Pandemic Police Power, Public Health, and the Abolition Question
Pandemic Police Power, Public Health, and the Abolition Question is published by Palgrave Macmillan and is available in eBook and hardcover formats through the Springer Nature website, where there is also the option to download individual chapters. Pandemic Police Power appears in the series Palgrave Studies in Race, Ethnicity, Indigeneity, and Criminal Justice.
The current global economic and public health crises are unprecedented in modern human history. The antiblack violence of state and civil society, however, is not—it is typical and banal. Much of the attempted public health lockdown orders of 2020 were thwarted by mass dissent against police killings. But how are these two things, state violence and public health protocols, connected with each other, and how is policing the seam of their connection? I use the question of abolition to explore this connection.
My argument about the pandemic police power is based on police and prison abolitionism. Abolition seeks to dismantle the criminal justice system as a means towards confronting the underlying systemic problems that are inappropriately and harmfully dealt with through policing and incarceration. Abolitionism maintains that humane solutions to social problems will not come from appeals to the state which exists primarily as a social control apparatus. Abolition, therefore, promotes community-based efforts at shaping change that enhance collective efficacy rather than promote a dependence on the state.
COVID-19 has exposed the necessity to apply abolition to medical science and public health as well. I argue that it is counterintuitive and counterproductive to protest state violence and demand the defunding of police and the abolition of prisons, while not advancing the same critique of state power and capital in the public health arena.
In formulating an abolition approach to medical science and public health, I first examine some of the key factors behind abolition’s effort to counter the prison industrial complex: the role of liberal reforms in building the present prison industrial complex; the failure of abolition to adequately interrogate racialized fears of violence; and the influence of private capital in shaping change. These factors loom large in both the formation of a medical industrial complex, and in how COVID-19 has unfolded since late 2019. Next, I investigate how the financial and technology industries, along with their impact on housing and education, are central to the pandemic police power. I then examine the key scientific issues informing the COVID-19 situation, how they are situated within the larger medical industrial complex and the state’s approach to public health over the past century, and the legal context for this confluence of medical science, private capital, and state power. This analysis demonstrates that the medical industrial complex has been be as consequential to the formation of racial inequality as has the prison industrial complex.
In addition to the mass suffering and hardship caused by the pandemic and the public health protocols, the main casuality has been independent thought and reasoned debate. The suppression of dissent—no matter the political quarters from which it issues—is a sure sign that things are not as they appear. One of the main contributions of this book is that it cuts through the silencing effect of sectarianism. I am entirely uninterested in identities; I only care about identifying power, evaluating evidence, connecting data points, and elucidating the obstacles to strong collective health.