The Socialist Case Against the Police

Part One: Origins & Function

brian bean

Police don’t solve, stop or prevent crime because they were never designed to. Cops are the tools of the bosses, from the day they were invented to today.

“The police ran; what a moment of liberation.” 
—Ibrahim, Egyptian labor activist and organizer of January 25, 2011, protests[i]

The most explosive urban uprisings in recent memory—from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to rebellions in Baltimore and Ferguson, to name but a few—have one thing in common: they were sparked by a widely reviled act of police violence. This connection between police brutality and sudden acts of mass resistance is not new: think of Stonewall or the 1967 uprising in Detroit or the rebellion in Los Angeles in 1992 following the beating of Rodney King.

Historically, the best elements of the socialist movement have played a role in these struggles against police violence. But there has also been a great deal of disagreement and debate over the political character of these struggles and, indeed, about the institution of policing itself. This disagreement continues to the present day and often becomes most heated when the following questions are raised: Should socialists understand the police as enemies or as uncertain allies in our organizing work? Should socialists count police among the ranks of the working class and relate to them on that basis? And to what extent do acts of resistance to police violence, such as the rebellions discussed above, bring us closer to achieving the fundamental socialist objective of abolishing all forms of exploitation and oppression? 

This article addresses these questions by arguing that socialists must reject the institution of policing, root and branch. That means, among other things, that the police cannot be allies in struggles for reform in any way; for purposes of organizing and strategy, we must always bear in mind that the police are, simply put, our enemies. Socialists must seek to abolish policing as an institution in the long run; in the short run, we need to grasp that policing and the police themselves represent huge obstacles to winning reforms. 

My case centers around four points. First, we must see the police as a product of capitalism and class society. This helps us see why the function of the police is, and always has been, to serve as an armed force of repression for the ruling classes in order to maintain and reproduce the so-called order of a vastly unequal, racist, and undemocratic world. In the United States, racism is written into the very DNA of the institution. Thus, it’s doubtful that any amount of reform could ever sever the tight link between racial oppression and policing. To paraphrase Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, racism—especially, but not exclusively, anti-Black racism—can no more be separated from policing than sugar can be separated from a cake after it has already been baked.

Second, once we see the function of policing is the violent enforcement of unequal social relations, we must discard the conventional idea that the police exist to protect and serve, i.e. to fight crime and keep ordinary people safe. Contrary to the way they’re often portrayed in popular culture, the cops do a miserable job of preventing crime. Indeed, cops play little to no useful role for the working masses of society; they only provide a measurable benefit to the ruling class. 

My third point follows from the first two: the police should not be seen as part of the working class. Thus, movements of the working class and the oppressed should afford them no solidarity. They should not be understood as a force that can be, or should be, won to our side in struggle in any capacity. This is not to say that we don’t welcome their possible paralysis and standing aside at certain moments in struggle. But the most effective stance that working class movements can take towards police is one of fundamental antagonism. 

Fourth, though our ultimate goal should be the abolition of policing itself, we must grasp that nothing short of a social revolution that breaks the machinery of the existing state could achieve this task. Inequality requires its keepers, its enforcers: you simply can’t have capitalist exploitation without a state that has a repressive apparatus to keep the direct producers from going into open revolt. The ruling class will not be convinced or tricked into giving them up willingly. This doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t fight for reforms in the here and now that aim to curtail the power of the police. But we should fight for such reforms without any illusions that we could reform our way to a just, non-racist version of policing. Indeed, the kinds of reforms we fight for, and the way we fight for them, must be informed by a clear analysis of who the police truly exist to protect and serve.

This is a two-part article—in this first installment, I’ll make a case for the first two points above. Part two, laying out points three and four, will be published in the coming weeks. 

Origins: Colonization, Enslavement, and Capitalism

In order to see the basic purpose of policing as an institution, we have to understand where it came from historically. Though it’s tempting to think police must always have existed, in fact they’re a pretty recent development. Policing crystallized in the nineteenth century—between 1820 and 1850—out of the way the ruling class responded to resistance from below on the part of the laboring masses. More specifically, policing emerged from three interrelated developments in the early modern period: the British colonization of Ireland and the need to subdue local resistance; the radical expansion of racialized slavery in the US South and the need to quell slave rebellions; and the rapid growth of a large, unruly urban working class in northern cities undergoing capitalist industrialization, whom factory owners needed to discipline and punish.

In the medieval period, cities were largely populated by tradesmen and people in skilled crafts guilds; with the arrival of industrial capitalism cities grew enormously as scores of peasants were forced from their land in the countryside and thrust into urban centers to look for work in factories. This presented a challenge for the class of people who owned factories, as they were now surrounded by large groups of potentially restive workers who were destitute and desperate, forced to work long hours for poverty wages. 

Within the workplace, employers devised all manner of disciplinary regimes to keep workers “in their place.” Outside of the factory gates, however, workers were beyond the immediate command and control of the bosses. Here they could commiserate, air grievances, and—worst of all from the bosses’ point of view—discuss ways to collectively fight back. This presented a volatile situation. During these early decades of capitalist development, first in England and then the United States, there were numerous uprisings, rebellions, and strikes by what elites would come to describe as “the dangerous class”—this included white workers, immigrants, enslaved African people, and free Black people. Indeed, 70 percent of America’s cities with a population over twenty thousand saw major disorders in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the threat of slave rebellion haunted the slavocracy in the South.[ii] As Marx wrote, “All history is the history of class struggle,” and cops are the forcible intervention on the ruling class side of that struggle. 

As Marx wrote, “All history is the history of class struggle,” and cops are the forcible intervention on the ruling class side of that struggle.

Though the ruling class did its best to keep Black and white laborers divided, there were also instances where these two oppressed milieus converged and linked arms in struggle. In New York City in 1741 there was an attempted insurrection, organized together by enslaved Africans, immigrant dock workers, and poor whites, that almost burned the city to the ground.[iii] London experienced major riots almost every year of the second decade of the nineteenth century, and revolt was openly feared by the rulers. An 1820 editorial in the London Times lamented that “Radicalism is every day most alarmingly and portentously increasing; and will, we predict more and more, till, without change, . . . end is certain.”[iv] The hope and rebelliousness of these “dangerous classes” grew with the promise of the revolutions, American, French, and especially Haitian, that reverberated through the networks of the revolutionary Atlantic. Since the working class was built in port cities, they were concentrated at nodal points of Atlantic trade, thus connected by news and word-of-mouth to these revolutionary developments even if they weren’t personally in the thick of them.[v] This created a profound problem for the capitalist class: how could they maintain control over the toiling masses in this context of revolt and force them to dutifully submit to exploitation? 

The modern police force was the solution of the ruling class to this problem. Of course, organized repression and violence has been used by the ruling class for as long as there have been class divisions, but modern policing is a very specific kind of repressive institution with a number of historically unique features.[vi] Before police forces were created in northern cities, the authorities sought to maintain legal order via courts of law and constables, the latter being a small group of officials who were representatives of the courts who went and served arrest warrants and other official legal papers. Constables were not a standing body of armed men, did not patrol the streets, and did not have any power to arrest people on their own volition unless they witnessed someone in the act of committing a crime, which almost never happened.[vii] Additionally, most cities had some form of “night watch,” a group of rotating volunteers who carried a lantern and a stick in an effort to minimize theft and arson, sounding the alarm only if they witnessed something suspect. In writings from this period, the most common complaints about watchmen had to do with their age (many were elderly) and the fact that many were habitually drunk.

In the southern United States, where slavery permeated every dimension of society, things were different. Instead of constables or night watches, another institution was dominant that predated the modern police: the slave patrol, also called alarm men, or searchers. These patrols were paid for by plantation owners and staffed by white vigilantes who supplied their own weapons.[viii] They were primarily based in rural areas and were initially informal and ad hoc. But as they became more and more routine, they came loosely under the control of local militia or courts.

However, urbanization moved and consolidated the enslaved population into cities, a process described by historian Julius Scott as one of the “key demographic trends of the early national period.” In Charleston, for example, the number of Black inhabitants more than tripled from 1790 to 1820. 

Also, shifts in large-scale production of King Cotton increased the number of large labor camps. So, too, did slave revolts—from Stono to the German Coast, led by Gabriel Prosser or Nat Turner—strike fear into the hearts of the slave-owning ruling class and pushed them to opt for more professionalized and reliable ways of snuffing out resistance from below that were becoming ever more difficult to manage. Few things terrified them more than the example set by the Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 and culminated in the liberation of the island’s Black population. This specter haunted them and gave confidence to rebellions of enslaved people in the United States. In 1796 a number of Black citizens of Charleston were executed for a large-scale plot to burn the city to the ground; they were described as having “intended to make a St. Domingo business of it” (St. Domingo being the name used for Haiti at the time).[ix] Fears sparked by the success of the Haitian revolution provoked ports from Charleston to Boston to ban, and in some places deport, Black people originating from the Caribbean.[x] Social controls like curfews and restrictions on movement targeted Black folks–both free as well as enslaved. But these were difficult to enforce with ad hoc bands of vigilantes. Thus, a new organization was required to enforce this escalation in repression requiring a more permanent and centralized authority than the slave patrols. A Charlestonian slave owner in 1845 described the change in a perversely matter-of-fact way: 

[In the rural setting] the mere occasional riding about and general supervision of a patrol may be sufficient. But, some more energetic and scrutinizing system is absolutely necessary in cities, where from the very denseness of population and closely contiguous settlements there must be need of closer and more careful circumspection.[xi]

This professionalization of the slave patrol in Charleston culminated in the formation of the City Watch and Guard. In 1822, in direct response to the thwarting of Denmark Vesey’s planned slave insurrection, a daytime patrol was created that then became fully incorporated and transitioned into a modern uniformed force in 1856.[xii] There is an unbroken blue line in the history of the US South from slave patrol to modern police as the private violence of the labor camp was moved into the city. 

There is an unbroken blue line in the history of the US South from slave patrol to modern police as the private violence of the labor camp was moved into the city.

Taken together, the various threats of strikes, rebellions, riots, and slave insurrections required a shift toward the creation of a new mechanism of social control, a new repressive force capable of controlling crowds and clamping down on collective action. Before this shift there had been attempts at implementing police-like agencies but they were rejected on the grounds that they were an unneeded expenditure and an unjustified limitation on freedom. As late as 1818 in Great Britain the Parliamentary Committee criticized a plan for a central police authority as making “every servant a spy on the house of his master and all classes of society spies on each other.”[xiii] However, the continual pressure of large angry crowds and collective revolt forced the ruling classes to rethink things. 

In the words of legal scholar Sydney Harring, what was required was “a full time, permanent force capable of continuously asserting the power of the capitalist state up and down every street in every city.”[xiv] Assembled piecemeal through a process of trial and error, the constables and the night watch (as well as the slave patrols in the South) were fused into a new professional standing body of armed individuals whose main job had two components:

(1) to regularly patrol working class neighborhoods and, through the threat of armed force, keep the lower orders in their place and protect the property interests of the rich. This included special control over Black people (both enslaved and free) being an essential component.

(2) to manage large crowds by making sure that when people tried to protest, strike, or organize they would be met with overwhelming force.

These two components—regular patrol and crowd control—continue to be the main functions of policing to this day.[xv]

This new force was modeled explicitly on techniques of colonization and occupation. In addition to origins in slave patrols, the other roots of the policing family tree trace back to what is typically considered as the first modern police force, the London Metropolitan Police, created in 1829 by then home secretary Robert Peel.[xvi] He developed his ideas for the new force from serving the British government in maintaining colonial control of Ireland. Peel found that uniformed soldiers of the British Army were good at fighting wars but not equipped to maintain order, as they often further inflamed Irish resistance by firing on crowds, were expensive to maintain, and imposed a visual of occupying troops that was difficult for the colonized to stomach. He developed a different force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, to be a more effective body for colonial domination. He used his ideas developed while managing colonization in the invention of the London police. 

The need for the application of tools of occupation was driven home in England by the events of the Peterloo Massacre. In Manchester in 1819, regular soldiers and middle-class militia drove into a peaceful radical workers rally killing hundreds and wounding many hundreds more. This bloody event provoked an uproar and radicalization around the creation of scores of working-class martyrs. Some sections of the movement began amassing arms in defense, training for military action, and widespread calls for “revenge for Peterloo” frightened a relatively new urban ruling class still determining how to control the emergence of this new powerful class.[xvii] Strategies for occupying colonized peoples were repurposed for the task.

Photo by Eric Kerl

From Precursors to Full-Blown Police Forces

The first major police force in the United States was established in Boston in 1838. Growing out of the context created by colonial expansion, enslavement and industrialization, the newly minted Boston Police were crafted, quoting policy makers of the time, to “imitate, as far as it may be, the system of London.”[xviii] New York City followed with the creation of the Day and Night Police in 1844. 

As with the birth of the police as an institution, its development was often spurred along by radicalism and resistance from below. For example, in 1902, in response to a massive wave of labor militancy after the Civil War, the first state police in US history were created by the state of Pennsylvania. It is noteworthy, given our discussion of the colonial origins of policing above, that Pennsylvania based this new repressive organization on the Philippine Constabulary; a force used to maintain the US occupation of the Philippines.[xix] Indeed, August Vollmer, the so-called father of modern policing, was trained in the Philippines. Among other things, Vollmer is credited with developing the first textbook and degree in policing as well having first introduced now standard policing practices such as fingerprinting, patrolling, and so forth. Vollmer’s example calls to mind the infamous contemporary Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, who implemented torture and coercive interrogation techniques in Chicago based on what he’d learned as a participant in the United States’ neocolonial invasion of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Other contemporary examples come to mind, as well: the task force created by Obama at the height of Black Lives Matter protests stated in its final report that the primary problem of policing was that it was seen as an “occupying force coming from outside to control the community.”[xx] The rulers see an image problem, but, from its origin to the present day, this is not just the image but the reality of the police. This remark, in turn, calls to mind Huey Newton’s argument from the 1960s that police occupied, brutalized, and contained Black communities in the same way that the US military occupied, brutalized, and contained the Vietnamese people. 

In major cities in the industrialized North, newly created police forces were clearly linked to the needs of capitalist employers who desired, above all else, a powerless, obedient labor force that would regularly submit to brutal exploitation. In Capital, Marx describes how the ruling class “used the police to accelerate the accumulation of capital by increasing the degree of exploitation of labor.”[xxi] The degree of exploitation can be increased by driving down wages, speeding up the pace of work, or some combination of the two. And, of course, the point of increasing the degree of exploitation and reducing resistance is to extract as much wealth from workers as possible.[xxii]

This brings out a key contradiction at the heart of capitalism, however. In order to most efficiently extract the maximum profit from the labor of workers it was necessary to assemble them all in the same space, into massive factories. But by assembling them all in one place and forcing them to cooperate together on the job, employers also increased the capacity for collective working-class struggle against exploitation and tyranny. Simply put, a key function of the modern police force is to manage this contradiction on behalf of the owning class. 

In the American South the brazen violence of enslavement only laid bare the contradiction between the conditions used to extract wealth from individuals who were legally “property” and the continual resistance to those conditions waged by those enslaved.

But Weren’t Police Forces Created to Fight Crime?

The most commonly understood and repeated justification for the police is to manage crime. But despite the persistence of this claim from the earliest days of the institution, fighting crime had basically nothing to do with their design. 

In Boston, for example, crime went down between 1820 and 1830, the decade before the creation of their police department, and in the city marshal report of 1824 crime was not even mentioned.[xxiii] Other more recent developments illustrate the point as well: policing and incarceration in the United States underwent a massive expansion in the decades after the rebellions of the 1960s, even though violent crime steadily declined during the very same period. 

It’s telling that the patrol function—now as much as in the past—receives the most police resources. Why place communities under constant watch by an armed repressive force? The question answers itself when we consider that policing was rolled out in the wake of large-scale collective revolts by workers and the oppressed. The goal of constant patrolling is to remind the masses that there is a standing threat by the state to inflict violence to discipline anyone who challenges the legitimacy of the existing order. It is this threat that is the special tool of the police. Their every intervention has the promise of violent force as a consequence of opposition. Indeed, the role of the detective, the person who supposedly solves crime, didn’t exist in some American police departments for the first fifty to seventy-five years of their existence.[xxiv] The first tool of the cop is the nightstick, the truncheon, a weapon to force compliance and discipline crowds, not the magnifying glass or the fingerprint kit.

The first tool of the cop is the nightstick, the truncheon, a weapon to force compliance and discipline crowds, not the magnifying glass or the fingerprint kit.

From two hundred years ago to the present, the main way that police catch those who commit crime is by someone who sees the crime telling them what happened.[xxv] Solving crimes in this way does not require a large body of swaggering armed guards. The majority of police officers make one felony arrest per year—most of the time they are on patrol, gazing suspiciously at those who’ve done nothing wrong.[xxvi] The overwhelming majority of police arrests are for minor drug and “quality of life” offenses such as public drunkenness, vagrancy, public urination, unlicensed street vending, etc. Policing these small offenses aggressively is a common practice in what is called “broken windows” or “order maintenance” policing. As many have pointed out, broken windows policing does little more than criminalize the poor and marginalized. 

In addition to them not doing much to catch so-called criminals, the police also are terrible at preventing crimes from happening in the first place. There is no correlation between the per capita size of a police force and reduction of crime rate. Indeed, it is often the case that the places with higher per capita police forces have higher rates of crime and Chicago’s murder rate is a sterling example. Another example disproving this correlation is a recent study in the journal Nature on the period of time when the NYPD went on slowdown in response to Mayor De Blasio’s limp criticism of the police killing of Eric Garner.[xxvii] During this tantrum, they stopped carrying out “unnecessary arrests” for a short period of time. First, the very fact that they admit to “unnecessary arrests” should be evidence against them enough. The arrest rate of minor drug arrests and quality of life offences of course plummeted and New York City did not descend into a spiral of chaos. Most interestingly, on top of that, researchers found that the reporting of major crimes (felony robbery, murder, and assault) fell by half during the time of the slowdown. To be clear this is not the amount of major crimes investigated or reported by police that fell, but the number of complaints police received.

This point was proven yet again in Chicago in early 2019 when Chicago police carried out a similar slowdown protesting the conviction of one of their own for the murder of Laquan McDonald. For a few weeks, after threatening that Chicago residents would “pay the price” for a department cowed by the bright light of accountability, police purposefully reduced the use of stop-and-frisk street stops. Obviously the number of minor offenses that usually flow from street stops diminished, and, as in New York, the number of violent crime incidents also dropped

To sum up: cops are bad at solving crime, stopping crime, and preventing it.

Having said this, however, it’s important to take a step back and look with a critical eye at the very idea of “crime.” Vandalism and littering, for example, are heavily policed while corporations are given free rein to pollute and poison. Activities carried out for survival, like shoplifting, street trade, sex work, and the like are heavily policed and thought of as crimes—and, at the same time, the grotesque inequality that frames these choices that people make to live is not conceived of as criminal. This is especially true when you look at how crime is racialized, how the War on Drugs is primarily waged against Black America despite equal rates of drug use among whites and Black people. Consider, too, how rowdy celebrations by crowds of white men are received with a “boys will be boys” attitude, whereas the people of Ferguson were slandered as “rioters” when they took to the streets to protest police murder and harassment.

If “crime” only means breaking the law, then we must always remember that laws are the product of class society and are designed to serve those at the top. To quote Engels in Condition of the Working Class in England:

Certainly the law is sacred to the bourgeois, for it is of his own making, put through with his approval and for his protection and benefit. He knows that even if a particular law may injure him as an individual, still the complex of legislation as a whole protects his interests. . . . He holds it to be holy and that the policeman’s club (which is really his own club) holds a power for him that is wonderfully reassuring. But for the worker it certainly does not. The worker knows only too well and from too long experience that the law is a rod that the bourgeois holds over his head.[xxviii]

St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by author

Profitable Myths

The other dynamic in the mythology of police crime fighters is how crime has been racialized or, to paraphrase Naomi Murakawa, how the problem of racism in society has been criminalized.[xxix] After the destruction of chattel slavery, the myth of Black criminality was used as the justification for the construction of various apparatuses of repression in order to maintain control and restrict the freedom dreams of Black Americans. This was in the interest of the ruling class because of the way that the entire class order of the United States was in many ways built on racist oppression.[xxx]

This interest is quite explicit. The first sociological study that linked criminal behavior to Black skin was Frederick L. Hoffman’s 1896 Race Traits and Tendencies of the Negro American.[xxxi] Hoffman was an employee of Prudential Insurance and created the study in order to allow Prudential to deny selling insurance to the newly free African American population. The originators of broken-windows theory, George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, blamed “culture” for poverty and criminal behavior in a way that resembles racist eugenicists like Charles Murray and Herbert Spencer.[xxxii] This connection of the notion of criminality to Black people has been remarkably resilient and consistently applied from Johnson’s Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act as a result of the ghetto rebellions of the 60s, to Nixon’s “law and order” dog-whistle politics, to Reagan’s War on Drugs, Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and Trump’s doom-and-gloom apocalyptic rants about Chicago. All this serves to both justify the occupation of Black communities by trigger-happy cops and as an explanation for the poverty and inequality that especially affects Black folks in this burning house of America. 


Pause for a moment and consider just how radically different the real function of the police is from the representations of cops we encounter in popular culture. In countless TV shows and movies, we’re encouraged to sympathize with dogged, morally upright lawmen who strive to make the world safer, who—one way or another—always get their man. 

As we’ve seen, the reality is quite different. Historically, policing has never been about public safety or crime reduction. Modern police forces were constructed to keep oppressed people in their place by violent means to secure the class rule and the law and order of capitalism.

In the next installment of this two-part article, I’ll build on this historical foundation of the function of the police to make the case for the strategic implications that arise from this analysis.[xxxiii]

[i] Quoted in Philip Marfleet, Egypt: Contested Revolution (London: Pluto Press, 2016), 4.

[ii] Sidney L Harring, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities, 1865–1915 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 33.

[iii] Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 206–10.

[iv] J. L. Lyman, “The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829: An Analysis of Certain Events Influencing the Passage and Character of the Metropolitan Police Act in England,” Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Political Science 55 (1964).

[v] Julius Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (New York: Verso, 2018).

[vi] In Napoleonic-era France an institution similar to the police was created in what later became known as La Sûreté Nationaleor National Police. It was rather unlike what is described in this article and was an organization of political police and spies that lacked the patrol function, a definitional feature of modern police. This organization was a tool of repression but of a different genus.

[vii] The only real recourse to managing crowds for constables was the reading of The Riot Act, a proclamation read aloud to crowds deemed unruly or threatening to public order. Failure to comply exonerated vigilantes and mobs from legal recourse for violently suppressing the crowd. This strategy proved less and less useful as the size of crowds increased with the dramatic growth of the urban proletariat. It also gave way to overly bloody attacks that threatened the veneer of moral authority of the state as the St. George and Peterloo massacres demonstrated.

[viii] Some parallels can be made between the composition of slave patrols and that of the Yeomanry in Great Britain who were one of the forces responsible for the Peterloo Massacre.

[ix] Scott, Common Wind, 199.

[x] Scott, Common Wind, 191.

[xi] Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing (London: Verso Books, 2017), 46.

[xii] Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Oakland: AK Press, 2015), 78.

[xiii] E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), 82.

[xiv] Harring, Policing a Class Society, 15.

[xv] David Whitehouse, “Origins of the Police,” Libcom, December 24, 2014,

[xvi] It is from his name that police get their colloquial sobriquet “Bobbies.”

[xvii]  Thompson, Making, 681–91; Lyman “Metropolitan Police Act,” 148.

[xviii] Williams, Our Enemies in Blue, 114. Though American cities looked to the London model as inspiration they were selective and adaptive to local situations.

[xix] Vitale, End of Policing, 42.

[xx] Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015, Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

[xxi] Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, chapter 29.

[xxii] Harring, Policing a Class Society, 13.

[xxiii] Williams, Our Enemies in Blue, 109.

[xxiv] Before the addition of “detective units” this work was often carried out by private firms, bounty hunters, and “thief-takers.”

[xxv] Additional discussion is also warranted about the problems of the so-called science of criminal investigations and prosecutions. For one, see Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, “CSI is Lying To You: Junk Science in Criminal Convictions,” presentation at Socialism Conference July 5th, 2018,

[xxvi] Vitale, End of Policing, 31.

[xxvii] Christopher M. Sullivan and Zachary P. O’Keefe, “Evidence That Curtailing Proactive Policing Can Reduce Major Crime,” Nature 1 (2017), 730–37.

[xxviii] Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[xxix] Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 3.

[xxx] See Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (New York: Verso, 2014) and Jack M. Bloom, Class, Race, and The Civil Rights Movement: The Changing Political Economy of Southern Racism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), among others.

[xxxi] Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 42.

[xxxii] Robin D. G. Kelley, “Thug Nation: On State Violence and Disposability,” in Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, ed. Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton (New York: Verso, 2016), 25–26.

[xxxiii] Special thanks to David Whitehouse for comments and insight on this piece.

brian bean is a member of the Rampant editorial collective and an editor and contributer to the book Palestine: A Socialist Introduction forthcoming from Haymarket Books.