Reform Won’t Do

Incremental Change is Moral Failure (Mychal Denzel Smith)

Casual observers, who aren’t always so casual—they begin to include academics, media professionals, policy makers, presidents—excuse the presence of the police here, and in other hoods like this one, because their position is that in order to stop the violence of the hood you must impose the violence of the state. The police are meant, in this view, to protect the people from themselves, to enforce the discipline their culture lacks.

They have no alternative…. How can a community deprived of the basics expect to receive the resources it needs so that it no longer has to depend on police? Its people have, purposefully, been given nothing else. When they ask, they are told to wait; when they shout, they are told that they are undeserving. They are shamed for the ways they have survived. They are blamed when they don’t survive.

I have grown past impatient with injustice. I am incensed by the delusion, so prevalent among the country’s supposedly serious thinkers, that tinkering around the edges of an inherently oppressive institution will lead to freedom.

This Isn’t New

The Feds Have a Long History of Snatching People Up (Morgan Godvin, Leo Beletsky)

The federal criminal justice system is terrifying. The potential sentences are incomprehensibly long, often many times longer than the state would give, if the state would convict at all. When Black and brown people were getting plucked out of their cities by federal police and sent to federal prisons and detention facilities across the country, the nation did not cry foul. 

But the people getting arrested in Portland haven’t committed any crimes, you say? They are being arrested for little more than exercising their first amendment right! It’s almost as if people are getting arrested not based on their conduct or any notion of public safety, but rather what is politically popular at the moment. It’s almost as if this is the way it has always been … but today’s political pawns are mostly white, often educated, and politically active.

Say Her Name

The Reckoning Will Be Incomplete Without Black Women and Girls (Tamara Winfrey-Harris)

Even though there is now a nationwide outcry against systemic racism and its by-products—the over-policing, incarceration, brutalization, and murder of black people—the discussion and activism almost always center men and boys. By minimizing the trials of black women and girls, the country will miss the full picture of devastation that the American police state imposes on African Americans.

Is Prison Necessary?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind (Rachel Kushner)

Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

For Gilmore, to “never forget” means you don’t solve a problem with state violence or with personal violence. Instead, you change the conditions under which violence prevailed. Among liberals, a kind of quasi-Christian idea about empathy circulates, the idea that we have to find a way to care about the people who’ve done bad. To Gilmore this is unconvincing. When she encountered the kids in Fresno who hassled her about prison abolition, she did not ask them to empathize with the people who might hurt them, or had. She instead asked them why, as individuals, and as a society, we believe that the way to solve a problem is by “killing it.” She was asking if punishment is logical, and if it works. She let the kids find their own way to answer.

Abolish the Police

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police (Mariame Kaba)

When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.

The Authoritarian Stamp of Jim Crow

The Authoritarian Stamp of Jim Crow (Jamelle Bouie)

Southern conservatives beat back Populism and biracial democracy to build a one-party state and ensure cheap labor, low taxes, white supremacy and a starkly unequal distribution of wealth. It took two decades of disruption — the Great Depression, the Great Migration and the Second World War — to even make change possible, and then another decade of fierce struggle to bring democracy back to the South.

If we look at the actions of the political party and president now in power, if we think of how they would behave with even more control over the levers of the state, then we might be on a path that ends in something that is familiar from our past — authoritarian government with a democratic facade.

Canada is Fake

Canada is Fake (Alex Verman)

The state itself is the best evidence we have for the claim that something can be both socially constructed and also terribly consequential — a border is an utterly unnatural thing, something that is so flimsy and nonsensical that states spend billions of dollars maintaining the illusion of their reality every year.

The eventual formation of Canada as “Canada” came about in the late 1800s for nakedly economic reasons, primarily to benefit the companies and conglomerates that were trading Canadian natural resources with the British, but also to facilitate railroad construction (using slave labor) in which civic leaders had investments.

The lands in question are technically unceded, meaning that they lie fully outside of the jurisdiction of the Canadian state — this land was never officially incorporated into the Canadian state, and the people there never entered into formal treaties with Canadian colonists.

It’s Not Too Soon

It’s Not ‘Too Soon’ to Talk About the Kobe Bryant Rape Case (Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis, Joel Anderson)

The way that I think of it is that if your support and your admiration for Kobe is strong enough, like if you really loved Kobe, you idolized him, that should be real enough to sustain an analysis or review of his life as he lived it. Nobody is telling you how to mourn or that you can’t feel sorry for the fact that he died or that it was a tragedy, because it is. But that should not therefore dictate the way others choose to remember him or what we want to say about his death.

Victims everywhere are watching. Survivors in your life right now are listening to this and reading this and hearing all the dismissals. Survivors aren’t in a community all to themselves. They’re part of all these other communities.

Elizabeth Warren and DNA Testing

Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee Citizenship, and DNA Testing (Adrienne Keene, Rebecca Nagle, Joseph M. Pierce)

The goal of this syllabus is to frame the recent claims to Cherokee ancestry by US Senator Elizabeth Warren as part of a longer history of cultural appropriation, erasure, and settler colonialism. Warren’s claims reveal the pervasive influence of biological essentialism–through the supposed certainty of DNA testing–in the globalized present. As is documented in this syllabus, the juncture of culture, genetics, and Indigenous sovereignty has become a crucial domain of discursive and political contestation. At stake is the ability of sovereign Indigenous nations to determine citizenship and belonging according to their own cultural beliefs and historical understandings of community.

Surviving Rape as a Prison Abolitionist

Surviving Rape as a Prison Abolitionist (Miriam Perez-Putnam)

Rape culture teaches that power comes from domination which can be performed using the tools of sexual aggression and violence. All of these things which brought him to sexually assault me in the first place would only become more a part of his identity and his survival strategy if he were forced to go to prison. And when released, he would be more likely to assert his domination through sexual violence than ever. This is not a healing cycle for either victims or perpetrators. No one—not even a sexual abuser—deserves to be assaulted.

People love to try to poke holes in the prison abolition movement by saying “what about rapists, do you want them just wandering around?” But the reality is, they do.