Q: How Have the Black Lives Matter Protests Impacted the Prison Abolition Movement?
Organizer, social worker, and co-author of the 8 to Abolition platform.
As I was introduced to organizing a little bit before the first wave of BLM protests (2013–2014), I’ve noticed that activists now have more support and networks for political education than they did back then.
Activists today tend to have a deeper analysis of the Prison-Industrial Complex. And that, combined with the radicalizing effect of COVID-19, has allowed us to push for more radical demands. The latest BLM protests have also plugged more people into the movement for prison abolition by directing them toward local efforts around defunding the police, getting cops out of schools, and consuming and creating popular education materials around abolition.
But, for organizers, the question remains: How do we make radical concepts more accessible to the masses while not diluting them? These protests have given us another chance to come up with an answer.
Professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of The End of Policing.
The police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have forced us to come to terms with how America’s reliance on policing has become a major engine of inequality.
Prison abolition organizing and discourse have always contained an analysis of how racial capitalism relies on incarceration as a tool of social control. But the current focus on policing has revealed that criminalization occurs not just in prisons but also in millions of violent, demeaning, and unnecessary interactions between the police and the public.
Putting more money into reform will not address the fundamental injustices of police violence. The current wave of protests is rooted in this analysis. And, as such, it presents a much more direct challenge to leaders in both parties who continue to build political power through the criminalization of the most vulnerable communities in our society.
The movement to defund the police that emerged this year is grounded in decades of Black feminist and anti-capitalist abolitionist organizing. It takes seriously the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Abolition requires that we change one thing: everything.”
Thanks to this year’s protests, many more people are being energized by that vision. Organizers are emphasizing the necessity of abolishing policing, not just the police. Cutting police funding isn’t enough. Resources must also pour into housing, health care, education, child care, the arts, and youth programs.
Abolition is a life-affirming thing, a “growing thing,” Alexis Pauline Gumbs has said. It is a practice of building the life-affirming, flourishing world we want to live in.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.