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Jun 19, 2020
3 Min read time
We also need to abolish prisons—as well as put an end to counterterrorism. An abolitionist reading list.
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.”
“Both critics of abolition and recent converts often frame it as a radical new concept. This can have the effect, intended or not, of making it seem idealistic, naïve, or undertheorized. But while the mainstream prominence of abolition may be new, the premise is not.”
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“Oppressed people must give up the systems that harm them. Police are not public, nor good. Police officers are prison–industrial complex foot soldiers, and poor people are its targets. Disadvantaged communities should not ask for law enforcement to ensure safety any more than someone should ask for poisoned water to quench thirst.”
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“Living up to the demands of the moment requires looking beyond technocratic fixes and reckoning with more transformational possibilities. It requires listening to the longstanding call from movements for more power over policing, more investment in their communities—not just to defund the police, but to defund racism itself.”
• • •
“The most significant problem with the report is not how it characterized the uprisings, but rather its assumption that African American rioters were the main source of violence and disorder in American society. The report denounced white segregationists and Black Power leaders alike for creating a ‘climate of violence,’ but ignored the violence of the center, the violence of the state.”
• • •
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. Even the most liberal of U.S. governors would rather risk their prisons turning into mass graves than offer the faintest of admissions that mass incarceration is a colossal failure and unnecessary for public safety.
• • •
“Incarceration and counterterrorism are two arms of the same state apparatus. This is driven home by the sight of police attacking citizens with surplus military weapons from the War on Terror, often using counterterrorism warfare techniques learned from the Israel Defense Forces and other counterinsurgency training abroad.”
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“The flood of video images in recent years of African Americans killed at the hands of the state has broadcast the horror of anti-black violence in the United States. But reckoning with the scale of police brutality also requires confronting state violence that escapes the cell phone camera’s lens. One of the most insidious examples of such violence is Chicago’s decades-long history of police torture.”
• • •
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.
… in May, COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans—coupled with the police killing of George Floyd—sparked a moment of racial reckoning. Articles such as this one reflect Boston Review’s commitment to combatting racism—from publishing strategies to end police violence to amplifying Black voices. Long before mainstream publications focused on racial justice, Boston Review provided one of the major forums for these discussions with seriousness and subtlety. We remain committed to the belief that race has a central place in any discussion of justice, democracy, and citizenship. Join us in providing free, open spaces for these conversations by becoming a supporting reader of Boston Review today.
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