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Time to dismantle the police?

  • 09 June 2020
The killing of George Floyd, on video, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, and the subsequent police brutality against protestors and journalists across the United States, has popularised longstanding calls to defund or dismantle the police. On Sunday, this call was taken up by the Minneapolis Council, who voted to disband its police force and to 're-create systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.'

It’s a radical approach, but it’s one that is making more and more sense to people who are questioning the purpose of our police forces, after acknowledging that what happened to Mr Floyd, and what is happening to protestors across the United States, is neither an aberration nor something that happens ‘over there’. State violence against Black and brown people is built into the very fabric of our systems, both in the United States and in Australia.

In Australia, our settler-colonial legal system is founded on the dispossession of Aboriginal land and the denial of sovereignty. State violence was used to achieve this dispossession in the frontier wars, and it continues to be used to maintain our inherently unjust claim to sovereignty. As a direct result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be harassed and brutalised by police on our streets.

Just last week, a police officer was filmed pinning an Indigenous teenager’s hands behind his back before sweep kicking his legs out from under him, leaving him to slam face first into the paving. When asked about the police officer’s conduct, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he was likely 'having a bad day', while Police Minister David Elliott emphasised that Sydney is 'not Minnesota', before claiming that 'the response from the police was not unprovoked'.

'I was just as disturbed about the threat from a young person to physically assault a police officer as I was with the response from the police officer', he went on to say, before emphasising, 'there are levels of authority there that really command respect'.

Do they, though? Is it reasonable to expect respect for such an unjust system? Is it reasonable to be ‘just as disturbed’ by a teenager swearing and making empty threats, as you are about the systematic use of state violence against Aboriginal people?

It is this very over-policing of Aboriginal people that leads directly to over-incarceration. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most incarcerated people in the world, making up 27 per