My last column explored how the movement for reform after the death of George Floyd is being taken over by the most radical voices among politicians, activists, and commentators. The analogy to the French Revolution seems more and more apt by the hour. Last night, a veto proof majority on the Minneapolis City Counsel vowed to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department as a “toxic” institution. What was dismissed by many in the media as simply rhetorical is now the official position of the city council of a major city with other such demands being made across the country.
We have been discussing calls for the defunding or dismantling of police departments. Indeed, recently Minneapolis Major Jacob Frey was booed and force to leave a rally when he refused to abolish the police department. The rally speaker and the crowd demanded that there be “no more cops.” To his credit, Frey demurred:
The vote of the city council followed this incredible “walk of shame” of the mayor.
Council President Lisa Bender declared the police department to be “toxic” and insisted that “incremental” measures were no longer acceptable. Nothing less that an effort to “recreate systems of public safety” would be permitted. Council member Alondra Cano agreed that the department was simply not “reformable.”
They were part of a vote of 9 out 12 members in favor of dismantling the police department.
We recently discussed how the new order reached the New York Times when it was forced into a public apology for allowing a conservative column by a United State Senator to be published on it opinion page. Writers still demanded and received the resignation of the opinion page editor, James Bennet. This was over a column in which Sen. Tom Cotton (R, Ark.) wrote about the use of troops to quell the riots, a legal option used repeatedly in history.
While pledging a full investigation and issuing a confession worthy of a reeducation camp, the newspaper had no qualms in publishing a column entitled “No More Money for the Police.” The article Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris said that it was now necessary to “reimagine public safety in ways that shrink and eventually abolish police and prisons.” It included the use of “rapid response social workers” to replace the role of police officers in some cases. That article was deemed entirely appropriate for the pages of the New York Times but not a U.S. Senator discussing one of the most important options being debated in Washington in the midst of violent protests.
The analogy to the French Revolution remains irresistible. The rejection of those seeking “incremental” change is eerily familiar as yesterday’s reformers are denounced as today’s reactionaries. One of the first things that the revolutionaries did was to reinvent French justice and take over the police.The police organization established under Louis XIV in 1667 was dismantled and in 1789, the Revolution created Prefecture of Police which was used as the arm of popular justice so that “The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty.”
Of course, a Prefecture might not appeal to Minneapolis. After all, the organization constructed by Napoleon actually removed local control of the police in favor of control by the Ministry of the Interior. If the Council is looking for a new name, they might want to consider a new name like The Committee of General Security. It worked wonders in France after it took control of the police. Indeed, it works with such uplifting mottos as “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty.” Maximilien Robespierre