What is Abolition, and Why Do We Need It?

Reina Sultan and Micah Herskind | First published at Vogue | 7/23/20

In the midst of nationwide uprisings against ongoing police murders of Black people, a new set of demands has been thrust into public consciousness: Defund and abolish the police, and invest in new models of safety and communal well-being.

Rather than ask for better policing, protesters are demanding an end to policing and instead massive investments in the communities most harmed by police violence. In doing so, they draw on the work of abolitionist organizations such as Critical Resistance and Incite!, which have been doing the work of abolition for over two decades. Indeed, though demands to divest from punishment and invest in communities have recently entered the mainstream, they have long been on the lips of Black feminist abolitionists who have been organizing for a police- and prison-free future for many years.

Even as young people fill the streets to demand a fundamentally different approach to safety in the country, a slew of prominent organizations such as Campaign Zero and the Equal Justice Initiative have offered a familiar set of reforms: better police training, more police diversity, adjusted police practices, and improved documentation of police behavior.

On their face, these might seem to offer positive change. But as organizer Mariame Kaba recently explained, recommendations for police professionalization, training, and diversity have been on the table for more than a century. Continually tweaking police practices and policies has failed to stop police violence.

Everyone wants to be safe. But creating safety demands so much more than tried and failed reforms—it demands abolition. And as Derecka Purnell writes, abolition is an invitation into finding new answers to the problem of harm and into building new ways to prevent harm in the first place. As cocreators of the #8ToAbolition campaign, here we expand on the invitation of abolition by responding to some typical questions posed to abolitionists and by offering some examples of the work communities are doing to create a world in which we can all be safe.

Read the rest of the piece at Vogue.

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