The perils of disbanding the police

Hany Ghoraba
Friday 19 Jun 2020

Major reforms are needed to deal with racist incidents in the United States, but moves to disband the police can only make a bad situation worse

The aftermath of the horrific killing of the black American citizen George Floyd has continued for a third week across the United States. 

The racially aggravated killing committed by a group of Minneapolis police officers has caused massive riots, which have expanded over the other side of the Atlantic, reaching the United Kingdom, France and Spain. The killing has sparked calls for reform within America and Europe towards a more just society that does not discriminate on the basis of race, colour or creed. 

Initially, the protests had the best of intentions and were meant to show the condemnation of all members of society of how Floyd was killed because of his race. However, the protests did not stop at this noble cause. Unfortunately, leftist groups and anarchists found this human tragedy to be the ideal moment for them to make a display of force before the rest of society. 

Thousands of rioters have since moved across many major US cities, looting and torching cars, stores and restaurants and causing huge human and economic casualties that are growing exponentially by the day. Over 22 American citizens and police officers have been killed in the riots and 11,000 injured as a result of the violence that has taken place since the death of George Floyd.

During these protests, some irrational calls have been made by the organisers for the defunding or disbanding of the police in the United States. The city council of Minneapolis in Minnesota where the killing of George Floyd occurred took a decision to disband its police department as a result of the incident, for example. 

The council, which contains members affiliated to Islamist organisations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), banned as a terrorist group in the UAE, said that it was considering replacing the city’s current police force with a community-led system. This would mean that a community-led force would take charge of law enforcement, which if not done carefully could lead to more harm than good. 

The situation in the US resembles that in Egypt in 2011 after the 25 January Revolution, when some protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square called for the disbanding of the police, and rioters led by Muslim Brotherhood members and leftists attempted to storm the Ministry of Interior headquarters. This irrational idea became popular for a time and was spread in the media by the same group of individuals. 

For the first few days after the revolution, the police ceased to patrol the streets and stopped conducting their law-enforcement duties. These days were among the most dangerous in Egypt’s modern history. Whole neighbourhoods and streets were patrolled by local neighbourhood watch and militia-like groups before the police and security forces started operating normally again across the country.

Violence did not stop because the police were no longer patrolling the streets. In fact, it increased dramatically. Crime, looting and the torching of public and private property became prevalent, including of homes, cars and shops, before most Egyptians became convinced that disbanding the police was one of the stupidest ideas ever to be entertained in the country.  

Everyone came to the conclusion that no modern society could function properly without an official law-enforcement force. The Muslim Brotherhood had a different purpose in propagating its devious plan to incorporate more Islamists and Brotherhood members inside the police force, however. 

Groups such as the Salafis were formed, and Islamist-affiliated policemen formed a group to them into the Ministry of the Interior and the police force. Ideas such as forming a “morality police” such as those that exist in Iran and Saudi Arabia were circulated, resulting in more violence and the deaths of innocent citizens. 

The United States today is experiencing a similar pattern of lawlessness to that which Egypt saw after the 25 January Revolution, and ironically enough Islamist figures in the United States are on the frontlines of some of the riots taking place across the country.   

The irony also is that many of the leaders of such police-disbanding initiatives are the champions of causes such as gun-control and the repeal of the second amendment to the United States Constitution which stipulates the right to bear arms. But the current wave of violence and the assault on property and people taking place across the United States only reinforces the argument for keeping the second amendment, as armed rioters such as in the current wave could target people indiscriminately, meaning that such people would need to be able to defend their lives and those of their families.

The question remains why police forces across the US should have to pay the price for the shameful behaviour of a handful of their members in one individual state. Why should the sacrifices of the police officers who have lost their lives and those who have put their lives at risk everyday for decades go to waste just because of the policeman who killed George Floyd? Why is this entire noble profession being made to pay the price for the mistakes of one person or even a number of persons? The current high level of irrationality in the United States cannot provide answers to such questions. 

For the moment, the violence in the United States continues to spiral out of control. Another group of policemen shot dead Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, at point blank range during an arrest in Atlanta on 13 June. The result of this latest incident of police brutality was the firing of the police officer who shot Brooks, the resignation of the Atlanta police chief and a fresh wave of violence, arson, and riots in the city. The protesters blocked interstate highways, and the situation remains prone to escalation. In Seattle on the West Coast, a large number of protesters have occupied six blocks of the city to create what they call a “police-free autonomous zone.”

During these events, US President Donald Trump has threatened to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which permits the president to order the deployment of military force into the states to suppress insurrections and enforce federal law. There are ongoing debates about whether the current wave of protests and riots would constitute the lawful use of this act to quell them. 

There are major reforms that it is necessary to implement across the United States in order to ensure that the police respect the freedoms of citizens and effectively perform their duties of securing society and maintaining law and order. These reforms must be introduced rapidly by the US Congress and ratified by the president in order to halt assaults on US citizens, especially minorities such as blacks and latinos who seem to have been the main victims of such crimes in recent years.

That said, disbanding the police and replacing them with less-trained citizens in neighbourhood watches is a recipe for disaster that can only lead to further bloodshed and vendettas.  

At the moment, the United States is heading along a bumpy road that will bring it neither justice nor equality, but will drag the entire country into an abyss of destruction and counter-violence by armed groups that have not entered the fray until the present moment.

The voice of reason is becoming less and less loud, and the escalating events are not helping it to be heard. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: