Police debate: Democratize

This article, which is a shortened version of a previous article, was prepared as an entry in the debate on the police question for the Winter 2021 issue of The Activist. It was not included due to space.

Prompt: Whenever and wherever there is police brutality, socialists must stand beside the people who resist. But how do we go from protests to political change? Do we want an end to police violence or to policing itself? What should our slogan be, how do we convince others, and when will we know if we’ve succeeded? The following short articles represent distinct positions on “the policing question,” and we hope they will help you clarify your own thoughts.


At the height of last year’s racial justice uprising, Gallup released a poll which found that the vast majority of black, white, and Latino Americans wanted the same or more police presence in their communities, and that only a minority — around 14% — wanted to see less police. To many Americans, DSA’s official position (abolishing the police, from the 2017 convention) is needlessly radical and vague and the failure of Y/DSA as an organization to explain what abolition means only isolates us from the working class we seek to liberate.

Meanwhile, any attempt to reform America’s police runs into the brick wall that is the quasi-fascist Fraternal Order of Police and the astonishing solidarity shown by police toward one another. In short, we must crush police solidarity. However, we cannot destroy police solidarity by destroying their unions as the neoliberal elite might wish as they continue to cut costs. Rather, we must democratize the police and make them directly accountable to the working class.

Unfortunately, given the number of sheriffs and other local officials who run for office unopposed, our current “democracy” is not a sufficient solution. The answer lies in the workplace as the basic democratic unit.

Every workplace should, after reaching a certain number of employees, be required to elect from its ranks a number of workers to serve as police officers for one year subject to recall by a simple vote at any time. These workers would spend one or two days a week doing their normal work, while the rest of their workweek is spent at a police academy or in the streets. This provides the opportunity for a constantly-rotating force of elected officers so that a permanent force cannot form. This is fundamentally a trade-off, replacing a highly specialized, trained, and unaccountable police force for an amatuer one that — although it might be even worse at solving murder mysteries than our current police — would not terrorize the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.

By integrating the police into Y/DSA’s fundamental goal of workplace democracy, we go beyond simply reforming the police. Instead, we are presenting a cohesive and democratic alternative to the current capitalist system. By doing so, we will be emulating Y/DSA’s most successful demand: Medicare for All. We cannot only be against the current system, we must also be able to quickly and simply articulate our demands so that they are clear and unambiguous. We cannot afford to be needlessly radical and vague. Police violence is the iron heel of capitalism and we must take it seriously — and the only serious response is to democratize the police!