of their family, clan, and tribe. They didn’t need anyone to interpret the Brehon codes and only when there was disagreement over the interpretation did they call in a Brehon judge specifically for the purpose of arbitration. But the Brehons had no enforcement power. That was left to the community. It was community policing at its finest.

And it worked. In fact the Brehon Laws worked so well that both the English and Roman systems of justice were influenced by this ancient code.

Defund the police. There’s another flaw in this label. It speaks to what we don’t want rather than what we do want. It’s not aspirational or generative and it’s not a great place to begin imaging a future justice system. In a time when we need tsunamic change in our policing system, this is narrowly focused. It’s not about funding. It’s about fundamental change. No police may be an outrageous notion but be need to be expansive enough to consider the outrageous. It’s a place to begin.

So. No police. Imagine that.

Judith –

1 thought on “No Police. Imagine That.

  1. This is a wise critique of the phrase and policy. To address the second point first, you’re right–we are told what not to do rather than what to do. The Ten Commandments has that problem, since most of them address what not to do. In ancient times, the Church composed a positive response to the commandments, called The Didache.

    You’re also right in the first part, or the Irish were. I’m glad you bring up the influence on the English and the Romans, which has me thinking it’s not only my Irish bias thinking and talking. For the community to handle crime as its own group and for the group seems to have worked so well. There was reliance on respect and honesty. But since those are good and satisfying values, it shouldn’t be a stretch to thinking about the application of them. Really. There was a group called the Pietists who handled maybe not crime (though they might have) but handled Biblical interpretation in this way. If someone had new truth to offer, the community together would consider its authenticity and merits. They were a community that tried to live by faith and peace and do so favorably.

    Thank you for your smart response to “defund police.”

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