We Do This 'til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice
Author: Mariame Kaba
Table of contents
Today's criminal punishment system is based on a superficial view of violence, such that people must be either wholly-good victims or wholly-evil perpetrators . This false binary allows us to pretend that the physical, emotional social and civic damage caused by prisons are in some way just.
Our prison and military machinery normalises industrialised killing - Ruth Wilson Gilmore's 'age of human sacrifice'.
Abolitionist analysis links layers of violence; from interpersonal violence to the state violence of criminalisation and incarceration, through to the structural violence inherent in anti-Blackness, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.
The structures of violence are easy to see when we focus on Black women and girls. Those who survived domestic or sexual violence by defending themselves often have their oppression continued by the violence of the criminal punishment system.
White supremacy does not thrive in spite of the menacing infrastructure of US criminalization and militarism—it thrives because of it
Black people are:
- 13% of the US population.
- 30% of those arrested.
- 35% of those imprisoned.
- 42% of people on death row.
- 56% of people serving life sentences
The Covid-19 death rate in US prisons is 5x higher than the general population.
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic a movement to defund the police became more popular, as it saw the US government's response to the crisis as genocidal.
Protestors risked their lives to take to the streets to show anger and sorrow for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Some politicians made symbolic gestures using phrases like "Black Lives Matter". But this is a wholly inadequate response for people who a daily fighting for their lives.
Criminalisation comes from anti-Blackness, regardless of the race or class of a given perpetrator.
So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist
So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist
Decades of organising have increased awareness that prisons, policing and the criminal punishment system are racist, oppressive and ineffective, leading to increased discussion about prison abolition.
Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition imagines a world where people have everything they need to thrive and be safe, and harm is addressed without using violent or oppressive systems.
Abolition doesn't focus on whether you can call the police if you're in danger, so much as asking why there are no other well-resourced options. Trying to improve the solitary option of criminal punishment at present will not fundamentally address the harm it causes.
Prisons don't work. An increase in rates of incarceration have had minimal impact on crime rates. Economic precarity is more strongly correlated with higher crime rates.
Not everything that is criminalised is harmful. Not all harm is criminalised.
Putting some domestic abusers in prison doesn't do much to stop other perpetrators who live in today's culture.
Abolitionists accept that eliminating harm from the world is impossible, but rather suggests that locking people in prisons doesn't significantly prevent, reduce or transform aggregate harm.
The current adversarial court system discourages people from acknowledging or taking responsibility for the harm they caused. It lets society get away with delegating accountability for holding perpetrators responsible to a third party that hides social and political failures.
How to begin addressing the problem:
- To transform society we must transform ourselves. We must increase our ability to imagine a different society. Joining communities of like-minded people helps us re-imagine ourselves and possible new worlds.
- Experiment with new collective structures that enable us to take actions with a view to e.g. being collectively responsible for conflict resolution.
- Reduce the contact between people and the criminal legal system.
- The PIC has logical and operational links to other systems like schools, the workplace, the treatment of people with disabilities; these must all change too.
The System Isn't Broken
The majority of police stops in Chicago involve Black people; they're 32% of Chicago's population vs 72% of police stops.
Studies suggest a correlation between summer and an increased rate of crime. This might be because contacts between the police and young people in the community are in fact always fraught, but simply more plentiful when school is out. Police and community members criminalise particularly Black presence in public spaces.
Young Black people are not allowed to be afraid. They're not considered fully human by some police.
The idea that young people and police simply need to get to know each other better misses the fact that the problem is simply that the police harass them.
Police are incentivised to arrest people. We need to alter their job descriptions and incentives.
In the US, Blackness has been conflated with criminality, an narrative that is propped up by the system criminalising Black people in greater numbers.
Research shows that police see Black children as older and less innocent than their white equivalents. This "adultification" stretches back through chattel slavery; half of all enslaved people before the US Civil War were under 16 years old.
Police violence cases involving Black girls and young women have typically been overlooked, at least until recent campaigns such as #SayHerName .
Initial press reports and official police and community narratives about incidents of police violence usually differ. Police have a history of acting with impunity.
Often protests are sparked by police killings, but the daily indignities are what cause hostility between young people of colour and the police. Stop-and-searches and warrantless searches of homes and vehicles are constant. The police routinely carry out state violence under the guise of addressing gun or other violence.
This leads to racial differences in people' views on privacy and civil liberties - these rights have different meanings to different people. Civil liberties are an essential part of equality and social justice. It's impossible to exercise individual rights when we're oppressed by social, economic or political structures.
The only solution to police violence is to end the police, however hard this might be to imagine.
Police try to increase their legitimacy by doing a lot of non-police work, such as wellness or mental health checks.
As we journey towards abolition, we can take short term steps to reduce the police force and change how we relate to each other. :
- Defund the police, dramatically reducing their budgets and redirecting their money to other social goods.
- End cash bail.
- Remove police bills of rights.
- Abolish police unions.
- Crowd out the police in our communities.
- Disarm the police.
- Create messages that break the "police = safety" link in people's minds.
- Build community interventions that address harms without police involvement.
- Imagine alternatives to the police.
Do not talk about the criminal punishment system as being broken or not working. This suggests that reform is enough when the real solution is abolition.
Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police
Efforts to solve police violence by liberal reforms have failed throughout history. The only solution is to reduce the contact the public has with the police. We should immediate halve the number and budget of police. Fewer officers mean fewer opportunities for them to brutalise people.
Police suppress marginalised populations to protect the status quo.
...a safe world is not one in which the police keep Black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence, and death.
The public misunderstands what police do. Most officers make just 1 felony arrest per year. Most of their time they issue parking or traffic citations, answer noise complaints, amongst other non-criminal issues.
The idea behind police reform is that adding new rules will lead to less police violence. But police officers routinely break rules already without worrying about repercussions. Unions back them up.
We aren't abandoning their communities to crime. Rather we should redirect police budgets to healthcare, housing, education and good jobs. This will create a society where there's less need for police in the first place.
We should create other mechanisms to respond to harms. Community care workers could do mental-health checks. We could use restorative justice models.
The current approach has not helped end rape. Most rapists don't end up in court. Most victims never report it. Those who do are unhappy with the response. The second most common form of police violence is sexual misconduct.
When (especially privileged) people envisage a world without police they imagine a society with today's level of violence but no law enforcement. Instead the aim is to create a different society built on cooperation and mutual aid, not individualism and self-preservation.
A Jailbreak of the Imagination: Seeing Prisons for What They Are and Demanding Transformation
The people with power at present are publicly hostile to the most marginalised people in society.
We need to be remember the humanity of prisoners in order to undo the harms of mass incarceration.
Typically society turns away from any overwhelming social concern; war, climate change or the prison industrial complex, resulting in the harms continuing. We have to create alternatives to the resulting conditions.
Abolitionists are derogated as being politically inactive academics whose ideas are impossible. In reality, they work on practical topics like bail reform, electoral interventions and mutual aid.
Prisons perpetuate themselves in the same way that any enterprise that's created from a manufactured demand does. This requires we maintain conditions that foster crime. The system expects recidivism; it does not improve public safety or good. Without a culture of care, more "criminals" will be created and punished in ways that lead to great profits for industries associated with incarceration.
The US prison population increased by 408% between 1979 - 2014, mostly from those who had little access to education, employment and human services. 70% of Californian prisons are from the foster case system.
People struggle to imagine abolition, assuming that policing and surveillance are somehow part of the natural order. But in reality the surge in prison population only happened in the 1980s. Deindustrialisation created the need for "dungeon economies" to replace lost jobs alongside a backlash against social gains by Black people.
We've been taught to fear each other and acquiesce to authority, making us favourable to social control. Culture celebrates criminalisation, police and prisons. We're supposed to feel solace in seeing people that committed harm suffer, without needing to ask why the harm happened in the first place.
The idea of individuals being dangerous predators that need locking up masks the social and economic conditions our society enables that we know lead to crime and despair. People are forced to pick from choices they should never be put in the position of considering.
Rich people aren't punished for practicing capitalism, even when it leads to deaths. The justice system does not aim to create just conditions, or punish people for crushing those with less power.
Prisons are not an an effective way to reduce violence and crime. But if politicians acknowledged that much criminal harm originates in social and economic inequities then the would be expected to fix them. Their careers are often funded by those who benefit from inequities.
...a system that never addresses the why behind a harm never actually contains the harm itself.
An institution predicated on commodifying human being via torture and the curtailment of their liberty can not by fixed with any amount of reforms. Abolitionists should be free to criticise the current system even if they don't have a ready-made easily digestible solution.
Hope Is a Discipline
Hope isn't an emotion. It doesn't stop you feeling sad, frustrated or angry. It's a discipline that we should practice every day.
Trust people until they show themselves to be untrustworthy.
When you understand that in the grand scheme of things you're insignificant it gives you freedom to do the work that you deem necessary.
Focus on collective care rather than self-care.
Capitalism alienates us from ourselves and each other.
There Are No Perfect Victims
Free Marissa and All Black People
Despite the injustice of the overall system, legal victories can be achieved in individual cases - particularly with good legal representation and resources including money.
The devaluation of Black lives is rooted in colonial America. Slaves were cruelly punished, with their bodies viewed inferior. Lesser bodies can be punished and killed without consequence.
Black people are considered both disposal and dangerous. They're never "innocent" until they somehow prove themselves so.
The lack of empathy felt to those with black skin means that it's hard to get justice in either court or public opinion.
Not a Cardboard Cutout: Cyntoia Brown and the Framing of a Victim
Describing young people enmeshed in the sex trade or street economies using sensationalist terms like "child sex slave" is reductionist, obscuring the complexities of the experience of the person concerned.
The sex trade can be defined as "any way that girls are trading sex or sexuality, or forced to trade sex or sexuality, for anything like money, gifts, survival needs, documentation, places to stay, drugs".
The street economy encompasses "anything that you do for cash that’s not taxed".
"Survival sex", may be the only way some young people have to provide for themselves - particularly true for those with less access to resources such as people of colour, queer or trans youth.
Most teenagers engaged in survival sex are affected by unsafe homes, unaffordable or dangerous housing, minimal access to employment housing, inaccessible health care including gender affirming health care, mental health resources, as well as poverty, racism, queerphobia, and misogyny.
Some young people are trafficked and violently compelled to have sex, but this isn't true for every young person who sells sex for money, even if the law classifies them the same way. Assuming this is always the case in order to support the perfect victim narrative denies them agency and self-determination and stops them coming up with their own solutions.
Not fitting the perfect-victim narrative leads to people being punished for defending themselves, framed as traffickers or imprisoned under laws supposed to protect them. Victims may be channelled back into foster care or other systems they had fled from, or into treatment that doesn't address the reason that they entered the sex trade. Courts and prisons end up enacting a similar role to that their abusers did, compounding the trauma.
The media and public desire to treat people as perfect victims causes their individual traumas and resilience to be ignored. Perfect victims are required to be submissive, to never have used drugs or committed any crimes and to appear innocent and respectable.
Black women, femmes and trans people historically are particularly subject to court-ordered punishment in response to acts of self-defence.
From “Me Too” to “All of Us”: Organizing to End Sexual Violence without Prisons
The feeling of overwhelm can be countered with action and healing. Thinking collectively rather than individualistically may help.
The criminal justice system doesn't work for survivors of abuse; it doesn't fix the harm that happened. Many survivors don't want to access it.
You can't force someone to be accountable for what they do. They need to willingly take accountability for the harm caused by their actions and want to make amends. But our cultural structures do not allow that; there's nothing to encourage perpetrators to take responsibility. If they do then there's the threat of ending up in jail. Thus the incentive is to deny everything. It's the survivor who really ends up on trial, having to prove the harm was actually caused.
Society finds it hard to say that not all sexual harm is rape whilst at the same time accepting that everything feels like a violation is a harm.
It's common knowledge that people are assaulted and raped in prison. Anti-rape advocates thus shouldn't campaign for people to be put into prisons.
The "kill all rapists" sentiment removes the nuances of sexual violence, prioritising some people's experiences over others. Not every rape survivor had the same experience, thinks the same way or wants that to be their identity. But introducing nuance currently leads to accusations of being an apologist for rape.
Prison re-creates sexual violence, fear and oppression. It is not feminist.
Nonetheless there must be consequences when people cause harm. But the conditions that enabled the harm to take place should be prioritised over the idea of punishment. The rise of the prison industrial complex has not made people feel safer.
Sometimes survivors just want the perpetrator to acknowledge that they hurt them, to feel remorse and to do the work to ensure they never do it again.
Black Women Punished for Self-Defense Must Be Freed from Their Cages
Under slavery, White owners routinely sexually abused Black enslaved women. Since then Black women have been vulnerable to violence in the US, having been judged to have "no self to defend". They're often excluded from being considered "respectable", lowering people's perception of their right to bodily autonomy and agency.
Self-defense laws are interpreted much more generously when White men feel threatened by Black men than when women and gender non-conforming people use them, especially in cases of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
There were ~220k women in US prisons and jails in 2017, most are poor and of colour.
There is an abuse-to-prison pipeline, with between 71-95% of incarcerated women having experienced physical violence from a partner. Many have experienced multiple forms of physical and sexual abuse. Survivors are punished for doing what they can to protect themselves and their children whilst living in dangerous conditions.
The State Can’t Give Us Transformative Justice
Whether Darren Wilson Is Indicted or Not, the Entire System Is Guilty
A single indictment of a police officer for killing a Black person is not evidence that Black lives matter. If we accept that oppressive policing is a product of the system, not an individual, then one arrest will have little impact on the situation as a whole.
Oppressive policing is rooted in anti-Blackness, social control and containment. Policing will be oppressive as long as it exists in an oppressive and unjust society.
Actions we can do in the short term:
- never call the police.
- educate people about alternatives to policing.
- oppose any requests for increased police presence as a response to harm.
- convince your elected representatives to oppose any increase in law enforcement budget.
- support campaigns offering reparations to victims of police torture and violence.
- support elected civilian police accountability councils and boards
- publicise cases of people who have experienced police violence.
- use all available power to seek compensation for victims.
These reforms won't end oppressive policing, but they will reduce the harm.
The Sentencing of Larry Nassar Was Not “Transformative Justice.” Here’s Why.
Amongst the current cultural upheaval around sexual violence, harsh prison sentences for the worst offenders are an attractive proposition to many. Instead, we must commit to transformative justice.
Transformative justice is a community process that aims to give the person harmed support and safety, understand the context under which the harm happened and alter it to reduce the chance the harm will re-occur. We must prioritise healing, repair and accountability, overcoming our impulses to punish.
With transformative justice, we would first believe survivors, and focus on addressing their concerns and experiences. Next we focus on the person who caused the harm, without ignoring their humanity.
- If the harm originated from mental illness, society should provide healthcare.
- If from desperation, society should provide resources.
- If from misogyny or sexism, then a community process inviting them to examine their thoughts might be more effective than prison.
We must focus on the institutions and structures that perpetuate crime as well as the individuals
Prisons are a continuation of US structural racism, whereby some people are allowed to be exploited and abused due to being seen as less than human.
We can't yet know the full details of what harm prevention or resolution would look like in a just society. But we see examples of transformative justice in experiments taking place around the world, as well as in tools that were overrun by invaders who assumed brutality was necessary; some Indigenous tribes used restorative approaches to justice, under the US federal government assumed control, leading to a devastating impact on Indigenous reservations.
Neutralizing perceived threats, in an endless game of legal whack-a-mole, is not a path to safety. To create safer environments, people and circumstances must be transformed.
We should seek active amends and accountability over passive punishments.
We Want More Justice for Breonna Taylor than the System That Killed Her Can Deliver
Collective responses are needed when the police act violently against an individual. These can include protests, demands that the officer be fired, calls to defund the police and for compensation, as well as the typical call for prosecution.
Officers who commit harm are rarely convicted. Since 2005 there's only been 110 prosecutions of police officers who shot someone, and less than 42 convictions (usually on lesser charges). The police kill 1000 people a year on average since 2014. The number of prosecutions has not increased despite the recent public attention.
The law constantly legitimises the use of deadly force by the police on the basis that they "reasonably" believe their lives are in danger, however little evidence there is for that.
Demands to prosecute police who kill are not consistent with demands to defund the police. Claiming that the system is a danger to Black lives and so must be dismantled is incompatible with legitimising it by trying to exact justice on police officers via it.
Supporting the families of the affected can be done by:
- meeting material needs.
- providing safety.
- disempowering police
We should not value a life by the amount of time the person who took it has to stay in a cage.
The reparations framework includes 5 elements:
Our approach to drug use should aim to save lives, not end them.
Making Demands: Reforms for and against Abolition
Police “Reforms” You Should Always Oppose
- Reforms that allocate more money to the police.
- Reforms that aim to increase the amount of police or policing, including using euphemisms like "community policing".
- Reforms that are technology focused - these just mean more money for the police.
- Reforms based on interventions on individual officers that are funded with tax dollars. The problem is the corrupt and oppressive policing system, not individual people.
Police Reforms You Should Support
- Proposals to offer reparations to victims of police violence and their families.
- Proposals to decrease and redirect police and prison funding to other social goods.
- Proposals to elect independent civilian police accountability boards (sometimes).
- Proposals to disarm the police.
- Proposals to make it easier to disband existing police departments.
- Proposals for data transparency (stops, arrests, budgets etc.)
A People’s History of Prisons in the United States
Prisons haven't always existed. In the US they came to be based on people protesting that capital and corporal punishment were inhumane. Prison was itself meant to be a humane reform, but it turns out that isolation is actually brutal.
Immediately after slavery ended, the freed Black people became the targets. They were perceived as being naturally criminal, and unable to manage freedom., the freed Black people became the targets. They were perceived as being naturally criminal, and unable to handle freedom.
Almost all significant uprisings since 1900 have started from police brutality. It makes almost every Black person understand that they are seen as lesser than others.
Arresting the Carceral State
The school-to-prison-pipeline (STPP) refers to the structural and individual-level relationships whereby young people, especially those of colour, are funneled from schools into un/under-employment and prisons.
Students are pushed into the criminal legal system via suspensions, expulsions, arrests and an over-reliance on testing.
Non-White, non-heterosexual and non-gender conforming students are surveilled, suspended, expelled, charged, convicted and removed from their homes at higher rates than their peers.
The idea of the US police "school resource officer" originated in the 1950s as part of a way to embed police into communities. Since the 1970s, despite a decline in the crime rate, states focussed on a "tough on crime" policy that didn't make communities any safer.
The logic behind incarceration and punishment has gotten into a wide range of government functions.
- Those seeking welfare are subject to drug testing.
- Immigration and Customs enforcement is the largest enforcement agency.
- Universities ask for criminal records.
- Many states don't allow people with convictions to vote.
The increase in surveillance cameras, security guards, metal detectors, and punitive school discipline policies has led to a doubling of the number of students suspended from school from 1.7 million per year in 1974 to 3.7 million in 2010. Suspended students are 3x as likely to end up dropping out by 10th grade than their peers.
Schools are sometimes incentivised to suspend low-performing students to get better average test results.
Students of colour are targeted.
- 1 in 4 African American students in Illinois was suspended during 2009-10.
- 42% of the Chicago public school population is Black, but they account for 76% of school-based arrests, almost all of which are for misdemeanours.
We can't solve the STPP issue by altering school disciplinary policies. We have to divert funds from prisons to education. Invest in counsellors and free colleges, not prisons.
Attempting to de-professionalise and de-unionise school employees ends up with teachers becoming precariously employed charity workers with no rights.
...teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions
Schools must become restorative and transformative spaces. Investing in people and education decreases future incarceration. A 2007 study suggested that the US would save $209,000 in costs for every potential dropout who stayed in school.
All youth should have access to music, drama, art and sports activities.
Groups such as Chicago’s Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) have developed resources parents can use to campaign for restorative justice at school
Audre Lorde said:
There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.
Itemizing Atrocity with Tamara K. Nopper
Discussions about America's militarised police forces have become mainstream. We're encouraged to draw parallels between what happens in foreign countries and what happens at home in the US.
The militarisation can be traced back to the 1960s. Black people have always been the targets of military equipment, long before the war on terror.
The problem with seeing militarisation as a problem is that it suggests it's only this excess which is a problem. We prioritise rarer spectacles over the day-to-day indignities.
Excessive militarisation is a real problem. More shots fired means there's a higher chance someone will die. But the police kill citizens even without military equipment.
The excesses of the most horrific events are leveraged as the only reliable way to manifest concern for Black people. But this then means Black people have to find new and worse excesses to maintain the attention.
Connecting the militarisation of the police with the war on terror overseas suggests that other people also have to suffer in order for Black people's concerns to be taken seriously.
“I Live in a Place Where Everybody Watches You Everywhere You Go”
Black people are constantly watched - by the state, the police, businesses and community members. They are never allowed to feel like they belong.
Surveillance, even the everyday mundane type, is never neutral. The police, businesses, gang members all see Black people as prone to criminality, as though they either intend to, are, or could be recruited to commit crime.
Police sometimes put young people in a rival gang's territory, hoping they come to harm.
There's no presumption of privacy for young Black people. They are subjected to body searches and seizures. Most people accept these practices as necessary for "freedom" and safety.
The debates over novel high tech surveillance- data collection by the NSA, facial recognition technology etc. - are of little relevance to young people who are already constantly recognised and targeted by their neighbourhood police officers.
Toward the Horizon of Abolition
Someone had to imagine police and prisons so to allow them to be created. But now they're here it's hard to imagine how the world worked beforehand.
People who believed they were reforming prisons to make them fairer have inadvertently increased the power of the mass incarceration apparatus.
Even so, whilst abolition is the goal, reforms may be needed to help people in immediate need. Almost all abolitionists support some reforms. But they need to be ones that move us towards true abolition.
For example, getting nonviolent prisoners freed may be good - but does it make it harder for those who have used violence to get out? Does fighting the death penalty just increase the number of people with life without parole, a kind of "physical. social and civic death" in itself?
It's hard to understand how proposals to give communities power over the police could work.
We need to keep each other safe, facilitated by strong and empathetic relationships with each other.
Examples of life without policing exist today:
- Some groups have never felt that calling the police was a real option; they managed to survive.
- Some affluent White neighbourhoods are essentially police-free zones. They have good housing, healthcare, employment, schools without metal detectors and access to resources. Police only come when they're called. People there don't feel the need for police, prisons and surveillance - itself a type of abolition,
We Must Practice and Experiment: Abolitionist Organizing and Theory
Police Torture, Reparations, and Lessons in Struggle and Justice from Chicago
We must face up to the realities of police torture in order to address the violence done in our names. It's immoral to tolerate it.
Building sustaining and affirming communities to escape from oppression can only be done via love.
Chicago has already legislated for providing reparations to survivors and victims of racist police violence.
Free Us All: Participatory Defense Campaigns as Abolitionist Organizing
Collective organising is the route towards building institutions that offer real safety.
Organising for several de-carceral strategies is already in action in order to free prisoners, including:
- Bail reform
- Individual parole support
- Court watchers
- Mass communication campaigns
- Advocating for laws enabling pathways to release
- Participatory defense campaigns
Whilst the entire prison system needs to be eradicated, we have also to focus on individual cases to avoid treating the imprisoned people as invisible and disposable.
Most prison reforms expand the reach of prisons. For instance, women's prisons were built to protect women from the terrible conditions they faced sharing cells with men. But in the end it just meant that far more women were locked up.
Defense campaigns are one strategy that directly reduces the number of prisoners. We should frame them as being representative of conditions faced by the many others who should also be freed.
Black women are usually the targets of state violence. When they are offered protection it can come at a cost. Victims of domestic violence are sometimes threatened with being jailed if they don't testify against their abusers.
It's easy to understand why oppressed people want the criminal punishment system to work equally for everyone - but the more we demand prosecutions, the more it reinforces the legitimacy of the systems.
Incarceration, policing and criminalisation are linked to domestic violence and rape for many survivors, especially those of color. In some women's prisons 94% of the population have been abused in the past. Many are subject to sexual violence from the guards and other prisoners when there.
Abolitionists do not see "innocence" as important in the work to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Violent/non-violent, innocent/guilty are false binaries.
Ideas to consider when organising:
- Women and gender nonconforming people are targets of both interpersonal and state violence.
- Any discussion of interpersonal violence without a critique of state power and capitalism is incomplete.
- Racial dimensions of gender based violence should be addressed.
- Mass criminalisation is gendered.
- We must use a politics of collective mass defense.
- Women and gender nonconforming people have a right to self-defense and self-determination in order to respect their right to bodily autonomy.
- Marginalised people are often targeted by the state and sometimes their own communities, rather than protected.
- The violent/non-violent binary is false.
- Criminalisation is the state's manifestation of violence. It is always racialised, classed, gendered and hetero-normed.
Rekia Boyd and #FireDanteServin: An Abolitionist Campaign in Chicago
Today, when we publicise cases of police violence against Black people we usually prioritise cis heterosexual men.
It's important to show people within the abolition movement that their efforts are appreciated.
Whilst a systemic approach is needed to address police violence, it is consistent with abolitionist goals to campaign for the firing of individual police officers on the basis that it addresses their accountability.
These campaigns also provide an opportunity for individuals and groups to collaborate in a way that will strengthen the wider struggle. They do not prevent other people from tackling the issue with other approaches.
Feminists often overlook the issue of women dying in police custody.
A Love Letter to the #NoCopAcademy
Most often when we fight campaigns we lose on the surface, but the impact can be much more than a simple win/lose calculation.
Accountability Is Not Punishment: Transforming How We Deal with Harm and Violence
Transforming Punishment: What Is Accountability without Punishment?
It's a person's right to be happy when someone who causes severe harm goes to jail, but advocating for imprisonment cannot be considered abolitionist. Abolitionism isn't about emotional satisfaction.
To be an abolitionist you must:
- Support the elimination of policing, imprisonment and surveillance.
- Reject any expansion of any aspect of the prison-industrial complex.
- Reject the state's current methods of reprisal and punishment.
Radical reformists don't have to be abolitionists.
When challenged with questions like "what do we do about rapists without prison?", recall that the criminal legal system has proved a total failure in this respect. Treating it as the only response to sexual violence has also let us overlook opportunities for accountability and healing. What we should do about any particular case should be determined by our communities.
Contrary to the prison industrial complex, abolitionists consider the social, economic and political context in which harm occurs, rather than targeting only the individual offender.
In the case of R. Kelly for instance, should the record executives that facilitated his harm be prevented from working in the industry? Should there be financial restitution to support victims' healing? Counselling, or other behavioural interventions?
Presently, the power dynamics that facilitate sexual violence are not addressed. Survivors are given only a minimal set of legal remedies e.g. restraining orders.
No abolitionist believes that harm should go without consequences. Consequences could include:
- the forgoing of profits derived from the context of the harm.
- providing restitution or labour to those harmed.
- a restriction of access to groups, spaces or leadership positions.
The conditions for abolitionist approaches to exist must be actively fought for.
The Practices We Need: #MeToo and Transformative Justice
Sexual violence being so widespread demonstrates that the narrative of it being committed by a small number of individual evil people is false.
People who claim to support transformative justice often become frustrated because what they really want to do is still to punish people. This is natural in a punitive society. But it will not be addressed by an accountability process.
To participate in this process, the person doesn't need to have yet admitted to having caused harm. The process is designed to help people understand the harm they cased. But they must be willing to entertain beginning a process of taking accountability.
The process is designed to allow survivors to get back their agency. Establish the goal of the process, and ensure the facilitator is the right person to do help with it.
Danielle Sered wrote that “no one enters violence for the first time by committing it.”. If true, this reveals how invalid the false binary between victim and perpetrators is.
There's a difference between a punishment and a consequence.
- Punishments are designed to make someone suffer. The intent is to inflict cruelty and pain.
- Consequences may feel painful and involve losing privileges, but suffering is not the intention.
Removing people from powerful jobs is a consequence. Power is a privilege that can be taken away. But preventing them from making a living doing anything at any point in time would be a punishment; a cruelty ensuring the person can never again live a real life.
Requiring someone to move to a place where someone they caused harm to doesn't have to see them is a consequence. Preventing them from accessing housing at all is a punishment.
Moving Past Punishment
Restorative justice focuses on repairing the relationships broken when violations have occurred. The community is expected to proactively step in and act, ensuring that we have good relationships with each other and the environment.
People have taken restorative justice practices for use in an individualistic model of addressing harm.
Transformative justice considers that actions in our interpersonal relationships are reinforced by the larger systems we operate within. Focussing too much on the interpersonal prevents us changing the conditions that led to the harm taking place.
Our response to violence and harm should not cause more violence and harm.
Some people see punishment as rooted within religion; many religions have vengeful gods.
Perhaps prisons are not only built as a result of our desire to punish, but also act as a driver reinforcing our focus on punishment - "instruments to punish".
When someone chooses not to punish someone who harmed them, other people sometimes react badly to that as though they're not holding up their end of the bargain.
Half of people in state prisons are there for "violent crime". But what's defined as being violent reflects unequal judgements and politics. People causing huge harm by polluting our environment are not considered violent. We don't think of the military industrial complex as violent.
That state claims to fight for the victim's rights, but in fact doesn't pursue their real interest. If the victim doesn't agree with capital punishment then the state may still kill the harm-doer on their behalf. It typically doesn't provide counselling to the victim.
Sometimes are own feelings aren't in line with our values. We may be against the death penalty, but still feel the desire to kill someone who harmed someone we love. Part of the role of the community is to ensure our feelings don't govern our actions.
More than 50% of people who are harmed by sexual violence never report it to the police at all. These people demonstrate a preference for doing nothing at all compared to the only other option currently on offer.
Show Up and Don’t Travel Alone: We Need Each Other
“Community Matters. Collectivity Matters.”
It's important to try out many new ideas, experimenting, taking risks and learning lessons from all the expected failures. Big tech and banking are happy to talk about failure, whereas people involved in social transformation often take failure as something to hide or a sign that their ideas are entirely wrong.
We need to abolish ideologies, not just police departments. These ideologies exist in many institutions. People leaving prison often have to drug test. The child welfare protection system is a law enforcement agency, taking children away from parents being one of the worst forms possible of violence.
Policing is so much the default that we re-act police behaviour when dealing with each other.
Everything Worthwhile Is Done with Other People
During our lives, we have responsibilities to ourselves and other people.
Everything worthwhile is done with other people
Prisons breaks relationships and people.
Knowledge comes from struggling, not theorising.
Organising and activism are not the same thing. Activists can individually take on issues that move them. Organisers work with and are accountable to other people. They need to focus on building power and creating the conditions needed to bring their vision to life.
Resisting Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color
We often prioritise deaths over all other harms. But the other harms are what remain with us, the living.
Once you define policing as a system of harassment, violence, and surveillance that sustains gender and racial hierarchies then it's clear that it's not an issue of individual officers, cases of police brutality or violence. Policing is violence.
Join the Abolitionist Movement
To be useful to the abolitionist movement it's helpful to stay curious. Share what you know, but be enthusiastic about learning and being transformed.
“I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies”: The Living Legacy of June Jordan
Incarceration damages the future prospects of the people. They get stuck in cycles of arrest, jail, surveillance, and re-arrest. It hurts their mental health and exacerbates substance abuse problems. They find it harder to obtain stable jobs, housing and relationships.
Incarceration is a traumatic experience, not somewhere positive transformation can happen.
Principled struggle requires love, of yourself and others.
It is better to do something rather than nothing.