Tweeted Abolition in an Age of Mass Incarceration and Social Unrest, Part I: What is Abolition?

Tweeted Abolition in an Age of Mass Incarceration and Social Unrest, Part I: What is Abolition?
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For many people in the United States and around the world, 2020 was a pivotal year when they learned about radical protests against the extrajudicial killings of black and Latino people by police officers. It was a year that saw a lot of attention paid to the now-common slogan of “pay back the police,” especially after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. As the world also came to a standstill due to the global coronavirus pandemic and many of us had to shelter in place, 2020 the riots represented both the pent-up frustration of isolation and the exhaustion of the blacks they killed. who claimed to serve and defend. In this strange combination of heightened emotional, political and social turmoil, many people struggled to interpret the demand for police defunding. News articles have repeatedly backed their headlines with the questions “what does defunding the police mean?” Few people understood its meaning, and many had no idea that there were fewer police officers in their community.

This demand for police refunds was not an anomaly, nor an impractical or idealized vision. In fact, it was just one demand out of many that arose over years of organizing and building a movement to dismantle harmful systems of oppression (including law enforcement and the criminal justice system) in order to reduce the harm, suffering, and punishment unjustly and unfairly directed at those who are racialized. groups. The call for police defunding actually originated as an abolitionist demand from radical voices in the Black Lives Matter movement.[1]

Abolition is a theory of change along with a set of practices that are important to creating that change. It is a critical practice—a fusion of theory and action—based on intersectional feminism and used to diagnose, disrupt, and transform power structures that create vulnerability and act as oppressive forces. In the United States, his thought has its origins both in the abolitionist movement and in the idea that the knowledge and speculative endeavors of Maroons (slave fugitives) provide key insights for imagining a world without slavery and colonialism. For the Maroons, the struggle for freedom was a matter of life and death. In addition to rebelling against slavery, the Maroons were forced to find ways to survive as they continued to face the threat of re-enslavement.[2] Living in such conditions required the urgent abolition of slavery and uncertainty about the future.

Today, abolitionists draw on these lessons to think about how systems of oppression create life-threatening conditions and experiences. They argue that creating pro-life communities requires eliminating oppression and fighting for immediate change, while slow and incremental processes of change often support the conditions that lead to early death. In light of this, abolitionists focus on 1) the lived experience of oppressed groups, 2) the constant state of urgency and uncertainty they face in the face of oppression, and 3) the unique knowledge they possess in resisting oppression and seeking alternative models of retention. a life beyond or beyond oppressive systems and their norms.

Abolitionists have organized and radicalized a deep and lasting transformation of the prison-industrial complex since the 1990s, and before that in the 1960s and 1970s, long before mass incarceration was a brutal phenomenon. In addition, abolitionists wrote literature, formed organizations, launched grassroots campaigns, organized conferences, participated in community programs, provided mutual aid efforts, and directly taught or worked with students, organizers, social movement activists, and others who could find their own. Road to Black Lives Matter 2013 However, the questions “what is prison abolition?” and “what are abolitionists fighting for?” left

One of the goals of abolitionist thought is to challenge dominant ways of thinking about crime and punishment. For example, abolitionists criticize the criminal justice system and point to ways in which it fails, including 1) failing to correct or repair the harm someone has done, 2) excluding or exploiting the voice and experience of victims in the name of punishment, 3) causing pain and suffering to offenders, victims, families and others with long-term consequences even after incarceration, 4) providing few opportunities or pathways to redemption, restoration, or healing, and 5) acting as an institution of social control over people. who live on the margins and whose identity and social conditions are often criminalized.

Abolitionists are also concerned with developing a variety of democratic and pro-life alternatives. simultaneously fight to dismantle current systems of oppression, including but not limited to our criminal justice system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), surveillance practices, and law enforcement. When people hear “prison abolition,” they automatically think that abolitionists are out to get the wrecking ball into jails and prisons or the police force without concern for public safety, harm, or danger.

On the contrary, abolitionists see these various state institutions and the rational principles arising from them as extremely harmful and deeply intertwined with other oppressive forces that reduce the life chances of vulnerable groups. In response, they continually engage in community efforts to create social experiments that operate outside the logic and practice of the criminal justice system.

Rather than relying on this complex punishment regime, abolitionists seek to develop accountability, healing, and justice models such as transformative justice, restorative justice, healing justice, and community accountability to mediate and resolve human conflict, including violence. , and at the same time offers ways for change in various areas: the victim, the community, the harming person and others.

Of course, these models of justice are not easy or easily changed. Rather, they are intended to be multiplied, built upon, reshaped by community needs, and serve as viable strategies that are not based on revenge, but engage multiple actors and contexts for change. If the process of the criminal justice system is punishment, then for these other models, the process is a reparative, active and participatory form of accountability.

Where most people imagine that law enforcement and the criminal justice system eliminate harm and create public safety, abolitionists simply argue that public safety is best achieved by changing the conditions that cause harm and creating processes that allow people to take responsibility in ways that lead to repair. , recovery and treatment options.

Few people understand what defines abolitionism and what abolitionists strive for. Few even knew that eliminating police officers called for defunding in the first place. But the growth and uptake of abolitionist thinking and movement-building work by activists online and on the streets has allowed “funding” to become a part of our current conversations—however controversial or controversial the idea may be. . For more on this trend, see the forthcoming Part II of this article, De-Tweeting: From the Margins to the Mainstream, or our new peer-reviewed paper, “Twitter Towards Transformation: De-Prison Decriminalization and Criminal Justice Reform in 140 Characters,” which you can access for free here.

[1] McDowell, MG, & Fernandez, LA (2018). “Dismantling, disempowering, and disarming”: Expanding the theory and practice of police abolition. Critical Criminology, 26(3), 377 p.

[2] Sudbury, J. (2009). Maroon abolitionists: Black gender oppression activists in the anti-prison movement in the United States and Canada. Meridians9 (1), 1-29.

For more information and a complete list of references, see our open access publication at Sociological research:

Eschmann, R., Thompson, JG, & Toraif, N. (2022). Tweet Towards Transformation: Prison Abolition and Criminal Justice Reform – 140 characters. Sociological research.

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