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What are anarchist alternatives to the police?

+5 votes
1.) Instead of calling the police...
2.) How an "anarchist society" may "police" itself?
3.) Examples throughout history?
asked Apr 9, 2010 by rocinante (1,320 points)
A very important question!

6 Answers

+4 votes
once again, the question presumes the answer.
once you get to the question of police (as a term that means anything), then the answer already sucks.

i watched a very intense movie one time that was about a small band of people living in a remote area, dealing with the fact that two men hated each other, couldn't get away from each other, and couldn't resolve their differences. other people couldn't help them work it out, they had been living with it for years and it just got worse. this is what i think of when the saccharine talk of community gets too much for me, but even this claustrophobic and miserable situation was better than having a specialized group of people who are authorized to use force, alienated from the rest of the people they live around, given too much power, etc.

but to more clearly address the question -- community control, people being in each other's business and intervening in problems, getting better at knowing when to be invasive and when not to be. learning how to have more permeable boundaries between ourselves and the people we care about.
skills that are next to impossible to learn in the atomized and isolated situations we mostly live in.
answered Apr 10, 2010 by dot (52,030 points)
–2 votes
The police become necessary in human society, only at that junction in human society when it is split between those who have and those who ain't got.
-Omali Yeshitela

Equality is the best alternative to police.

Rose City Copwatch has some good things to say about this:

Maybe the real question is, what is it that you think the police do that communities can't do for themselves?
answered Apr 25, 2010 by Taigarun (1,720 points)
edited May 7, 2010 by dot
From the text:
"There are a lot of situations that we are not equipped to face
alone.  We need someone’s help, but that someone does not
have to be the police! So call a friend instead of the cops!  
We should choose someone who can arrive quickly,
help de-escalate the situation, and figure out “a comfortable
ending.” This will work best if we set up support networks in

"Rape Crisis Centers began the early 1970s as community-
organized responses to rape, sexual assault, and domestic
violence.  They were started by feminists who saw that the
justice system did not take violence against women seriously.  
As such they served as a standing critique of the criminal
justice system and provided a real service addressing needs
that the state was neglecting.  Women were taking care of
women instead of depending on the patriarchal state."
"The SOS Collective is based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant
neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where it works to end
violence against queer people of color without involving the
police. They formed out of the Audre Lorde project in 1997,
and have worked to respond to police violence by participating
in the founding of the Coalition Against Police Brutality,
advocating for community members who have been brutalized
by the police, and organizing against  broader issues of state
violence such as the War on Terror.   
 More recently, they have focused on responses to
queer-bashing and other hate violence, which brings the
added challenge of holding individual strangers accountable.
They have responded by creating "safer spaces."  But rather
than create new, isolated safer spaces, they want to see every
institution in the neighborhood -- from churches to schools and
stores to laundromats -- participate as a place for queer people to go to if threatened or attacked.  We're excited by this effort to connect to the larger
community and make violence against queer people of color
everyone's concern."

Just some examples.
–1 vote
I'd first ask, "What is the function of police; what do they?"

They do not prevent crime; they arrive after the damage is done.   The greater concern should be the prevention of crime.  The best crime prevention is a strong community.  Solidarity with one's neighbors provides an increase in security and safety for all.  The Amish and the historical record of the Native Americans illustrate how culture and community make a really big difference.

In fairness, police also act as "first responders", much like firemen.  To fill this role, the people of the community would need to take steps to train everyone to act as a first responder able to deal with a wide variety of circumstances from car crashes to heart attacks.  This training would also need to address how authority can be asserted, and people can be organized in the event of an emergency.  This is nearly identical to how a milita would form in a community to protect itself from an external threat.
answered Apr 25, 2010 by Lloyd (140 points)
In fairness, police also act as "first responders", much like firemen.  To fill this role, the people of the community would need to take steps to train everyone to act as a first responder able to deal with a wide variety of circumstances from car crashes to heart attacks.  This training would also need to address how authority can be asserted, and people can be organized in the event of an emergency.  This is nearly identical to how a milita would form in a community to protect itself from an external threat.

There ARE already private EMAs, ambulances, etc. that is, groups which do some of those things and are not a "public" or state service (and so then obviously would not be effected in a negative way by the state being gone). In fact, any of the things an individual imagines "government" to be responsible for, are only due to the actions of the individuals who engaged in those activities because they would be getting a pay check. All of the "services 'provided'" by the "government" can be provided by any group of individuals (other than enslaving everyone, the main 'government' program, anyway).

There doesn't need to be any "authority," (and there isnt o.O) any group with the "right to issue orders" or the "right to settle disputes." (YOU ARE THE ONLY "AUTHORITY.") The dispute is plainly evident. The answer is as simple as the answer to "what do you do if someone invades your home" or "your neighbors home" - attacks you/your friend/anyone else / steals your car, tv, xbox, etc.

nothing about the "police force" is "fair," theyre driving around in cars paid for with extorted money!

"This training would also need to address how authority can be asserted, and people can be organized in the event of an emergency." not sure what kind of anarchist would say something like that :( "asserting 'authority'" =  telling you what to do and exercising "control" or "power..." over you.. clubbing you over the head for non-compliance..because it is "right" that they order you around, and it is your duty to obey.. as it is perceived to be their "RIGHT".. they have "settled your dispute," for you, whether you wanted them to or not...
They also deter people from breaking the law, don't they?
+1 vote
"The police" presume to carry out policing.

In fact, society carries out the vast majority of it without them, and always has.

Examples: almost everywhere on the planet at any given time.
answered Dec 17, 2010 by Tower of Babel (580 points)
I also suggest this essay by Bob Black
"An Anarchist Response to “An Anarchist Response to Crime”


edited to make into a comment
–1 vote
Here is the chapter on "Crime" from Anarchy Works. It gives examples throughout history for what anarchists and other antiauthoritarians have done.
answered Feb 2, 2012 by Petar Mandzhukov (1,010 points)
reshown May 26, 2016 by dot
Dot why do you have such a problem with people giving links as answers if the links are solely confined to the topic at hand? I don't understand it. This medium does not equip us to paste walls of text; we don't have a minimize and maximize option for long posts so they just end up hiding other peoples' responses down the line. Sometimes questions are too complicated for a simple 1-3 paragraph answer.
i explain this on the "about us", but i will review and expand here. it's true that sometimes links are to very specific articles that relate directly to the question. even then though, pages change, links go out of date, etc.
and linking frequently is not so targeted as that. people link to things that include specific responses to a question, but are not limited to them, and so it's confusing to find/understand what the intent of the linker is.
also my particular bias is to have people here answer questions, rather than referring to "experts". i want people to think about the questions for themselves, which requires us to stand behind what we're saying and flesh it out (ideally, anyway). a page of responses is a good thing: the point is that there are many different ways to answer questions about anarchy.
also, to be honest (since you got me thinking about it), it's easier (for moderators) to have a no-linking policy, than to explore every link to see how "101-friendly" a given link is. that is a lazy reason, and shouldn't detract from the other more interesting ones, but it's there.

finally, no one expects answers to be completely contained. putting a targeted link as part of a 2 or 3 paragraph answer is great.

edit: and now i have reshown it, since it can go with PMs answer below.
+3 votes
Examples throughout history tend not to be "anarchist" in an ideal sense, but there are many antiauthoritarian examples and their imperfection provides good food for thought.

Stateless societies have generally used "diffuse sanctions" to respond to the forms of harm or grievance now categorized as "crime". This means everyone responded as they saw fit, in accordance with social norms that, not being codified and being invocable by all, were constantly in flux and subject to personal interpretations and challenges. The definitive difference between many of these societies and more hierarchically organized societies was the absence of a mechanism to unify or consense on responses to harm.

In Catalunya in '36, they formed neighborhood patrols. These were eventually incorporated into the re-established governmental authority and then abolished. In the transition phase, with the complicity of CNT leadership (e.g. Oliver, Montseny, Abad de Santillan), they accelerated into a form of martial law that manifested in the execution without trial of proles expropriating the bourgeoisie, including several illegalist anarchists who decided to continue using the exact same tactics against the exact same people as the CNT milieu had encouraged before '36.

In the Israeli kibbutzim, they noted that social sanctions--calling disputing parties or offending commune members to a general meeting--was enough to solve all such problems they encountered.
answered Feb 14, 2012 by Petar Mandzhukov (1,010 points)