Tag Archive: abolition

Bipartisan Unity on Mass Incarceration: Opportunity or Sidetrack for Movement Building?

reform

From Truth Out / By James Kilgore

Mass incarceration continues to trend. As Heather Thompson, professor of history at the University of Michigan and leading scholar on the Attica prison rebellion, told Truthout, “Three years ago to talk about incarceration was like you were talking Latin.” No more.

The past year has offered us a cavalcade of conferences, webinars, nonprofit startups, media events, potential and actual legislation along with feel-good moments where everyone from Rand Paul to Eric Holder jumped on the bandwagon of criminal “justice” reform. While this has been a process, two events do stand out.

The first was the extravagant Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, DC, in March. The unlikely collection of sponsors included the Koch brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Van Jones’ nonprofit #cut50 (as in reduce the incarcerated population by 50 percent in 10 years). Additional support came from partnering organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, the Sentencing Project and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The summit, emceed by Jones, brought together an array of superstar speakers from various parts of the political spectrum: Newt Gingrich; conservative Georgia governor Nathan Deal; former prisoner turned writer, entrepreneur and activist Shaka Senghor;Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman and singer John Forté, who played his guitar and spoke about his own incarceration. In the audience dozens of state and federal elected officials joined well-known researchers and activists who were fighting mass incarceration long before Charles Koch knew what a mandatory minimum was. Since this summit, the Koch brothers have built the event out into a roadshow, holding smaller versions in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. (more…)

The Death Penalty Is Cruel. But So Is Life Without Parole.

death_penalty

From The New Republic / By Stephen Lurie

Prison cells don’t attract many spectators, but executions have always drawn crowds. Paradoxically, the names and identities of death row inmates only come to matter when their execution had been scheduled: from impending death we take a sudden interest in life.

Despite the incongruity, this isn’t all that surprising. Twenty-first century America is still susceptible to the time-honored spectacle of state-sanctioned death, even if much of the attention now scrutinizes, rather than cheers, the practice. Recently, there have been many stories typical of the current fascination with American capital punishment, most notably Ben Crair’s piece in this magazine and Jeffrey Stern’s in The Atlantic. Like other recent examinations of the death penalty, both accounts focus specifically on the act of execution by lethal injection; each covers botched executions and the question of cruel and unusual punishment in the death chamber itself. Stern’s story centers on the act and ramifications of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution: A paramedic—and later, a physician—fail to find a vein in a dozen stabs into Lockett’s flesh so the execution can proceed. (Which it does, equally gruesomely.) Crair’s investigation deals with the national execution drug shortage—including Lockett’s experience along with many others—and highlights Ohio prisoner Joseph Wood’s story; his execution was so mishandled that he “gasped and snorted for one hour and 57 minutes… the longest execution in modern history.”

For Stern and Crair, as well as many human rights-minded activists and advocates, the death chamber is a potent and useful example of inhumanity. Other, newer abolitionists—like the legislators in Nebraska that voted to abolish the death penalty there last month—focus on the act of execution as well. While the death chamber is itself horrific, abolitionists would be remiss to ignore the more common punishment: the immense cruelty of a prisoner’s long wait for execution. The “death row phenomenon” and associated prison conditions cause significant psychological and physical harm; a so-called “death before dying” is both internationally condemned and domestically pervasive. If the end to capital punishment in the U.S. is based on concern for human beings—whether in a religious or moral sense—the reform movement must be concerned with the prison conditions left when death is not on the table. (more…)

We must disband the police: Body cameras aren’t enough — only radical change will stop cops who kill

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The courts, the media, and the political system are designed to back killer cops. Only radical change will work

From Salon/ By GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER

After Michael Slager gunned down Walter Scott in a North Charleston park, a deafening chorus of voices has emerged, insisting that “the system worked.” And they are right. The system did work, just not in the way that they mean.

The system didn’t only begin to work when the video of the shooting emerged days later: it went into motion immediately. The system began to work when Slager cuffed a dying man and then ran (ran!) back to grab his alibi, the Taser he would then plant near Scott’s failing body (as some have noticed, Slager did so in an eminently practiced way).

The machinery continued to whirr smoothly as the second officer on the scene—Clarence Habersham, who is Black—ignored the planted evidence, raised no questions, and did not administer CPR. Habersham insisted that he immediately applied pressure to Scott’s wounds, but recently synched audio suggests that he was instead counting the bullet holes in a still-dying man. Multiracial policing, after all, is still just policing. (more…)

Imagine a World Without Prisons: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Prison Abolition

octaviaFrom The Abolitionist / By Walidah Imarisha

“And then the orcs stage an uprising and seize the means of production, since they are not only the soldiers, they are also the exploited labor of Middle Earth. If they rise up, Mordor grinds to a halt!”

This unlikely strategy came out of a workshop called “Imaginative Fiction and Social Change,” at the Allied Media Conference, an annual gathering in Detroit of radical activists, artists and media makers. The facilitator (and Octavia’s Brood contributor), Morrigan Phillips, broke participants into small groups and each one got a fictional land: Oz, the Death Star, Hogwarts, Springfield (of Simpsons fame). Participants then analyzed the conflict and came up with direct action tactics to move their cause for justice forward.

“A successful direct action is like creating a good fantasy story. It’s like a quest,” Phillips said excitedly in the introduction. “There is a conflict, compelling characters, a good plan, build up, twists and turns, adversity, the climax, and then the win where everyone goes home satisfied. If you do it right.”

As Phillips demonstrated, many of the lessons to be taken from science fiction (or speculative fiction/fantasy/horror/take your pick) are incredibly useful when building community-based systems of accountability and abolishing the prison system. (more…)

Learning from Ferguson: A World Without Police

love4policeFrom Counterpunch – by Peter Gelderloos

In two previous essay, I discussed the role of the Left in protecting the police through cautious reformism, and the effectiveness of a pacified, falsified—in a word disarmed—history of the Civil Rights movement to prevent us from learning from previous struggles and achieving a meaningful change in society.

The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system. Past and present efforts to reform them have demonstrated that reformism can’t solve the problem, though it does serve to squander popular protests and advance the careers of professional activists. Faced with this situation, in which Left and Right unwittingly collude to prolong the problem, the extralegal path of rioting, seizing space, and fighting back against the police makes perfect sense. In fact, this phenomenon, denounced as “violence” by the media, the police, and many activists in unison, was not only the most significant feature of the Ferguson rebellion and the solidarity protests organized in hundreds of other cities, it was also the vital element that made everything else possible, that distinguished the killing of Michael Brown from a hundred other police murders. What’s more, self-defense against state violence (whether excercized by police or by tolerated paramilitaries like the Klan) is not an exceptional occurrence in a long historical perspective, but a tried and true form of resistance, and one of the only that has brought results, in the Civil Rights movement and earlier.

What remains is to speak about possibilities that are radically external to the self-regulating cycle of tragedy and reform. What remains is to speak loudly and clearly about a world without police.

We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary.

(more…)

Police “Reforms” You Should Always Oppose…

1-caution-police-stateFrom US Prison Culture

I read today that President Obama has offered some measures for ‘reforming’ the police.

Here is a simple guide for evaluating any suggested ‘reforms’ of U.S. policing in this historical moment.

1. Are the proposed reforms allocating more money to the police? If yes, then you should oppose them.
2. Are the proposed reforms advocating for MORE police and policing (under euphemistic terms like community policing run out of regular police districts)? If yes, then you should oppose them.
3. Are the proposed reforms primarily technology-focused? If yes, then you should oppose them because:
a. It means more money to the police.
b. Said technology is more likely to be turned against the public than it is to be used against cops.
c. Police violence won’t end through technological advances (no matter what someone is selling you).
4. Are the proposed ‘reforms’ focused on individual dialogues with individual cops? And will these ‘dialogues’ be funded with tax dollars? I am never against dialogue. It’s good to talk with people. These conversations, however, should not be funded by tax payer money. That money is better spent elsewhere. Additionally, violence is endemic to U.S. policing itself. There are some nice individual people who work in police departments. I’ve met some of them. But individual dialogue projects reinforce the “bad apples” theory of oppressive policing. This is not a problem of individually terrible officers rather it is a problem of a corrupt and oppressive policing system built on controlling & managing the marginalized while protecting property.

What ‘reforms’ should you support (in the interim) then? (more…)

Against Carceral Feminism

“Prison Blueprints.” Remeike Forbes / Jacobin

From Jacobin / By Victoria Law

Relying on state violence to curb domestic violence only ends up harming the most marginalized women.

Cherie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence. (more…)

Ben Turk on Insurgent Theatre & Prison Abolition

InsurgentTheatre_Know_Your_Enemy_600From The Final Straw

This week’s episode is a conversation with Ben Turk. Ben’s a co-founder of Insurgent Theatre, the decade-old theater troop that has presented a number of original and refurbished theater workshops and performances around the country. Topics of IT’s works have ranged from discussions around Militancy framed through Homer’s Odyssey to Administrative Segregation to a Terrorists Fairytale.

Insurgent Theatre’s current play is called “Know Your Enemy.” The play is a one-person presentation based around a community liaison cop with a liberal heart of gold. As the play goes on, the cop begins to question whether he can actually do his job and help the community. A psychological study into the head of the “good cop” and community/cop relations, it also serves as a history of policing in the United States (ala “Our Enemies in Blue” by Kristian Williams) and a discussion of safer practices when interacting with cops (a sort of Know Your Rights presentation).
http://insurgenttheatre.org/acab/acab.html

“Know Your Enemy” is touring with the second film by D Jones in the “The Great Incarcerator” series. That film, “The Shadow of Lucasville” includes some eye opening just came out and a preview can be found online at: (more…)

The Ex-Worker #8: Prison Abolition

ep8-250From Crimethinc.

Though a week late (sorry!), the eighth episode of the Ex-Worker is our longest yet, and wraps up our series on prisons and police, as we look at ways to dismantle the prison industrial complex and to address harm directly without the state. We interview members of Critical Resistance and Support New York to learn about how prison abolition and community accountability processes play out in practice. You’ll also hear also a review of a new collection of writings from political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoats, responses to listener feedback and anarchist perspectives on gun control, plus a letter from revolutionary Tom Manning about his transfer from solitary confinement. And of course we’ve got news from struggles worldwide, event announcements, Contradictionary entries, and plenty more.

You can download this and all of our previous episodes on our podcast page. You can also subscribe in iTunes here or just add the feed URL to your podcast player of choice. Rate us on iTunes and let us know what you think, or send us an email to podcast@crimethinc.com. A new episode is supposed to be released on the first and third Sunday of every month.