Abolition today

As I’ve been on this journey to learn, and act, related to Mutual Aid and Black Lives Matter, I’ve been learning what is meant by abolition today. When I thought about abolition, I thought about the abolition of slavery, or the death penalty. Today abolition refers to the abolition of police and a punitive criminal justice system.

BLM Philly seeks the abolition of police, jails, and the criminal justice system. Simultaneously, we are advancing solutions and supports that counteract the damage the carceral system has inflicted on our communities.

Black Lives Matter, Philadelphia

This morning I came across this amazing article about criminal justice.

On Aug. 21, Michael Stepanek drove his car through our Iowa Freedom Riders protest in Iowa City, hitting several of us and scaring the hell out of the rest of us. His justification, that we needed an “attitude adjustment,” is a white supremacist outlook.

Earlier this month, we heard from the Associated Press that his charges would be dropped and that Stepanek wouldn’t go to prison. Between Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune, the news got around about the judge’s decision, and the vast majority of folks we heard from were disturbed and furious that Johnson County District Judge Paul Miller let him off without additional incarceration.

But to wish prison on this man is to misunderstand the Black Lives Matter protests of this summer, and to misunderstand the centuries of abolitionist work that have led us here.

Our country is obsessed with revenge. When harm occurs, the only consequences we have been taught to imagine are punitive ones. We have been taught that if someone has “done wrong,” they must be punished to learn a lesson.

Scholar and activist Angela Davis has described this false notion of justice: “Retributive justice is when we have internalized the idea that when someone commits a harm, we must do to them what they have done to us. If we feel injured, then they must also be injured. This is a vengeful retributive justice that has drastically limited our ability to respond to social harm with humanity and compassion. When harm occurs, right now we don’t ask, ‘How can we build relationship with them so that the harms no longer occur?’ We only ask, ‘How can we punish them?’”

So, we must be better than our government officials and our police who imagine only consequences via revenge. We must resist the omnipresent social messaging that revenge is equal to justice. A truly transformative justice centers those who are harmed and works with them to find how to achieve reparations.

But it simultaneously asks “why?” about the harm that occurred and locates individual harms in the context of systemic problems. It seeks to provide resources to people like Mr. Stepanek to ensure that he never commits the same harm again. A truly transformative justice recognizes that harm-doers do not get better in prison. Prison is a site of abuse and dehumanization. It takes people away from their family, friends, community, good education, decent health care, hopefulness — all the things that people need for a healthy life — all things that people need to grow.

No prison for the man who intentionally drove through our protest? We agree, and this is why. We must never legitimize any part of this rapacious system, steeped in neoliberal reforms and racial capitalism that has unrelentingly plundered Black and Brown life for centuries. Ala Mohamed, Des Moines Register, Iowa View, Jan 16, 2021.

Police terror and mass incarceration do not exist in a vacuum. In our country, harm and punishment have invaded every aspect of society, and have done so with surgical racial precision. We see it in the ways we address drug dependency and mental health crises by disproportionately putting Black and Brown people behind bars instead of providing holistic treatment. We see it in inhumane panhandling laws and cash bail that punishes people for being poor. We see it when we suspend Black children from school and give them detention at disproportionate rates. At each step, our government has legitimized punishing Black and Brown people. It is not surprising, then, that the police commit harm and violence against Black and Brown bodies with impunity—and at alarming rates.

We need to radically reimagine our concept of justice and safety. For too long, we have addressed harm with reciprocal harm. Our elected and appointed officials catered to our worst retributive instincts, resulting in mandatory minimums, sentencing enhancements, and over-policing. What did it get us? An unaddressed drug dependency and mental health crisis, jails overflowing with Black and Brown people, and too many lost loved ones to count.

What we need now is a focus on health and healing. While some pundits and naysayers saw calls to defund the police and invest in Black communities as pipe dreams, our movement did what it always does. We listened, we got to work, and we wrote the BREATHE Act. While it has not been introduced into Congress just yet, we do have champions: Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib spoke at the press launch for the bill. We want the next Presidential administration to prioritize the passing of this powerful modern day civil rights legislation. We built the roadmap to take us away from harm and towards health and healing—now, we hope they follow it.

The BREATHE Act Is the Modern-Day Civil Rights Legislation We Need BY PATRISSE CULLORS, Teen Vogue, NOVEMBER 19, 2020

Quakers have a long history of working for the abolition of slavery. And the abolition of the death penalty. Will we contribute to the prison abolition movement today? How can you be involved? One way is to look for Mutual Aid projects and/or Black Lives Matter projects near you. And you can support the Movement for Black Lives’ Breathe Act.

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