Rebel Cops: A look at the conscientious objectors of law enforcement.

AuthorSchivone, Gabbriel

That day, Baker's black uniform was soaking up the desert heat of the Arizona winter. At the protest line, his baton firmly in hand, dozens of protesters are looking him in the eyes as they shout: "WE! ARE! THE 99 PERCENT!" Watching the protesters stoically through the plexiglass visor of his helmet, Baker found himself agreeing with them.

"Baker!" a voice calls behind him. He turns to see his supervisor, leaning in to be heard above the raucous chants. "If you want to eat, they have chow for us," he tells him. Baker walks past a gaggle of mostly white executives gathering to smoke outside the front of the fancy hotel. He is directed to a side door and down a shaded ramp into the hotel basement, where food is being made for the officers on the scene. He sees chefs in freshly soiled white aprons. Custodians in gray jumpsuits. Bussers and maids. All the Black and brown workers who keep the hotel running. Now Baker is among them in his police uniform.

Resentment starts to well up deep inside him.

"I was representing the interests of these rich people upstairs who are making decisions," Baker recalls, "and I was risking my life to clean up their mess on the street and providing them security--but I wasn't fit to eat in the same place as them. I was the help."

In 2014, the year protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown, Baker quit the force and entered graduate school, where he's currently completing his Ph.D. in criminology, focusing on police violence, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"If [we are] thinking about the world we want to see," Baker says in an interview, "we think about a world without the police." But in the meantime, he says, present-day police should have limited contact with the public, be subject to rigorous accountability methods, and be given intensive competence training.

Most of all, Baker believes addressing the basic causes of socioeconomic inequality to be a comprehensive solution. The institutions that could make police obsolete are those we do not invest in enough: education, medical and mental health care, economic security, housing, community centers, and youth athletics, dance, and art programs.

"What we need to do is take a more holistic approach to understanding community safety, and recognize that these other institutions create the public safety that's required to no longer force public order with the threat or actual use of violence," Baker says.

There is plenty of evidence to...

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