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Abolition for the People

What Is and What Could Be: The Policies of Abolition

From state-level coalitions to sweeping federal mandates, imagining the future means spending money in the right places

Dan Berger
Published in
7 min readOct 29, 2020

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.

By Dan Berger and David Stein

The far-reaching vision of abolition is enacted daily in political struggles over spending priorities — a key measure of whose lives matter and how. Abolitionists have picked up the torch of 20th-century Black labor radicals and other racial and economic justice organizers who have insisted that public budgets have moral implications.

The call to defund the police is a deeply rooted strategy that to some entered the 2020 landscape as if from nowhere. Yet the demand has been shaped by more than three decades of organizing against police and prisons. It has been molded by what historian Barbara Ransby has described as movements filled with leaders: from activists like James Yaki Sayles in the 1980s; to Ransby’s own work building the Black Radical Congress in the 1990s; to that of Eddie Ellis and the New York-based Prison Moratorium Project in the 1990s and 2000s; to the ascent of the broader Movement for Black Lives and both the ephemeral and durable formations that have sprung up over the past six years since the Ferguson protests gripped the world’s attention.

The call to defund is best understood as an effort to revoke the political and economic power of police — and of the larger criminal legal system it upholds. Indeed, before the protests against the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor popularized the demand to defund the police, abolitionists around the country initiated campaigns for clemency and to decarcerate jails, prisons, and detention centers…