Bitch Media, June 24, 2020
While weeks of protest sparked by racist police killings continue to rock all 50 states, police violence in the United States has come under international criticism. The incessant murder of Black and Indigenous people by so-called “public servants” has forced a conversation about whether the police force is a necessary service at all, and conversations about prison abolition have made their way from viral Twitter threads to the New York Times. After decades of work by revolutionary Black women like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba—who recently authored an op-ed in the NYT titled, simply, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police”—it seems like the case for an end to the prison-industrial complex has finally made its way into the cultural mainstream.
As may be expected with an issue as controversial as an end to the justice system as we know it, there’s been no shortage of criticism. However, one especially infuriating argument has dominated liberal circles: “What will sexual assault victims do without the police?” The question, posited almost exclusively by white women (or those whose version of progressivism centers them), is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a microcosm of the white liberal tendency to masquerade anti-Black sentiment behind blandly feminist, purposefully inoffensive whataboutisms that are just progressive enough to shield themselves from criticism. The white liberal mindset has learned that no measure of anti-Blackness is unjustifiable if one can only figure out how to wrap it up in a pink, pro-woman package—but it’s time to pull the wool from over our eyes.
Looking at the evidence, the answer to the question, “What will sexual assault victims do without the police?” is easily answerable: Sans police, their chances of obtaining justice would be much higher than they are right now. The criminal justice system has a long and well-documented history of failing survivors and victims of sexual violence at literally every turn; often retraumatizing them in the process. A 2019 New York Times article detailed horrific police misconduct in rape cases, with officers’ behavior ranging from shaming the victims for “flirting” and “partying,” to a blatant mishandling of evidence. There’s substantial evidence that shows several precincts across the country falsely inflating their conviction rates on rape cases. Perhaps most shocking of all is a 2018 study that found hundreds of police officers have been charged with rape and sexual assault (if not thousands—the study notes that the numbers may be much larger than what has been officially reported).