According to FBI data, the United States experienced an increase of 29% in murder rates in 2020 – the largest increase since record-keeping began in 1960. This increase is not regional but national – seen in 34 large cities across the country. The FBI data reported an additional 4,901 homicides in 2020 compared to 2019.
Former Baltimore Police Department Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson gave the typical “explanation” we expect from the police and other defenders of the capitalist system. The rise in homicides, he claims, is a result of a decline in police activity due to the George Floyd protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. “When the Thin Blue Line retreats,” he said, “violence charges in.” There are many studies that claim to correlate increased police presence with less violent crime, and others that question this correlation. But more importantly, this idea that the police guarantee public safety is based on a distorted worldview, according to which society is full of “naturally bad people” who are just waiting to murder and rape whenever they can.
The reality is that the majority of crimes are a result of poverty and exploitation. Most people in prison, whether they are guilty of a violent crime or not, are from the working class. And even when violence is committed by people of privilege (in which case they are rarely punished), it is most often also driven by the individualistic and exploitative mentality promoted by capitalist ideology. Capitalism fosters greed, cutthroat competition, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other divisions – all to maintain the biggest division of all: between rich and poor, between capitalists and workers. It is these divisions that are tearing society apart, driving so many people to desperation and fanning the flames of hatred and violence.
In in the last year and a half, the usual violence of the capitalist system was exacerbated by a massively botched response to the COVID pandemic. As a result, inequality, poverty, and unemployment have increased, with no end in sight. That violent crime also skyrocketed under such conditions is no surprise. We should not allow this crisis to fool us into thinking that more police will address this violence. The role of police is to protect the capitalists and the rich by keeping poor people in check. And they do so with considerable violence of their own.
We do not need more police. We need a system in which the police are unnecessary because all communities have the resources to address antisocial tendencies on their own – in a collective and democratic fashion. We need a system based on a fair distribution of the enormous wealth that exists in society, so that we can eliminate exploitation, poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. The technology and wealth needed to eliminate these social ills have existed for over a century. The only thing that stands in our way is capitalism.