White Liberals – Stop Demanding More Police, It Won’t Help

By Clara Butler
Associate Editor, Vol. 26

            After a national tragedy, within the thoughts and prayers usually offered to the affected community is a deep thread of pro-carceral sentiment. This response to instances of hate crimes and “domestic terrorism” is increasingly concerning, especially as most of the response comes from people who identify as liberal. I can attest that my own social media feeds are often filled with people who vote Democrat and proudly identify as liberal pushing for more police to “prevent” these crimes from happening. But by using national tragedies to justify the increase of police presence, we equate more policing with more safety. This thinking actively harms communities.

Creator: Sally Deng | Copyright: NY Times

            White liberals play into this the most, especially when they advocate for reforms to the system as the answer to over-policing and police brutality. This is seen when white liberals push for increased training, more laws, stricter oversight, and more rules to  render institutions  “colorblind,” and  “eliminate prejudice.”[1] Ignoring that the system itself is built off of white supremacy, white liberals take the stance that putting more rules in place (often a euphemism for increased funding to police and military) will both make society safer and eliminate racism. Under this white liberal model, “If racism is a case-by-case fairness problem, if white supremacy is an arbitrary unfairness, then a perfect and fair set of legal rules is mutually exclusive with racism.”[2] However, as evidenced by both the recent shooting in Atlanta targeting Asian Americans and  the insurrection that occurred in the Capitol, white liberals are unwilling to reexamine the system that perpetuates violent, white supremacist crime. They refuse to address the underlying needs of racial and economic justice and only suggest reforms increasing the carceral state. What white liberals can do to help instead, is to give space for these communities to heal as well and dictate their own terms for redressing the harms they face.

            The recent shooting in Atlanta was devastating and is linked to a concerning increase in anti-Asian American sentiment since COVID-19 began.[3] Our own editors have written about this and the racist misogyny they face as Asian American women. The outrage over this incident was only exacerbated by the clear racism expressed by the police captain who was later removed from the case. Captain Baker said that the white man who shot and killed eight people was just having a “really bad day.” [4]

            After the shooting, extra patrols were in and around Asian American owned businesses. [5] But as abolitionists have noted, reducing contact between the public and police is an important goal so that the police, even in responding to violent crime, do not harm more individuals.[6] Hate crime legislation proposed in the wake of tragedies like Atlanta also open up a pro-carceral discourse led by white liberals. While perhaps noble in theory, hate crime laws “expand and increase the power of the same unjust and corrupt criminal punishment system” and is “used unequally and improperly against communities that are already marginalized in our society.” [7] Hate crime legislation also leads to more funding for the Department of Justice and oftentimes for local law enforcement under the guise of prosecuting these crimes more fully. [8] However, looking to a system that has always perpetuated violence against nonwhite people is not the solution. As author Steph Cha notes, “The system they serve wasn’t built for us. It was built for white people. Which is why we should be suspicious whenever we’re summoned into the halls of power.”[9] That white liberals are the ones that demand that the system be the one to address harms that they will never experience because of their race only serves to legitimize this view. Rather than responding to shootings with calls for the shooters to be be treated how others are by the police (read: brutalized and often killed) or with calls for increased police presence in affected communities, white liberals should instead call for centering the affected communities. We, instead, need to allow communities that have been harmed by hate crimes to address their resulting needs from these tragedies, needs that oftentimes do not correlate with increased policing.

            After the Capitol insurrection happened, I saw the same pro-carceral discourse espousing that a greater police presence would have stopped the insurrection. But the problem is not that there was a lack of police presence at the Capitol on January 6 nor is it the lack of capacity for law enforcement generally to prosecute the rioters.  It is the fact  that law enforcement and the criminal punishment system are part of the white supremacist structure of America.[10] The police on January 6 were aiding the people storming the Capitol.[11] Further, off-duty law enforcement officials in plainclothes were among the rioters.[12] But even after white liberals watched video footage of law enforcement actively aiding the insurrection, almost 80% of white Democrats in a poll still expressed confidence in federal law enforcement to bring the rioters to justice.[13] A stark contrast has been noted between the protests that emerged after the killing of George Floyd in June – where over 10,000 people were arrested during the summer – and the insurrection, where no one was arrested.[14] I mention this not to say that more arrests of white people is the answer, but to say that policing and white supremacy are intimately linked and mutually reinforce each other.

            The purpose and function of the police is, in some part, to manage inequality.[15] White liberals, even when watching the police dutifully maintain white supremacy, still believe in its power to fix the racism in our society.

            This Journal has previously written about how the use of the language of “terrorism,” “white terrorism,” and “domestic terrorism” only serve the carceral ends of employing more counter-terrorism measures, especially in Black and Brown communities. We have seen this historically with the “war on terror” giving us the Department of Homeland Security and increased surveillance.[16] But the system employed today in America is “unequipped to punish white supremacy for its harms.”[17] This is by design. So any increased funding and power into the system will not be used primarily against the white insurrectionists. It will instead be used against nonwhite communities under the guise of protecting everyone.

            Yet, policing and incarceration does not lead to safety. In fact, after the insurrection, the DC mayor was given tens of millions of dollars to pay for police overtime related to protests. The bulk of this money was no doubt used to police Black and Brown residents.[18] Who is made safe by this use of funding? Who is made safe by this use of carceral force? The only answer I have to these two questions is that increasing police presence lets white liberals sleep a little better at night, knowing that the police will not harm them and will continue to reinforce the power they hold. 

            To look at violent events within an abolitionist framework and within a framework that rejects the pro-carceral response that white liberals offer as a solution is to look at the bigger picture of what actually reduces harm and encourages accountability. Abolitionists approach this question not with the reactionary response of “How do we reform the system we have now?” but by asking, “What can we imagine for ourselves and the world?”[19] It’s that reimagining of the white supremacist system  that will allow us to address hate crimes and white supremacist insurrections. It’s why when white people try and consider a world without police, “they shudder.”[20] But it is important to recognize that when we lock people away, it doesn’t “prevent, reduce, or transform harm in the aggregate.”[21] No amount of diversity workshops or body cameras will make the police stop targeting certain populations of people.[22] Similarly, we must address the underlying issues of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and stigma against populations like sex workers.

            The white liberal left has proven time and time again to only offer prayers and policing as mechanisms for protection. Per prominent abolitionist Mariame Kaba,

The white liberal left, with their objectifying interest in people of colour, classist separation from the white poor and moneyed interest in the continuation of the non-profit industrial complex, have prevented those individuals and organisations that must lead their own struggle from taking the fore in the fight against racism in American society. [23]

Letting communities harmed by violence decide their own remedies is a starting point. But a larger conversation needs to happen in order for white liberals to turn away from the state as the main safeguard against violence. Legitimizing the state as the protector against violence is a strategy that only increases its capacity for violence.

[1] Willie Osterweil, How White Liberals Used Civil Rights to Create More Prisons, The Nation (Jan. 6, 2015),


[2] Id.

[3] Suzanne Nuyen, Anti-Asian Attacks Rise During Pandemic. Read NPR’s Stories On The Surge In Violence, National Public Radio (Mar. 17, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/03/17/978055571/anti-asian-attacks-rise-during-pandemic-read-nprs-stories-on-the-surge-in-violen.

[4] Holly Honderich, Atlanta spa shootings: How we talk about violence, BBC (Mar. 19, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56446820.

[5] Associated Press, The Latest: Police: Extra patrols around Asian businesses, ABC News (Mar. 17, 2021),


[6] Mariame Kaba, Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2020),https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abolish-defund-police.html.

[7] SRLP On Hate Crime Laws,Sylvia Rivera Law Project, https://srlp.org/action/hate-crimes/.

[8] Id.

[9] Steph Cha, Steph Cha: The Atlanta shooting is another reminder the cops are not our friends, L.A. Times (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2021-03-18/commentary-asian-americans-atlanta-shooting-police.

[10] Tracey Corder & Ramah Kudaimi, After the Insurrection An Abolitionist Response to White Supremacy, The Forge (Feb. 23, 2021), https://forgeorganizing.org/article/abolitionist-response-white-supremacy.

[11] Shalia Dewan, Police response to Capitol mob is in striking contrast to protests after George Floyd killing, N.Y. Times (Jan. 6, 2021),https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/us/politics/capitol-george-floyd-dc-protests.html.

[12] Maria Caspani, Off-duty police, firefighters under investigation in connection with U.S. Capitol riot, Reuters (Jan. 10, 2021), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-police-investigation-idUSKBN29F0KH.

[13] Large Majority of the Public Views Prosecution of Capitol Rioters as ‘Very Important’, Pew Research Center (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/03/18/large-majority-of-the-public-views-prosecution-of-capitol-rioters-as-very-important/.

[14] Anita Snow, AP tally: Arrests at widespread US protests hits 10,000, Associated Press (June 4, 2020), https://apnews.com/article/bb2404f9b13c8b53b94c73f818f6a0b7.

[15] Derecka Purnell, Look at the Capitol Hill rioters. Now imagine if they had been black, The Guardian (Jan. 7, 2021), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/07/capitol-hill-trump-rioters-race-power.

[16] Kandist Mallett, The Response to the Capitol Riot Is Whitewashing the History of Black Insurrection, The New Republic (Jan. 18, 2021), https://newrepublic.com/article/160962/living-tradition-black-insurrection.

[17] Kali Holloway, I’m for Abolition. And Yet I Want the Capitol Rioters in Prison., The Nation (Feb. 4, 2021), https://www.thenation.com/article/society/prison-abolition-capitol-riot/.

[18] Purnell, supra note 15.

[19] Mariame Kaba, So You’re Thinking About Becoming an Abolitionist, LEVEL (Oct. 30, 2020), https://level.medium.com/so-youre-thinking-about-becoming-an-abolitionist-a436f8e31894.

[20] Kaba, supra note 6.

[21] Kaba, supra note 19.

[22] Derecka Purnell and Marbre Stahly-Butts, The Police Can’t Solve the Problem. They Are the Problem., N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/opinion/the-police-cant-solve-the-problem-they-are-the- The white liberal left, with their objectifying interest in people of colour, classist separation from the white poor and moneyed interest in the continuation of the non-profit industrial complex, have prevented those individuals and organisations that must lead their own struggle from taking the fore in the fight against racism in American societyproblem.html.

[23] Mariama Eversley, The complicity of the white liberal left in the rise of Donald Trump, Red Pepper (May 26, 2016), https://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-complicity-of-the-white-liberal-left-in-the-rise-of-donald-trump/.