“Police were never meant to protect and serve me and you. They started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners..and the first American prisons started as work camps for newly freed slaves…Plantation owners have turned into prison owners…Police and prisons, since their founding, have always been about safety for the haves while wreaking havoc for the have-nots. We deserve better…Police and prisons have no place in “justice”. Police and prisons aren’t just racist but they work to enforce the separations of rich and poor. True safety can’t be found where it was never meant to be” – Dream Defenders, Freedom Papers (Freedom from Police and Prisons)
As I’m sitting in a circle of radical, revolutionary organizers from all over the state of Florida, for the first time, I’m introduced to the idea of prison and police abolition actually being possible and attainable through the efforts of a collective of abolitionist organizers. For a long time, I knew that the U.S. prison and policing system were flawed and I believed that those systems just needed to be “fixed’ and “reformed” which is largely what pushed me into the realm of social justice and activism. However, all of my ideas and what I thought was right were challenged when I thought long and hard on it if truly made sense to resort to prisons and policing in a society that has the capability to function without them, with much better alternatives.
You can’t ‘reform’ an institution like the police, because the police have never been our protectors. The police represent the military arm of our oppressors, they are the state-sanctioned violence that continues to brutalize us.
— Azul/آزول 🦋 (@itsazul_) December 27, 2018
When I think of police, I reflect on its roots of capturing my enslaved ancestors that transitioned into various continuous methods of brutalization today. I think of all of the women who become victims of sexual assault while in police custody. I think of people who intentionally don’t call the police in dangerous situations, because they know there’s a possibility police presence can result in them getting killed. When I think of prisons, I wonder why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world while only accounting for 5% of the world’s population, yet makes up 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. I think of the people who die in prison because they didn’t have enough money for bail. I think of the people who come out of prison with severe mental health issues such as PTSD and trauma from experiencing intense dehumanization.
What Abolition Means
Abolition is about transforming the types of systems many currently consider as “safe”, and reimagining a world without them from an analytical, solution-oriented perspective. When the idea of prison and police abolition is brought up, the question of “what would happen to the bad people” is usually posed, which is a reasonable stance to consider. To the people who ask these questions, I encourage you to think about some of the questions that police and prison abolitionists are focusing on answering: What resources and systems need to be in place to eliminate the need for prisons in the first place? How can we solve the issues prison is supposedly solving? What needs to happen to erase the need for prisons?
Why Abolish Prisons And Police?
The general idea of what “safety” means to most people is usually thought of in terms of prisons and police. The notion the police was founded to “protect and serve” has people blindsided from how the system of policing operates on enforcing racist, sexist, and unjust laws. Remember, slavery was once legal (really, it still is). Legality does not equate to morality. We have been conditioned to believe that keeping the “bad” people in cages away from society and being policed by other individuals as the utmost form of safety. We’ve been conditioned to believe those are the only and best options when they are not. From a historical perspective, systems designed with harmful tactics in mind that have continued to disproportionately affect Black people, poor people, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and more, have no place in a nation that claims to be a just society.
What are the alternatives?
We are told to call the police and rely on the criminal justice system to address violence within our communities. However, if police and prisons facilitate or perpetrate violence against us rather than increase our safety, how do we create strategies to address violence within our communities, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse, that don’t rely on police or prisons? – Transformative Justice EU
So, what is the alternative you ask? How would our society function without prisons or police? Transformative Justice and Community Accountability.
Transformative Justice: a liberatory approach to violence which seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration or policing.
How it works: “Transformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long-term healing and reparations while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities. This accountability includes stopping immediate abuse, making a commitment to not engage in future abuse, and offering reparations for past abuse.” – Transformative Justice EU
Community Accountability: A community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. Community accountability is a process IN which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things :
- “Create and affirm VALUES AND PRACTICES that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability
- Provide SAFETY AND SUPPORT to community members who are violently targeted that RESPECTS THEIR SELF-DETERMINATION
- Develop sustainable strategies to ADDRESS COMMUNITY MEMBERS’ ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.
- Commit to the ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to TRANSFORM THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS that reinforce oppression and violence. ” – Transformative Justice EU
This article wasn’t written just to spew anti-police and prison rhetoric. It’s much bigger than that. I published this post to show that we can imagine and create a world where we use practical and effective solutions that don’t involve oppression and dehumanization to solve real problems. We can live in a world where locking people up in cages is no longer seen as the go-to option. We can create a world that benefits the greater good of all.