You may also be an abolitionist

The most interesting aspect of Colorado House’s most interesting primary race last month is that the winning candidate is an abolitionist.

Media accounts of his candidacy and victory dutifully mentioned this self-proclaimed attribute, and some clarified that the abolition in question pertained to police and criminal justice. But given that the candidate, Elisabeth Epps, is a Denver Democrat running in United Blue House District 6 and will almost certainly win the general election in November, the significance of her abolitionism and the implications of an abolitionist serving in the General Assembly deserve further consideration. .

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In many ways, modern abolitionism is related to original abolitionism, the movement to end slavery, but today it focuses on forms of law enforcement and incarceration.

Critical Resistance, a grassroots abolitionist organization with chapters in New York, California, and Oregon, identifies the target of its efforts as the “prison industrial complex,” or PIC.

“The abolition of the PIC is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing and surveillance and creating sustainable alternatives to punishment and imprisonment,” the group said. said on its website.

The prison system is not improvable, because the control it exerts over people is exactly what is needed, the group says.

“More policing and imprisonment will not make us safer,” he said. said. “Instead, we know that things like food, shelter, and freedom are what create healthy, stable neighborhoods and communities.”

The word “abolition” centers the movement’s demolition impulse, but there is also a construction side.

This is the key point. The word “abolition” centers the movement’s demolition impulse, but there is also a construction side. While eliminating the police and prisons is indeed an ultimate goal for many abolitionists, it is inseparable from another goal: create a community where the police and prisons are essentially obsolete.

The full realization of this ideal might in practice be unattainable, but the right reforms would steer society in its direction, and it is this quality of movement that advocates of law and order find it harder to reject.

The online resource 8toAbolition, for example, proposes eight components of an abolitionist movement. Some of them have to do with defunding the police and depopulating prisons. But others are the flip side of these reforms, such as ensuring adequate and equitable housing, health care and education for every member of the community.

American policing has its roots in the 18th century slave patrols, and racism has remained an undeniably persistent feature of American systems of crime and punishment. Modern policing began in 1909 when the chief of police in Berkeley, California, began to militarize his department, Jill Lepore wrote in the the new yorker. This style of law enforcement, which has spread to other jurisdictions, has “criminalised blackness”.

“Police patrolled black neighborhoods and disproportionately arrested black people; prosecutors disproportionately charged blacks; juries have found black people disproportionately guilty; judges gave disproportionately long sentences to blacks; and, after all this, social scientists, observing the number of blacks in prison, decided that, biologically, blacks were disproportionately prone to crime,” Lepore wrote.

These patterns stay in place across the country, including Colorado. And there is the modern crisis of police shootings – police kill black people at twice the rate, they kill the whites. Beyond racism is the sheer volume of the total number of Americans imprisoned. The United States incarcerates people a higher rate than any country in the world. Colorado in 2021 had an incarceration rate of 614 people per 100,000 – higher than the rate of repressive countries such as China, Iran and Russia.

Law enforcement advocates often respond to any suggestion that resources should be redirected from the police as if it were a call for anarchy. But abolitionists want the same thing police chiefs say they want – safe communities – and some jurisdictions have already succeeded with alternatives to at least some aspects of the prison industrial complex.

Camden, NJ, literally abolished its police department. A new one was created in his place and, although some aspects of the effort were thwarted, the incremental reforms that were integral to the department’s new culture, such as an emphasis on community trust and techniques of de-escalation, are widely seen as a triumph.

In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd racial justice protests, many US cities have benefited from the redirection of funds from police departments to social services. Last year, for example, Austin, TXreduced its general fund allocation to the police from 40% to 26% and spent the savings on community-building elements such as homeless services, food access, control programs against substance abuse and workforce development.

In 2020, Denver launched a Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, program that allows a mental health professional to partner with or replace police response during certain low-level emergency calls. . The initiative is considered such a success that Senator Michael Bennet introduced a bill in Congress that would help other cities pay for such a program.

However, the slogans have the upper hand. It’s hard to recount the racist underpinnings of prisons, but it’s easy to slander leftists as being “soft on crime.” Such a campaign of fear is effective. Denver police budget dropped slightly in 2021, but in 2022 it is higher than ever. After some initial support for the defunding movement in 2020, by 2021 less than 1 out of 5 The Americans supported his goals.

But opponents of the movement almost always misunderstand it (unwittingly or not). It’s not that abolitionists want fewer prisons and more crime. Less need for prisons is the point. No one in good faith can be in favor of prisons for their own sake, and considering that any alleged justification for them is by definition regrettable, everybody should be an abolitionist.

Perhaps Epps will help more Coloradans recognize and embrace their own abolitionist values.

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