Tag: Police abolition

anti-racismPolicingSocial Justice

Be a prison abolitionist

I am a prison abolitionist.

Being a prison abolitionist does not mean that I believe that all prisons should be destroyed.

It does mean that I believe that the fact that United States uses prisons and policing to solve problems in health care, education, and justice is itself criminal and must be abolished. It means that the way prisons are used to enforce white supremacy and anti-Blackness is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. It means that I believe we have the capacity to imagine ways that cities and communities can be rebuilt, supported, and valued in ways that promote safe and healthy lives. It means the terror that is inflicted upon Black and Brown bodies by policing as currently implemented — on graphic display across all major U.S. cities now, but so much a daily part of how Black and Brown life is lived — is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. Being a prison abolitionist means that I refuse to accept that things must be the way they are now.

I am going to share the personal anecdotes and reflections that brought me to this point, but let me first share the eloquent and to-the-point words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore that lay out the case far better than I could. Be a prison abolitionist.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore discusses abolition with Naomi Murakawa

When I was in grade-school, we would spend some Sunday evenings driving my grandmother to a small correctional facility for young women. She worked there a few hours a week as a counselor. She would tell stories about the young women there, most had been placed there due to petty crimes like shoplifting. Most had not completed high school. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that better schools should be an alternative to prison. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that punitive discipline in schools, and other practices that force out young Black girls and women from schools into prisons should be abolished. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that ready access to support systems, to the kind of counseling and encouragement that my grandmother provided should be the alternative to prisons. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that sex work should not be punitively criminalized. That protections for sex workers should be one alternative to prison.

It turns out that my uncle carried on his mother’s work and spent his career as counselor at a correctional facility in Georgia. Many of the Black men that he would speak to had not finished high school. His clients had deep emotional and psychological problems, addictions some, that had brought them to the prison system. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that the answer to the alarming incarceration of Black youth is to build better schools, not bigger prisons. You believe that access to health care is a critical step. You believe that restorative justice in the high school and in courts is a start. You believe that people who have resorted to petty crimes like check forgery deserve viable alternatives for earning a living wage, not death at the knees of police. You believe that Black youth deserve to have their souls elevated in schools, not their souls crushed. You don’t believe we need military equipment and predator drones in the hands of our police.

When I was a graduate student, Ambassador Andrew Young, one of the iconic leaders of the U.S. Civil Rights movement paid a visit to the university. He had been the second Black mayor of the city I grew up in, and was one of the people we looked up to growing up. I asked him what I could contribute as a computer scientist. Immediately he responded that educational software in the prisons was essential — there are so many young brothers in prison he said, and they don’t have access to education. I think about that often. Don’t my brothers deserve schools, not prisons? I thought to myself. If you are a prison abolitionist, then you believe that we need to build schools that can educate the Brothers, that we need to build systems that distinguish between the “crimes of desperation” and the criminals that are committing large scale voter suppression, murdering innocent runners, or trying to arrest bird watchers. If you are a prison abolitionist, then the Black and Latinx people imprisoned for attempting to sell or distribute marijuana should be freed and those dealing with addiction should have access to adequate mental and emotional support. Why do we imprison Black folk while former elected officials make millions from their involvement in marijuana growing initiatives?

We know that incarceration rates in the United States are an injustice to all

We know that Black men are “six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men”

Racial disparities in imprisonment — this is how we enforce white supremacy

If you are a prison abolitionist, then you believe that a young Black man’s life is worth more than a trash can

If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that someone shouldn’t be locked up, brutalized, and exposed to COVID-19 because they can’t afford to pay a parking ticket.

Seven of the 10 largest outbreaks in the country have been at correctional facilities

Equal Justice Inititive

Let’s be prison abolitionists.

You can start by supporting the following organizations

You can start by reading

Just start somewhere.

Update 6/14/2020

Last night (6/13), there was violent police repression of a protest following the police murder of Rayshard Brooks.

It underscores the urgency of police and prison abolition.

Please donate to http://atlsolidarity.org if you have the reaources

HistorySocial Justice

Do we need prisons?

Should we end prisons? I have been thinking through this question since reading a recent New York Times article on Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s efforts to dismantle, if not slow the role of, the prison industrial complex. Her focus has been the California prison system and has a book you should check out called The Golden Gulag.

Whatever your views on the criminal justice system, you owe it to yourself and your community to read the article. Angela Davis has been talking about this for decades.

My current thinking is that the prison abolition movement is really about getting a dialog going to question our assumptions about prison. Even getting the prison population down to 1980 levels would be a positive step.

For example, the definition of what constitutes a crime itself is constantly in flux. A good deal of Nobel Prize winners were imprisoned, from Martin Luther King to Andrei Sakharov. People in Georgia serve prison sentences for selling marijuana, in Colorado and California marijuana sellers get venture capital. Missouri wants to imprison doctors for performing safe abortions. So even in the “nation of laws”, the laws are arbitrary, are not equally applied across race, gender, and class, and can change in an election. But the sentences are still extreme and rip apart families and communities.

I struggle with the issue of violent crime. I don’t think the people who stole my bike or car radio need to have their voting rights suspended or their families jacked up. I don’t feel that serial murderers need to be on the street. But most of the countries with low murder rates don’t lock up murderers indefinitely. Those countries seem to take rehabilitation seriously.

Let’s put it this way. Somehow, Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, South Africa, and Liberia found a way to reintegrate people who’d committed unspeakable crimes. Surely if broken child soldiers can be put back together in poor countries, then there has to be a way to put back together the people that we now lock up and put away indefinitely in the “nation of laws”.

A dialog needs to happen.

As usual I’m on the hunt for data, particularly in Georgia.

What do you think?