“… As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea
that we solve problems by policing and caging people
that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police
as solutions to violence and harm.”
As children, we were led to believe that police are necessary for society to function. Without them, we’re told there will be total chaos and people will go about committing all manner of crimes and even murder. So we grow up believing that police maintain law and order and keep us safe from the chaos that would erupt without them. The truth is far from comforting, the police and the carceral system as it functions do not keep us safe.
This is what abolition is about. Abolition is the complete dismantling of the carceral system and the creation of alternative community-based systems that prioritize healing, safety and harm reduction. The carceral system here is broad including the police, prisons, legal system and military infrastructure. Let’s talk about why abolition is more than a pipe dream and why we all need to be working towards it now.
The police in the United States began as slave patrols. In Kenya, the police are one of the most enduring colonial legacies. An institution that was started by colonizers and slaveholders has no place in the 21st century. These were violent, oppressive systems rooted in racist ideologies so there’s no universe in which they can prioritize people’s needs and can offer any benefit to society. You cannot reform a system founded on racism, exploitation and oppression. The only option is abolition.
Bail and bond system
The legal system is one of the most glaring indicators of how unjust our legal system is. The bail system disproportionately punishes poor people and essentially functions as a way to punish the poor. The rich pay their bail and go free during the trial period. Too many people regardless of the severity of their crimes are held in jails and prisons simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out. If they are convicted, rich people can pay a fine and walk while poor people have no option but to become slaves of the state. Then there’s the cycle of poverty people are forced into when they lose their jobs because they were incarcerated and couldn’t raise bail. Abolition says so unjust a system must be dismantled.
Prisons are inhumane
No decently run society would house people in the violent, inhumane conditions in which we house incarcerated people. Beyond the facilities being despicable, the people housed there have no rights, no protections and are subject to the brutality of the guards and the prison system.
In Kenya, for example, people visiting incarcerated family members cannot hold their hands or even give them a hug. What is that? How do you deny a human being basic human contact? What is the purpose of doing so if not gratuitous brutality?
In Kenya, there are set limits on how often you can visit an incarcerated person. While visiting them, a prison guard stands at guard the entire time keeping you from having even the merest semblance of privacy. Let’s not talk about the physical condition of Kenyan prisons, the overcrowding, and the food. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
Doesn’t address the root causes
Policing does not address the root cause of crimes and in fact, makes them worse. Crime is a product of poverty and inequality. Addressing the root cause of crime and violence and harm is how we fix the problem, not by incarcerating people who were already suffering and marginalized, to begin with.
This is why abolitionists argue that all the resources pushed towards funding the police and the military and other oppressive outfits should be redirected towards communities and meeting people’s needs. We should instead invest in housing, education, healthcare, and mental health services as well as creating opportunities for meaningful employment. Meeting people’s needs would solve the problem, but a capitalist system would never put meeting people’s needs above profit generation.
Violent arm of the state
The police are to the domestic citizenry what the military is to foreign nationals. The military visits violence on people of other nations while the police visit violence on the local citizens at the behest of the state. We’re lied to as children that the police keep us safe. They don’t.
What the police do is protect the wealth of the elite and use their power to maintain the status quo. This is why no matter how peaceful a protest is, the police will come and violently disperse it armed with tear gas and deadly weapons. All this while facing citizens who at most only have stones and most of the time have nothing but their courage. If their job was to protect the citizens, then they would protect protestors. They don’t. They protect the power of the elite and the state, and they squelch any rebellion or descent swiftly.
Police are just about the only people with a license to kill, and boy do they use it liberally. In the US, any interaction with the police especially for black and brown people could end in violent death and nothing will be done to address the harm caused by those officers. Things as routine as traffic stops in the US are existential for black people. In Kenya, the determining factor is class, not race. So poor communities are terrorized by the police and excommunicated and disappeared seemingly at the will of officers and a state that is all too comfortable with it all. The police don’t keep any of us safe, least of all the poor whom they actively terrorize.
Police also don’t keep us safe because they do not prevent crimes, what they do at best is investigate crimes after the fact. At best. What we need are systems that aim to address the root causes of crime and minimize harm. Systems that uphold our rights and freedoms to organize and protest and make our voices heard, not those that keep us living in fear and destroy all community-building efforts. As long as the powerful use the police to control and keep us in fear, nothing will change. Our lives will continue to be the sad miserable, exploited wanting shells they are. That’s why we say, abolition now. Our lives depend on it.
Capitalism always finds a way to minimize costs and increase profits. One of the ways corporations are minimizing costs is by using cheap prison labour. This is assuming they pay because sometimes prisoners are just made to work without any pretence of compensation. Even worse, the government itself in Kenya exploits its own citizens by producing things like furniture for sale right at government-run prisons. The government actually stands to benefit financially by enslaving its own citizens. A system that’s basically a slave-holding outfit has no place in any decent society. That’s why we say, abolition now.
The current systems of policing and imprisonment are rooted in racist and colonial ideologies and disproportionately harm poor and marginalized communities. Police and prison abolition is an urgent call to dismantle these systems and create more equitable and just alternatives. This means investing in social and community programs that address the root causes of crime such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to education and healthcare. It also means creating a new system of safety, security and justice that is based on community-based alternatives, such as restorative justice, that focus on healing, reconciliation, and rehabilitation.
It’s time to rethink the way we approach safety and justice and to create a more equitable and just society for all.
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