Martin Luther King, Abolition and Mutual Aid

Abolition of the police is a relatively new concept to me, as a white male. One of the most significant and impactful parts of white privilege is related to safety and law enforcement. It is one thing to read the statistics and reports about race and policing. It was totally different, shocking to see the trauma this causes for people you are beginning to know. As happened to me during community discussions a the Kheprw Institute (KI) in Indianapolis. To see a black mother break down in tears as she talked about how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. To see that every person of color in the room knew exactly what she was speaking about.

I began to learn about the slave patrols.

There was no place to hide, no place to truly be safe. Across the U.S., black Americans lived in fear of law enforcement officials armed with weapons who monitored their every behavior, attacked them on the street and in their homes, and killed them for the slightest alleged provocation. 

These organized groups of white men known as slave patrols lay at the roots of the nation’s law enforcement excesses, historians say, helping launch centuries of violent and racist behavior toward black Americans, as well as a tradition of protests and uprisings against police brutality.

That history has once again become the subject of national debate as millions of Americans in recent days gathered in cities large and small to denounce police brutality and racial bias after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, at the hands of a police officer after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. 

Not just George Floyd: Police departments have 400-year history of racism by Wenei Philimon, USA TODAY, June 7, 2020

Activist and prison-industrial complex abolitionist Mariame Kaba celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by praising NU Community Not Cops and speaking to the importance of mutual aid and political organizing in Wednesday’s MLK Dream Week virtual keynote.

“Abolitionists have a lot to learn from Dr. King,” Kaba said. “If King were alive today… I have no doubt that what he would be addressing in our current historical moment is the violence and destruction of the prison-industrial complex.”

The prison-industrial complex abolition movement hinges on two key principles, Kaba explained: the belief that police perpetuate — not mitigate — harm and the practice of mutual aid. 

Mutual aid — or the extension of community-based assistance, services, funds and care with no requirements or expectations of the recipients — was a core tenant of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she said. In order to provide boycotters a viable transportation alternative, the community coalesced to create an elaborate rideshare system and provide parking, funds and other forms of support. 

King also frequently spoke out against police brutality, Kaba said, adding that King was jailed 29 times during his lifetime for civil disobedience and related infractions. 

In her work, Kaba has focused on ending the racialized and gender-based institutions of violence, maintained by policing, prisons and surveillance. 

However, Kaba emphasized, prison abolition is more than just the dissolution of what she calls “death-making institutions.” A crucial piece is rebuilding a system that celebrates the flipside — “life-giving institutions,” or systems that offer support, accountability and care to communities. 

“I’m a (prison-industrial complex) abolitionist really, in its simplest terms, because I want to dismantle a system predicated on premature death,” Kaba said. “And build one instead focused on life and true safety.”

Activist Mariame Kaba talks abolition and mutual aid, condemns campus police in Dream Week keynote by Binah Schatsky, The Daily Northwestern, January 13, 2021

Policing, rather than a modern civilized institution committed to law and order and evolving over time… has been exposed as an ongoing settler-colonial project, organized through terror, violence and control

Mariame Kaba

My friend Ronnie James delivered a speech at a Black Lives Matter teach in, August 22, 2020. He has been mentoring me as I learn and participate in Des Moines Mutual Aid’s work. Ronnie is an Indigenous activist and organizer with more than 20 years of experience.

Historically, the police and other law enforcement were formed to protect the interests and property of the moneyed classes from the rest of the People. This “property” included the bodies of the enslaved, and was the justification for brutally repressing the righteous and inevitable revolts born from the atrocity of slavery. This same philosophy of endless possession was the bloodlust that fueled the “Indian Wars” and the theft of Indigenous land and bodies that continues to this day. (Wampanoag, 2020)

Today, this same war of conquest, the repression of the many for the benefit of the few, continues. 

Currently, Des Moines Mutual Aid and it’s many accomplices have been fighting a battle with the city of des moines and it’s foot soldiers trying to repress our houseless population from utilizing unused “property”. The basic universal need of a place to rest and be safe is trumped by the need of the wealthy, and the wannabe wealthy, to control every inch they can possess. It is a war for control, and the pigs have enlisted willingly.

This same war of conquest is currently using the mass incarceration machine to instill fear in the populace, warehouse cheap labor, and destabilize communities that dare to defy a system that would rather see you dead than noncompliant. This is the same war where it’s soldiers will kill a black or brown body, basically instinctively, because our very existence reminds them of all that they have stolen and the possibility of a revolution that can create a new world where conquest is a shameful memory.

The police state and why we must resist. Ronnie James

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war. Organized groups like The American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense showed that we can build not only aggressive security forces for our communities, but they also built many programs that directly responded to the general wellbeing of their communities. This tradition began long before them and continues to this day. Look into the Zapatistas in Southern so-called Mexico for a current and effective example.

These people’s security forces, or the “policing of the police” not only helps to minimize the abuse and trauma they can inflict on us, but it begins to shift the power balance from them to us.

Mutual Aid programs that help our most marginalized or other events that work to maintain our spirits result in stronger communities. A strong community is less vulnerable to police intrusion. 99% of our conflicts can be solved by those affected by them, but only with the support of those around them. Anytime we call on the police to mediate our problems, we are risking ourselves or a loved one from being hurt or worse.

The more we replace the police with organized community response to conflict, the safer we will be. Another powerful benefit is the removal of power from those that take their orders from those that have no interest in your well being, at least past it being useful to amass and increase wealth.

Many communities work to train amongst themselves mental and physical health workers, conflict mediators, and anything else we need, despite the state and it’s soldiers insistence that they are the sole “authority” of these skills, and always with the implied threat of violence.

As we work toward this, and this summer has proven des moines has the heart, desire, and skills to do so, we still have to deal with what’s in front of us.

We each have skills and resources we can utilize towards the abolition project. Some of us can use the halls of the system to make short term change there, others have skills that produce food, provide medical care, or care for our precious youth, some are skilled in the more confrontational tactics needed. Once we envision that world our ancestors want for us, finding our role is natural.

If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.

All Power To The People.

The police state and why we must resist. Ronnie James

If King were alive today… I have no doubt that what he would be addressing in our current historical moment is the violence and destruction of the prison-industrial complex

Mariame Kaba

Des Moines Black Lives Matter/ Black Liberation

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Des Moines Black Lives Matter

January 11 at 9:18 AM  · The Iowa Legislature returns today for a new session. These are our demands.
 #ialegis #BlackEmergencyIA

Image may contain: text that says 'lowa BLM Statewide Codlition LEGISLATIVE DEMANDS .Legalize cannabis and expunge records REPEAL lowa Code 80F lowa Peace Officers Bill of Rights REPEAL SF481 Requires police to collaborate with ICE REPEAL lowa Code 904.808 Requires state to purchase from lowa Prison Industries Legislation to promote Black maternal & infant health Constitutiona amendment to protect voting rights of lowans who have been convicted of a felony SPONSORS Des Moines Black Liberation Movement Advocates for Social Justice Ames BLM Cedar Valley BLM lowa Freedom Riders'

Des Moines Black Lives Matter

This entry was posted in abolition, Black Lives, Des Moines Black Lives Matter, Des Moines Mutual Aid, enslavement, Kheprw Institute, Mutual Aid, race, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Martin Luther King, Abolition and Mutual Aid

  1. Mickey says:

    This blog post covers important stuff. Please check out the abolitionist work of mpd150 including the MPD150 report on 150 years of the Minneapolis Police Dept. and the printed updated edition with tool kit for abolition work (also online at I was glad to be one of the original collaborative writer’s of this project. I also would like you to know that I have made reference to this blog in an academic term paper (with full citation). Thank you for endeavoring the crucial work of abolitionism and introducing others to it.

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