Black Radical Tradition in our Times conference, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, January 2016.
Black Radical Tradition in our Times conference, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, January 2016.

This study guide is intended to help activists understand the police and craft strategies to abolish them.

The guide examines the role police play in modern society and how they came to serve this function. It explores the impacts and contradictions of policing, and closes with a look at how communities have resisted police impunity and created alternative means of safety.

A World Without Police recommends doing this study with friends, comrades, and others directly impacted by policing and prisons. Remember: each one, teach one.

A World Without Police: Study Guide

1. The creation of police forces

Whitehouse, David. (2012). “Origins of the Police.”
Williams, Kristian. (2004). Our Enemies in Blue: Police and power in America. New York: Soft Skull Press. Chapter 3.

  • Why, in Whitehouse’s view, did police become necessary with the development of capitalist society? How were police different from the forms of social control that existed before?
  • Summarize Williams’ account of the development of police departments alongside the development of capitalism, white supremacy, and state bureaucracies. How did the function and administration of police forces change along with society?
  • Williams complicates the view that police are simply hired thugs for the white ruling class. How do different sections of the capitalist class and middle classes compete to have their interests served by police, in Williams’ account?

Further Reading:

Camp, Jordan and Heatherton, Christina, eds. (2016). Policing The Planet: Why the policing crisis led to Black Lives Matter. New York: Verso.
Center for Research on Criminal Justice. (1975). The Iron fist and the velvet glove: An analysis of the U.S. police. San Francisco: Center for Research on Criminal Justice.
Fogelson, Robert M. (1977). Big-city police. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Hadden, Sally. (2001). Slave patrols: Law and violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Miller, Wilbur R. (1977). Cops and bobbies: Police authority in New York and London, 1830-1870. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Monkkonen, Eric H. (1981). Police in urban America, 1860-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shirley, Neal and Saralee Stafford.(2016). “Delusions of Progress: Tracing the Origins of the Police in the Slave Patrols of the Old South.”
Walker, Samuel. (1977). A critical history of police reform: The emergence of professionalism. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books.


2. The police role in capitalist society

Mark Neocleous. (2000). “Theoretical foundations of the ‘new police science.'” In The new police science. Markus Dubber and Mariana Valverde, Eds. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Pg. 22-39.
Gordon, Todd. (2006). Cops, crime and capitalism: The law and order agenda in Canada. Halifax: Fernwood. Chapter 2.

  • Both authors argue that police power worked not only to repress, but also to create a working class suitable for capitalism. What are some of the fundamental characteristics of capitalist “order”? What working class behaviors endanger it, and what behaviors fit within it?
  • How does policing distinguish and drive a wedge between the “respectable” working class and the dangerous, indigent poor? How is this process related to racial and gender divisions in society? Does policing do the same thing today? How?

Further Reading:

Garland, David. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hall, Stuart. (1978). Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state, and law and order. London: Macmillan.
Neocleous, Mark. (2000). The fabrication of social order: A critical theory of police power. London: Pluto Press.
Wacquant, Loic. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Durham: Duke University Press.


3. White supremacy and class rule

Williams, Kristian. (2004). Our Enemies in Blue: Police and power in America. New York: Soft Skull Press. Chapters 4-5.
Kelly, Robin D.G. (2016). “Thug Nation: On State Violence and Disposability.” In Policing The Planet. Jordan Camp and Christina Heatherton, Eds. New York: Verso.

  • What is your understanding of the police role in capitalist society, so far? Why might fulfilling this role also require upholding white supremacy?
  • How has policing upheld white supremacy and racism in the past? How did policing shift with the Civil Rights movement, and how does “color-blind” policing uphold white supremacy today?
  • What role does Williams’ believe police have played in the struggle between capital and labor? As Williams says, labor struggles are more institutionalized today–do police still play the same role? If so, how? If not, what role do they play now?

Further reading:

Amar, Paul. (2011). New racial missions of policing: International perspectives on evolving law-enforcement politics. London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Beckett, Katherine, & Herbert, Steven K. (2010). Banished: The new social control in urban America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Epp, Charles, Maynard-Moody, Steven, & Haider-Markel, Donald. (2014). Pulled over: How police stops define race and citizenship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Muhammad, Khalil Gibran. (2010). The condemnation of blackness: Race, crime, and the making of modern urban America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Way, Lori Beth, & Patten, Ryan. (2013). Hunting for “dirtbags”: Why cops over-police the poor and racial minorities. Boston: Northeastern University Press.


4. Policing Gender

INCITE! Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color: A Critical Intersection of Gender Violence and State Violence.
Guidotto, Nadia. (2011). “Looking Back: The Bathouse Raids in Toronto, 1981” in Captive Genders. Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith, Eds. Oakland, CA: AK Press. Pg 63-76.

  • What role do the police play in enforcing the gender binary (the idea that there are only two genders, male and female, each marked by specific behaviors and appearances)?
  • What are some ways that law enforcement of immigration, domestic violence, sex work, and drug enforcement policies serve to make women and gender non-conforming people more vulnerable to sexual violence?
  • How are non-normative or queer sexualities regulated and criminalized under capitalism? What forms of punishment and repression does that criminalization take on, and how are those shaped by the the time period & historical context in which they occur?

Further Reading:

Davis, Angela. (2003). Are Prisons Obsolete?. New York: Seven Stories Press. Chapter 5.
Federici, Silvia. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia.
McDonald, Cece. (2014). “The Struggle for Trans Liberation” Video Talk.
Mogul, Joey L., Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock. (2015). “The Ghosts of Stonewall: Policing Gender, Policing Sex.” From Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
Testa, Jessica. (2015). “The 13 Women Who Accused a Cop of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words”.


5. “Blue power” and police unions

Williams, Kristian. (2004). Our Enemies in Blue: Police and power in America. New York: Soft Skull Press. Chapter 9.
Jay, Scott. (2014). “Who gives the orders? Oakland police, City Hall and Occupy.”
Flint Taylor. (2012). “Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions.In These Times.

  • Are the police part of the working class, for Williams? What are their interests? When police fight for their own group interests, is this good or bad for working class people?
  • When and why do police unions come into conflict with local city governments? What are the possible endgames of these conflicts?
  • How might a powerful social movement fuel, intervene in, or redirect conflicts between police and the government?

Further Reading:

Cockroft, Tom. (2012). Police cultures: Themes and concepts. London: Routledge.
Levi, Margaret. (1977). Bureaucratic insurgency: The case of police unions. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books.
Reuss-Ianni, Elizabeth. (1983). Two cultures of policing: Street cops and management cops. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.
Russell, Francis. (1975). A city in terror: 1919, the Boston police strike. New York: Viking Press.


6. Community policing and / as repression

Williams, Kristian. (2011). “The other side of the COIN: counterinsurgency and community policing.” Interface 3(1).
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson and Gilmore, Craig. (2016). “Beyond Bratton.” In Policing The Planet. Jordan Camp and Christina Heatherton, Eds. New York: Verso.

  • What spurred the trends of community policing and militarization? How are these trends are interrelated, for the authors?
  • What parallels do the authors draw between community policing and military counterinsurgency strategy? What role do NGOs play in carrying out these policies?
  • How do the authors connect community policing with the dismantling of the social safety net?
  • What do these arguments imply about efforts to “improve police community relations” in the wake of Black Lives Matter? What about campaigns for “community control of police”?

Further Reading

Agee, Christopher L. (2014). The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hanhardt, Christina. (2013). Safe space: Gay neighborhood history and the politics of violence. Durham : Duke University Press.
Herbert, Steven. (2006). Citizens, cops, and power: Recognizing the limits of community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Murakawa, Naomi. (2014). The first civil right: How liberals built prison America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


7. Toward abolition

Williams, Kristian. (2004). Our Enemies in Blue: Police and power in America. New York: Soft Skull Press. Afterword.
(Additionally, pick one of the “further reading” texts below.)

  • Does rolling back police power, and establishing alternatives for community safety, require a major political crisis? If so, what might such a crisis look like in the U.S. today? If not, how could these goals be achieved prior to a crisis?
  • Do localized campaigns to remove police from schools, demilitarize police departments, disband notorious police units (etc) bring us closer to the goal of abolition? How?

Further Reading

Chatterton, Paul. (2007). “The Zapatista Caracoles and Good Governments: The Long Walk to Autonomy.” State of Nature.
Communities Against Rape and Abuse. (YEAR) “Taking risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies” In The Revolution Starts at Home.
Creative Interventions. (2012). Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence.
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. (2013). Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities for Self-Defense.
Rose City Copwatch. (2008). Alternatives to Police.