Policing and Abolition: Articles

How Police Become Paramilitaries (2020) by Michael Shank

Excerpt: “The sort of policing responses to protest seen in many cities across the US these past two weeks has to be understood as the result of law enforcement agencies’ preparation to act as a paramilitary force in public space redefined as a war zone. Of course, the federal government could step in to stop this increased militarization at its source. The Pentagon could end its transfer of military-grade weapons through the 1033 program. The Department of Homeland Security could stop handing out the terrorism grants. But it’s hard to see this happening without bipartisan legislation in both halls of Congress forcing President Trump’s hand with a veto-proof majority.”

The Bicycle as a Vehicle of Protest (2020) by Jody Rosen on the New Yorker

Excerpt: “The Black Lives Matter protests have revealed a new dark twist in the bicycle’s two-century-long saga. In cities across the country, demonstrators have been met by violent brigades of police officers on bikes. Bike cops have become familiar fixtures of police forces over the past couple decades. But in the current protests Americans have seen something new: militarized bicycle cops, utilizing aggressive riot-control tactics against demonstrators who aren’t rioting. Online videos have documented bicycle cops unleashing tear gas, shooting pepper spray, tossing flash grenades, and pummelling protesters with batons. The officers have weaponized the bicycle itself, using bikes as shields and, more often, battering rams.”  

Scholar Robin D.G. Kelly on How Todays Abolitionist Movement can Fundamentally Change the Country” (2020) by Jeremy Scahill

Excerpt: “Racial capitalism, as far as Cedric Robinson, the late political scientist, understands it or explained it basically was built based on this idea that capitalism itself is not distinct from racism. The way we think of racism is that racism is a by-product of capitalism. That is, capitalism emerges and racism is a way to divide workers. It’s a way to extract greater value from, say, enslaved people, Indigenous people, etc. But what Cedric argued was that the grounds of the civilization in which capitalism emerges is already based on racial hierarchy. And that racial hierarchy is not necessarily the global one, it’s even within Europe itself that racial distinctions were ways in which early capitalism was able to take advantage of certain groups over others, whether it’s in terms of wages, whether it’s in terms of dispossession and forcing people off the land, using violence against the Irish, for example. We don’t think of the Irish as a racialized group, but in many ways, in the 16th century, that’s what they were. And so if you think of race as assigning meaning to whole groups of people, convincing, ideologically convincing others that some people are inferior to others, that some people are designed as beasts of burden and other people are designed to accept, to embrace the wealth of that, then what you end up getting is a system of extraction that allows for a kind of super-exploitation of Black and brown people. And racial capitalism also relies on an ideology or racial regime, and the racial regime convinces a lot of white people, who may get the crumbs of this extraction through slavery, through Jim Crow, through land dispossession, convince them to be or support or shore up a regime that seems to benefit whiteness based in white supremacy but where their own share of the spoils is actually pretty miniscule. Du Bois called this the “wages of whiteness.” It’s like an ideological wage that doesn’t always translate materially. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.”  

Abolition as a Praxis of Human Being: A Foreword (2019) by Dylan Rodríguez

: “Abolition is a dream toward futurity vested in insurgent, counter-Civilizational histories — genealogies of collective genius. that perform liberation under conditions of duress. The late Black-liberation warrior, organizer, and Vice President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika. Safiya Bukhari once wrote, in characteristically crystallized terms, “[b]y definition, security means the freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety.” Security and freedom, for peoples subjected to the normalized state- and culturally condoned violence of (global) U.S. nation-building, require a decisive departure from typical demands for policy reform, formal equality, and amped-up electoral participation; rather, what is needed is a mustering of collective voice that abrogates the political-discursive limits of “demand” itself. The long historical praxis of abolition is grounded in a Black radical genealogy of revolt and transformative insurgency against racial chattel enslavement and the transatlantic trafficking of captive Africans. Understood as part of the historical present tense, abolitionist critique, organizing, and collective movement (across scales of geography and collectivity) honor and extend this tradition. The contributors to this issue of the Harvard Law Review signify the breadth, rigor, and strategic brilliance of contemporary abolitionist praxis, as their work represents a broader field of creative and rigorously theorized struggle against the continuities of carceral state violence, including but not limited to imprisonment, jailing, detention, and policing. In this sense, abolition is not merely a practice of negation — a collective attempt to eliminate institutionalized dominance over targeted peoples and populations — but also a radically imaginative, generative, and socially productive communal (and community-building) practice. Abolition seeks (as it performs) a radical reconfiguration of justice, subjectivity, and social formation that does not depend on the existence of either the carceral state (a statecraft that institutionalizes various forms of targeted human capture) or carceral power as such (a totality of state-sanctioned and extrastate relations of gendered racial-colonial dominance).” 

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police (2020) by Mariame Kaba

Excerpt: “There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo. So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.”