An Abolitionist Critique of Quality-of-Life Policing


Policing “disability in public” refers to the ways in which coerced compliance with norms for appearing, walking, talking, thinking, or otherwise existing, render disabled people more vulnerable to citation, arrests, or imprisonment even where such conduct is linked to, or caused by, disabilities. Disabled people have been suspected of criminal activity,
arrested, jailed, and even killed for a variety of harmless and innocent behaviors linked to disability.

This Essay argues that when criminal laws are used to arrest and detain individuals for nonviolent, or so-called disorderly behaviors linked to disability, criminal law enforcement functions to sanction or punish manifestations of nonnormative physical and mental appearances and behaviors in public spaces. Such enforcement renders people with disabilities vulnerable to police intrusions and encounters. In this Symposium Essay, I present an abolitionist critique of quality-of-life (QOL) policing, with a particular focus on the harms to disabled people. This Essay outlines the contours for the abolitionist argument to end the enforcement of QOL offenses. In this season, where there is ongoing energy for transformative change through abolitionist organizing, abolitionists should not miss the chance to identify and center the harms that disabled people face through QOL policing.