116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you were to work from their dueling op-eds and a recent back-and-forth during an Iowa City Council work session, you might think members Laura Bergus and Susan Mims were at odds with one another as to the future of policing in the city.
Mims has objected to Bergus’s use of the word “abolish,” which she used to describe a host of reforms whose most radical proposition is simple disarmament. The reality is neither understands what the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC) is or has read any of the extensive literature on what that would entail.
Mariame Kaba, in her recent book “We Do This Til We Free Us,” is quite clear: “PIC abolition is a positive project that focuses, in part, on building a society where it is possible to address harm without relying on structural forms of oppression or the violent systems that increase it.” Getting rid of cops is simply one part of a much larger project to meaningfully address the harms that policing does not.
Absent from any defense of policing is an acknowledgment that clearance rates for violent crimes are abysmal and even worse for property crime. If I were that bad at teaching, I’d never be allowed to step foot in a classroom.
Bergus has demonstrated no interest in abolishing policing, rather merely in disposing of something called “police.” “Abolishing the police also does not mean a world without laws or civil order. The crimes in our town are mostly non-violent. [ …] A public servant doesn’t need the option of lethal force to issue a speeding ticket, investigate crime or tell a group of drunk revelers to knock it off,” she wrote. In her view, the carceral system should remain intact, with a few modifications here and there.
Meanwhile, Mims’ assertion that we somehow need the police to protect us from hordes of gun-toting villains is identical to the reactionary assertion that what you need to protect people from a “bad guy with a gun” is a “good guy with a gun.” The problem is, for BIPOC communities, the cops are the bad guys with guns. When a gang of ICPD officers brutalized Chris Kelly for a “crime” later thrown out by a federal judge, there was no villain and there was no one being protected. This is because the PIC is not in opposition to the violence and harm we live with in society. It is an extension of it.
Iowa City is now denying in a lawsuit filed against it by Mr. Kelly that his incarceration had anything to do with race, and the acting chief at the time claimed the officers involved behaved appropriately. Neither Mims nor Bergus have publicly said a word about this case, which puts both of them squarely on the side of a status quo that uses violence as a matter of course. Last summer, it was only the protesters questioning ICPD’s right to tear gas them. Meanwhile, Mims went so far as to praise ICPD for their actions, while chastising the people they assaulted.
While I might grant that Mims and Bergus differ on the particulars, both remain committed to policing as a form of social control and have done little in their capacity as elected officials to betray that. In fact, both support city manager Geoffrey Fruin’s plan to restructure ICPD, even though it will massively expand its footprint into a number of nonprofit social services. That is to say what might be an alternative to policing is being actively transformed into an extension of it, which is precisely the opposite of what abolitionists now demand.
Nicholas Theisen is an Iowa Freedom Riders organizer and regularly covers Iowa City Council meetings on Twitter: @city_of_iowa