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Updated: Oct 22, 2020

A few years back, a scholar named Danielle Allen urged people “to see themselves as the founders of institutions…that are rich enough to shape the life of their surrounding communities.

It is a wonderfully American idea. We often think of America’s founders as those elite leaders who created the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution.

However, we sometimes overlook the fact that the Constitution begins with the words, “We the People,” which makes the people—us—the foundation of all the government institutions that shape our lives.

In this sense, we are founders because we are always the foundation of our government institutions. We can make them and remake them as we strive to make our communities the best that they can be.

The Black Lives Matter movement provides us with an important example of how to do this. The movement’s most visible goal at the moment is enabling citizens, as legitimate founders, to transform the institution of the police.

What does it mean to defund the police? (The Guardian, U.S.)

Tracey L. Meares, a professor at Yale, provides some useful words of guidance on this point. As Meares sees it, “Disadvantaged communities ought not give up policing any more than they should give up public schools, electricity, or water.” However, the citizens of these communities, as founders, must have more influence over what policing means and what it looks like in practice.

In Meares own words, government agencies, like the police, “must create policy with neighborhood residents, not for them. Agencies must be transparent and consistent.”

In one sense, this implies something “radical.” It is a call for the people to re-make police institutions from the bottom-up. In another sense, it implies something familiar—the need for the people (including people who are police officers) to collaborate on matters of shared importance. In both senses, the goal fits within the American tradition and has the promise of making the American tradition stronger.

~~ Dr. Andrew Bloeser (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Allegheny College)


Allen, Danielle. Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown V. Board of Education. University of Chicago, 2008.

Meares, Tracey. "Policing: A Public Good Gone Bad." Boston Review. 1 Aug. 2017.

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