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Reading List June 19, 2020

Abolition Isn’t Only About Police

We also need to abolish prisons—as well as put an end to counterterrorism. An abolitionist reading list. 
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As Minneapolis agrees to disband its police force and Denver votes unanimously to remove police from its public schools, police abolition has entered the public consciousness with full force and considerable support.

Today’s reading list looks at the current state of policing, with classic archival essays including Daniel Geary’s send-down of the Kerner Report and Derecka Purnell’s passionate explainer What Does Police Abolition Mean? They are joined by some of the eight new essays we published this week alone on the 2020 uprisings, including law professor Jocelyn Simonson’s argument for why police reforms will fail, and Gili Kliger’s review of a new book that interrogates Chicago’s decades-long history of police torture.

But our writers recognize that police abolition can’t occur in a vacuum, with Atiya Husain arguing that we must also demand an end to counterterrorism, and other writers explaining why mass incarceration must be abolished too. As Garrett Felber writes in his new, viral essay: “Without police, there would be no one to fill prisons and jails. Without prison and jails, the police could not serve their current purpose. Put most simply, the two are locked in a mutually dependent relationship: to serve capital, and protect themselves.”

—Rosie Gillies

Atiya Husain abolition terrorism counterterrorism
Atiya Husain

At a moment when the call to abolish police and prisons is louder than ever, we should also demand an end to counterterrorism, which functions largely to ensnare people of color.

Dan Berger Jalil Muntaqim Black Panthers incarceration
Dan Berger

Jalil Muntaqim, a Black Panther imprisoned since 1971, is one of thousands of elderly prisoners the United States has refused to free during the pandemic.

Garrett Felber Bayard Bustin police abolition
Garrett Felber

Prison and police abolition were key to the thinking of many midcentury civil rights activists. Understanding why can help us ask for change in our own time.

Jocelyn Simonson

Reform efforts will fail. Only a power shift to communities can improve public safety.

Gili Kliger

Police brutality is not isolated and exceptional. As Chicago’s decades-long history of police torture illustrates, it is built into the systemic nature of racial violence.

Seo Policing Open Road
Sarah A. Seo

Before the mass adoption of the car, most communities barely had a police force and citizens shared responsibility for enforcing laws. Then the car changed everything.

Derecka Purnell

Abolition is not about transforming the police, it is about transforming the nation.

Daniel Geary

Bad police were not simply a symptom of racism. They were often its agents.

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Previews are delivered to members every Sunday. Become a member to receive them ahead of the crowd.


As Minneapolis agrees to disband its police force and Denver votes unanimously to remove police from its public schools, police abolition has entered the public consciousness with full force and considerable support.

Alongside select archival essays, this special project features lawyers, activists, historians and more responding to the demands of the 2020 uprisings. They not only boldly imagine an abolitionist future without police and prisons, but outline the steps needed to get us there.

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