Abolition is the compromise. As the state-sanctioned, extrajudicial murders of marginalized people continue on and on, it becomes more and more clear that abolition is the only answer. Much like Black abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore once asserted, “abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” In order for us to fully understand what abolition is, however, we must first understand what it is not.
Abolition is not the mere defunding but the complete removal and de-construction of not only police, but of all forms of policing. This includes, as Black abolitionist and organizer Mariame Kaba describes, “family regulation through the child welfare system, the ‘soft policing’ of probation, (and) parole.” It includes the Immigrant and Customs Enforcement and the U.S Customs and Border Protection, whose role in enforcing a fascist fictional border continues to create ongoing conflict and chaos for immigrant families. All of these agencies, organizations and systems of oppression contribute to the cruel surveillance and over-policing of marginalized communities. When we talk about policing, we must include them in our dialogues as well.
Abolition is also not focused on the punishment of individual police officers and law-enforcement officials, as these calls for indictments and arrests not only shift the focus away from the root cause of a systemic problem (as well as seek to throw racist killer cops in prisons disportionately full of Black and brown people), but define and confine justice in terms of an already unjust legal system in which incarceration and imprisonment is the solution.
Finally, abolition is not a one-and-done ordeal. It is an ongoing, evolving process with the liberation and self-determination of all peoples in mind.
What abolition is, however, is the de-militarization of communities, specifically Black and brown communities. It is the ending of asset forfeiture programs. It is the removal of police from schools, the ending of zero-tolerance policies and the de-construction of the carceral school-to-prison nexus. It is the repeal of truancy laws that disproportionately punish working-poor families.
Abolition is the de-criminalization of criminalized survival tactics, notably ones that target unhoused populations, such as panhandling, soliciting, camping, loitering and other actions committed by disenfranchised peoples as a result of the conditions imposed on them by late-stage capitalism.
Abolition is the dismantling of the prison-industrial complex which establishes a profit-motive for the surveillance, incarceration and continued growth of the carceral state in favor of capital.
Abolition is an international affair, transcending borders. It is a recognition of the immense harm done by national law-enforcement and supranational intelligence agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, which play a role in harming marginalized communities and destabilizing countries within the Global South. In this vein, abolition, apart from being vehemently anti-capitalist, is anti-imperialist as well, taking into account the massive role the U.S. military plays in policing around the world, contributing to harm all over the planet.
But the de-construction of these systems on the local, state, national and international level is not where abolition ends.
Abolition is, in tandem with this deconstruction, the construction and creation of communal social institutions that prevent harm and foster collective decision-making. It is a rejection of the rugged individualism instilled in us by white supremacy and late-stage capitalism, and an investment in communal support networks such as neighborhood councils and crisis centers. It is an armed proletariat, capable of defending and protecting themselves through self-defense training and de-escalation tactics.
Abolition is reparations. It is the restoration and rehabilitation of disenfranchised communities. It is the acknowledgement that, as American activist J. Sakai states in their seminal text “Settlers,” we are living in a settler-colonial state whose prosperity has historically and currently been predicated on the “super-exploitation of the oppressed.” It is the recognition that the expropriated labor of Indigenous and Afrikan peoples has paved the path for centuries of accumulated capital and generational wealth in the hands of Euro-American settlers — none of which has been reconciled or returned to its rightful owners.
Finally, abolition is a practice. It involves us destroying the cop inside our own mind and becoming more conscious of our notions and tendencies to police the actions of others, notably marginalized individuals. We must seek to remove what philosopher Michel Foucault describes in the preface of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s “Anti-Oedipus” as “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrice Cullors outlines in her article “Abolition and Reparations” 12 principles she practices as an abolitionist. They are as follows:
- Have courageous conversations
- Commit to response versus reaction
- Experiment: nothing is fixed
- Say yes to one’s imagination
- Forgive actively versus passively
- Allow oneself to feel
- Commit to not harming or abusing others
- Practice accountability for harm causes
- Embrace non-reformist reforms
- Build community
- Value interpersonal relationships
- Fight the U.S. State and don’t make it stronger
Reflecting on what these principles mean to us personally and how we can actualize them in our day-to-day lives is a fundamental first step along our path to abolition. But, as stated earlier, we must not forget that abolition is an ongoing, evolving process. Though it is the path, the destination, it is also the journey as well. Abolition is here and now, and it is in the far and distant future. It is not a solution, it is the solution. It is the compromise.
MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.