We also need to demilitarize our communities by disarming police and removing them from our neighborhoods, hospitals, and schools. Building on campaigns organized by grassroots groups like
Survived and Punished and Free Them All for Public Health, we call for freedom for those incarcerated in jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers, as well as for those involuntarily held in psychiatric institutions and nursing homes. Following the lead of DecrimNow DC and Decrim NY, we seek to chip away at the carceral state by repealing laws that criminalize survival, such as the criminalization of sex work and anti-homelessness ordinances that criminalize loitering and sleeping in public spaces.
This platform also focuses on where to direct resources freed up by dismantling the prison industrial complex: housing, health care, childcare, youth programming, and community-based public safety efforts.
8 TO ABOLITION
As Black feminist thinker and abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore says,
abolition is about more than just tearing down the cages; it’s about people having the resources and care they need to live, and live well. Abolition teaches us to approach our understanding of safety and responses to harm through a new lens — to build up life-sustaining systems that reduce, prevent, and better address harm at a community-based level. It emphasizes the reparative models of transformative justice and community-based accountability to build communities equipped to support one another in response to violence.
Community accountability processes seek safety for those harmed, changed behaviors for those who caused harm, and a transformation of the conditions that allowed the harm to occur. One example of this model that has been made public is the BYP100 process, which led to a statement of accountability by the person who caused harm (although the behavior was later repeated, leading to a new statement of accountability). There are also models of community accountability processes that do not depend on people who have caused harm to be accountable, and instead turn to whole communities to take action and build safety. Community accountability approaches dovetail with other anti-capitalist methods of ensuring community control over housing, food, and work by allowing the community to dictate what justice means. These models seek to eradicate state violence and gendered violence simultaneously by responding to abuse and assault while rejecting punishment, policing, and imprisonment.
As Mariame Kaba points out, strategies like policing and imprisonment might make people
“feel secure,” but they actually reproduce violence and harm. Justifying carceral solutions to violence through policing and prisons has rationalized increased funding for law enforcement, a glaring issue when compared with the lack of investment in programs and support systems that keep our communities safe. In New York City, more city funding is directed toward policing than housing and health care. For education, the city’s priorities are similarly out of balance: An environmental impact assessment from the activist group No New Jails found that, based on 2017 data, New York City spent over $200,000 per incarcerated person, but only $14,500 per student through the Department of Education.
Rather than address the root causes of violence, reliance on police, prisons, and jails
perpetuates and reproduces violence. Abolition requires that we build a culture of accountability without punishment.
Many of us are
already practicing the principles of transformative justice in how we resolve conflict among our families and friends. For those most impacted by daily state surveillance and criminalization, strategies to build safety without policing have been developed out of necessity. For example, Black women and women of color who experience gendered violence rarely report to police, because of the systemic misogyny and racism that leads to survivors not being believed or supported. Instead, we turn to our communities for support with navigating alternative housing, childcare, and emotional care. Abolition expands on these everyday practices, uprooting our current system and replacing it with a better one that meets our needs.
We need to get the cops “
out of our heads and hearts” by denaturalizing the relationship between punishment and safety. On a recent panel with Dream Defenders, Angela Davis invited us to imagine new forms of procuring justice. Instead of replicating the state’s modes of justice using retribution, revenge, penance, and a narrow focus on the behavior of individuals, we need to interrogate the context that allows harm and violence to occur in the first place. What are the conditions that lead to rape, burglaries, and mass shootings? How do we shift those conditions to make violence less likely to occur and ensure that people are safe when it does?
In building this new context, we must simultaneously interrogate the ways that we have internalized oppression. We all play a role in keeping systems of oppression intact, whether by calling the police to make noise complaints that can be resolved through stronger relationships with our neighbors, or remaining silent when we are faced with sexism, racism, anti-Blackness, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism in our own communities. We have to learn to
intervene and give good apologies, taking responsibility for the impact of our actions, and interrupting harmful patterns of behavior in ourselves and others.
Unlike the court system, accountability isn’t about determining whose truth is the real truth; it’s about dispelling the myth of the binary between good and evil, and creating space for our messy, contradictory, and complex lived experiences. Abolition does not promise us a world without violence, but rather a world in which we have the tools to redress harm. An abolitionist framework moves us away from questions like “Who is to blame?” and “Who will be punished?” toward questions promoting safety, healing, and justice. We ask: “What is needed to make things right? What changes can be made to prevent this harm from happening again?” Recognizing that harm is enabled by oppressive systems, we seek instead to dismantle the imperialist and capitalist structures that promote and perpetuate everyday violence against people who are marginalized.
8 TO ABOLITION
Carceral systems seep into every aspect of our lives, and to create the conditions that eliminate a perceived need for prisons and policing, we must root out these carceral systems wherever they appear.
And as we mourn the loss of Oluwatoyin Toyin Salau, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton,
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Jamel Floyd, Nina Pop, and so many more Black victims of state and gendered violence, grassroots movements are calling to divest from policing and invest in care infrastructures that keep our communities safe.
Processes and models of accountability for harm without punishment may be different across communities. There are many
community-based models experimenting with measures to interrupt gendered violence and state violence at the same time. As local campaigns organized by youth-led groups like New York’s Urban Youth Collaborative and Washington, DC’s Black Swan Academy have argued, removing police from schools can not only interrupt violence at the hands of officers, but free up resources to invest in restorative practices for responding to conflict and interpersonal harm. BYP 100’s She Safe, We Safe campaign offers interventions for gendered violence that do not rely on police and pushes for reallocating police funding to community-based programs. In Washington, DC, Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) works in partnership with ReThink and the DC Rape Crisis Center to offer Rethink Masculinity, a program for men and masculine people to root out harmful behaviors and learn skills like building healthy relationships and bystander intervention.
Transformation takes time, and abolition can’t wait: To build a future where whole communities are equipped to care for and keep one another safe, we must take bold measures to defund and dismantle prisons and policing now.