Abolition for the People

The Demand for Abolition

Only by dismantling unjust systems can we imagine a future that is safe, healthy, and truly free

This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.

To understand the necessity and urgency of abolition, we must first understand the genesis and histories of the institutions and practices we must abolish.

Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons is a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and the Medium publication LEVEL that builds on a rich tradition of Black organizing and freedom-fighting. This project seeks to introduce abolitionist values, practices, histories, and ambitions to an audience that is looking for a path to a better and more just society.

Police and policing

The central intent of policing is to surveil, terrorize, capture, and kill marginalized populations, specifically Black folks. In her edited collection, Imprisoned Intellectuals, Joy James put the United States under the magnifying glass. “The world can see what goes on in the tombs of America as Black people are being slowly strangled and suffocated to death,” she writes. When the world witnessed the police choke Eric Garner to death as he gasped “I can’t breathe” — that is an act of terror. When a cop car pulled up to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, and the cop shot him in less than two seconds — that is an act of terror. When police broke down 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston’s front door, unloaded 39 rounds, and left five bullets buried in her body — that is an act of terror. We recognize it as anti-Black violence and control while law enforcement and the injustice system see it as essential to the very nature of the job.

Prisons and carcerality

As part of the reentry work I have done with Kevin Livingston from 100 Suits for 100 Men at Rikers Island, I have spent time with young Black men no older than 20. The young men there explained the dehumanizing conditions in the prison that range from denial of literature to physical assault. They have been criminalized and caged, in most cases, for being redlined into economic despair. Forever emblazoned in my memory are the words of one of the young Black men: “You love us when no one else does.” The young brother was seeking love. He was seeking care. He was seeking a space that valued his life.

An institution based on social control instead of social well-being is an institution that needs to be abolished.

As Angela Y. Davis has written, “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” Prisons do not contain a “criminal population” running rampant but rather a population that society has repeatedly failed.

Fuck reform

I recently revisited the 2016 postgame interview when I was first asked about not standing during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One of the reporters inquired about the reasoning behind my dissent. “There’s a lot of things that need to change,” I replied. “One specifically is police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. Cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”

Abolition now

Abolition is a means to create a future in which justice and liberation are fundamental to realizing the full humanity of communities. Practices of abolitionists are focused on harm reduction, public health, and the well-being of people. Demands to defund the police and prisons are one of the ways to first realize the goals of investing in people and divesting from punishment and, in time, progress to the complete abolition of the carceral state, including police and policing.

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