Washington Law Review

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“Send Freedom House!”: A Study in Police Abolition

October 01, 2021 | 96 Wash. L. Rev. 1067

Abstract: Sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the 2020 uprisings accelerated a momentum of abolitionist organizing that demands the defunding and dismantling of policing infrastructures. Although a growing body of legal scholarship recognizes abolitionist frameworks when examining conventional proposals for reform, critics mistakenly continue to disregard police abolition as an unrealistic solution. This Essay helps dispel this myth of “impracticality” and illustrates the pragmatism of abolition by identifying a community-driven effort that achieved a meaningful reduction in policing we now take for granted. I detail the history of the Freedom House Ambulance Service, a Black civilian paramedic service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was created in the late 1960s to confront the racialized violence and neglect inflicted by police ambulance drivers. This Essay outlines the now abolished practice of ambulance policing, explores the city’s response to Freedom House’s revolutionary program, and analyzes current efforts of police reform through this historical lens.

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