ABOLITION IN OUR LIFETIME
ABOLITION READING LIST
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE: ABOLITION NOW!
originally published on genrisemedia.com on june 5, 2020
Editor’s note: This article is written by guest contributor Ry. If you’d like to submit content to Gen Rise, click here.
Disclaimer: There are spoilers for “My Little Pony” and “Cars” in this article. You have been warned.
These past few days have been the most anxiety-ridden days of my life, and I haven’t left my house because I can’t risk my kid sister coming down with a case of COVID-19, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for anyone on the ground right now—most especially Black protesters in Minneapolis, Chicago, Louisville, and all the other cities that have had brutal police push-back all over the states.
At this moment, I’m thinking a lot about what there is that we can do for one another. Or, rather, what there is that we have to do for one another right now. My last few days have been a constant repeat of donating to bail funds, sharing resources, donating some more, signing petitions, and then, of course, donating even more.
I am trying my best to hold onto the belief that we can—and will—build a better world.
A few months ago, I became a prison abolitionist (I know, I know, I went to UC Santa Cruz, read some Angela Davis, and became a prison abolitionist. Go figure).
I wish there was one moment that I could pinpoint. I wish there was one article or book or Twitter thread that I could point to and say “here, this is what convinced me.” But what happened instead was that there was simply one moment where I thought, and I thought a lot, and I realized that there have been countless situations in my life that have led me to become a prison and police abolitionist.
But the truth is that I don’t think I consciously became one—I just realized that I was one.
Maybe it was knowing that every time-out I’d ever gotten as a kid has been next to useless, and has only ever instilled a sense of fear, anger, and distrust. Every time my parents closed the door on me in a tiny, pitch-black closet and left me there for hours, I came out a better liar.
Or maybe it was rewatching “My Little Pony” on Netflix with my kid sister and realizing that Discord, an antagonist in the series throughout seasons two to nine, doesn’t actually grow to be better after every imprisonment or entrapment as a stone statue. Instead, the first time the character shows actual improvement was when Fluttershy called him a friend. The disclaimer is that I never finished the series, so for all intents and purposes, his arc ends where I saw it end, and not where the writers say it ends.
It could also have been the moment in “Cars” when Lightning McQueen realizes, after having to do community service in that small desert town that he destroyed, that he cares a lot about this community and the cars there. It’s worth noting that after they locked him up behind that fence on the first night, all he did was try and drive away, never having learned anything.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here. The point is that many of us already lead lives that are informed by abolitionist ideals–it’s not as foreign and as far away as we think it is.
When we talk out conflicts with our friends, it’s rooted in conflict resolution. When we play the role of mediator between a friend and someone who has harmed them, we are using restorative justice practices.
These practices are central to community accountability, a community-based strategy to address violence including, but not limited to, domestic and sexual violence, gender-based violence, and child abuse. These practices also demand a reimagining of what we define as crime, and how different crime is from harm and violence.
Often the go-to question when I tell others I am an abolitionist, is “what will we do with rapists?”
And it’s a question that many abolitionists have stopped answering, because it’s a question designed to derail abolition, without realizing that our current carceral system does not really account for ‘the rapists’ either. Though the statistics vary widely, the truth is that many rapes go without being reported, and of those that do, only a fraction of them are actually found guilty and charged.
The question, then, becomes one of how we confront, tackle, and take down the power structures, cultural beliefs, and systems that enable rape, as opposed to how we imprison and punish rapists.
“Where do killer cops go?”
Well, where do killer cops come from? The answer is not prisons and the solution is not prisons either. Policing and prison will not hold them accountable because punishment is not accountability. And the issue is not individual killer cops—not simply that Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck–but the very systems that allowed something like that to happen.
So, what do we do? We first have to understand that white supremacy, police brutality, and the very notion that private property deserves more protection than human beings are systems that need to be dismantled.
That brings up another commonly asked question: “What do we do with people who steal?”
I know it’s going to sound bizarre, but I need you to reimagine property and crime. Understand that there would be no need to steal goods if everyone was able to afford what they needed to get by.
Understand that private property is not worth more than humanity—that broken windows and stolen property are not worth state-sanctioned violence or forced isolation in prison cells.
There are a lot of questions about abolition, and I get it, because I had those questions too.
But there is no one-word answer. There’s no article I can point you to that will answer all of these questions in the way you’re expecting them to be answered. There is also no quick and easy solution or alternative, because the point is to eliminate the need for an alternative to begin with.
These questions are asked with an expectation of a replacement for prisons, or for police, but the problem is that if we are successful in abolition, the very need for prisons and police dissolves entirely.
We have to dismantle the systems that have invented and continue to maintain the so-called necessitation of police and prisons. It’s about the cultural, structural, and individual shifts that allow for abolition to happen, not just dissolving the main figures within the carceral state.
This dismantling is a massive undertaking. A few examples of steps forward include defunding police forces, disbanding police and law enforcement unions, getting elected officials to pledge to take no police union contributions.
While we dismantle these systems, we also have to build. We can start by joining or creating local mutual aid projects, cop watching groups, and starting to build community accountability practices.
These, once again, are only small steps forward, and there is so much more to do.
There is an entire world to change, and like Angela Davis said, “we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer of hope on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.”
That’s the entire point: it’s about building and maintaining the values that create the bigger, brighter, and better world that we are all deserving of.
In other words, we have to work to set the conditions for abolition to happen.
A better world is possible, and this is the promise that we have to hold each other to.
My recommendations for everyone just getting familiar with prison and police abolition:
“What Abolitionists Do” by Dan Berger, Mariame Kaba, and David Stein.
“A Jailbreak of the Imagination: Seeing Prisons for What They Are and Demanding Transformation” by Mariame Kaba & Kelly Hayes
“Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis
Ry is an artist, abolitionist, and writer. They center their work around gender, queerness, and race as well as other topics not necessarily as separate entities, but as parts of identity that influence each other.