May 10 2017

Defense Campaigns as Abolitionist Organizing

I wrote an essay that was published in the New Inquiry on Monday. Here’s an excerpt:

How do we free millions of people currently caged in prisons and jails in the United States? As an abolitionist, who believes that we must create the conditions for dismantling prisons, police, and surveillance, I’m often asked how to build new institutions that will ensure actual safety. My answer is always the same: collective organizing. Currently, there are a range of decarceral/anti-carceral strategies being employed across the country to free prisoners, individually and collectively. People are organizing for bail reform, taking on individual parole support for prisoners, engaging in court watches, launching mass commutation campaigns, and advocating for laws that will offer new pathways for release.

Another important strategy to secure the freedom of criminalized people is participatory defense campaigns. These are grassroots efforts to pressure authorities, attend to prisoner needs, and raise awareness and funds. This essay argues that defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of violence like Bresha Meadows and Marissa Alexander are an important part of a larger abolitionist project. Some might suggest that it is a mistake to focus on freeing individuals when all prisons need to be dismantled. The problem with this argument is that it tends to render the people currently in prison as invisible, and thus disposable, while we are organizing towards an abolitionist future. In fact, organizing popular support for prisoner releases is necessary work for abolition. Opportunities to free people from prison through popular support, without throwing other prisoners under the bus, should be seized.

Read the whole essay here.

Feb 25 2017

Video: Beyond “Criminal Justice Reform”: Conversations on Police and Prison Abolition

Last Fall, I participated in a discussion about abolition at NYU Law School. Video and audio is now available online.

This colloquium featured a series of intersectional talks given by four community organizers, a movement lawyer, a poet, and a scholar who shared their work and reflections on abolition and building viable alternatives to policing and incarceration. Recordings of the talks, as well as the dialogue and Q&A that followed, are posted below in the order they were presented.

Watch all of the video here. I particularly appreciated the talk given by Dr. Liat Ben Moshe which focused on intersections between disability justice and abolition. I’m posting that video below. Also, you can listen to my talk here.

Jan 28 2017

Video: The Hard Road to Abolition// Strategies to Win

I was glad to join Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Mujahid Farid for a discussion about abolition in September 2016. The conversation was sponsored by Critical Resistance and is now available on video.

The Hard Road to Abolition// Strategies to Win, Profiles in Abolition event from Critical Resistance on Vimeo.

Jan 18 2017

Cop-Free Bystander Intervention: A Video Resource

I’m excited to share this abolitionist bystander intervention video today.

How can we defend each other? One way is to interrupt racist and transphobic attacks without calling the police (unless you are asked to). This new video has tips for how to respond, and talks about going beyond reacting to individual incidents, and getting involved with organizing for systemic change.

The video is narrated by Aaryn M. Lang, and was produced by friends at Barnard Center for Research on Women – BCRW and Project NIA, including Lewis Wallace. It’s part of a broader pre-inauguration collaboration with Mariame Kaba (me), the American Friends Service Committee, Showing up for Racial Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter and a bunch of individual teachers and librarians around the country to create and distribute cultural responses to white supremacy and rising racist violence.

Watch and most importantly share the video far and wide. It’s a great resource.

Also there is an accompanying arts-based curriculum that can be accessed here.

Jan 10 2017

Abolition and Policing: Critical Resistance Video

I greatly appreciate Critical Resistance’s work. Last year, they curated several conversations about abolition. I was privileged to participate in one of them. The video for that is forthcoming. For now, please watch long-time abolitionist organizers Rachel Herzing and Dylan Rodriguez in conversation.

Strong Communities Beyond Policing, Profiles in Abolition event series from Critical Resistance on Vimeo.

Oct 05 2015

Working Toward Abolition…

by Bianca Diaz

by Bianca Diaz

In 2015, it is hard to imagine an institution more harmful than a prison. With daily reports of sexual assaults by correctional staff, hunger strikes by those opposing long-term solitary confinement, and many deaths in custody, prisons perpetuate violence and are antithetical to public safety.

In 2003, activist and scholar Angela Davis suggested that “our most difficult and urgent challenge to date is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.” Twelve years later, her admonition is more urgent and relevant than ever. With the largest prison population on the planet—some 2.2 million people locked up and millions more under correctional supervision—politicians from Newt Gingrich to Hillary Clinton are rhetorically embracing the idea that mass incarceration is a national problem. Far fewer people, however, are ready to declare that prisons are fundamentally destructive and beyond reform. Both statements are true. As such, it is incumbent on all of us to collectively reimagine and build a viable and humane way to address our social problems beyond the endless cages. For these reasons and more, I am a prison abolitionist.

Yes, some individuals in prison have caused great harm to people and to communities. This cannot be minimized. That’s precisely why I am so passionate about the need to create community-based structures to address harm and to mediate conflicts. As a survivor of violence, I want safer communities. Importantly, most people who do harm will never be imprisoned. Building community-based structures will allow us to focus on harms that our current systems of policing and punishment ignore, neglect, or are unable to resolve.

From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Rikers Island to Guantánamo Bay, our prison nation ensures expensive and profound precarity and violence. Yet the current interventions posited as “alternatives to incarceration”—including drug-treatment programs, boot camps, community-based supervision or probation, electronic monitoring, and community service—still depend on carceral logics of surveillance, containment, and sometimes punishment. We must create new forms of justice defined by principles of respect, interrelatedness, and mutuality, and we need to ask: Are prisons obsolete?

Obviously, abolishing prisons is not something that will be accomplished easily, but we do have a growing community-accountability movement we can build on. Organizations and groups like Critical Resistance, Black & Pink, We Charge Genocide, Common Justice, the Audre Lorde Project, and my own organization, Project NIA, among many others, are practicing abolition every day. We are doing so by creating local projects and initiatives that offer alternative ideas and structures for mediating conflicts and addressing harms without relying on police or prisons.

When I speak of abolition, I don’t demand the immediate closing of all prisons (though we can certainly accelerate the process of decarceration through, for example, abolishing cash bail). The abolitionists I know understand that as a society we will always need to ensure accountability for people who repeatedly cause harm. Part of our work, then, must be to create the conditions necessary to ensure the possibility of a world without prisons.

Scholar-activist Ruthie Gilmore has defined abolition as “a movement to end systemic violence, including the interpersonal vulnerabilities and displacements that keep the system going.” Practically, that looks like “creating structures that reduce the demand and need for prisons,” as my friend and colleague Erica Meiners has written. She adds: “It is ensuring that communities have viable, at least living-wage, jobs that are not dehumanizing. It means establishing mechanisms for alternative dispute resolution and other processes that address conflict or harm with mediation. It means ensuring that our most vulnerable populations, for example those who are mentally ill or undereducated, do not get warehoused in our prisons and jails because of the failure of other institutions such as health care and education.”

As there is no blueprint for abolition, we must spend time imagining, strategizing, and practicing other futures. In my work this encompasses many facets: We organize and mobilize to address the root causes of oppression and violence. We test the limits of our imagination of what’s possible in terms of addressing violence and harm. We creatively rethink our current structures of policing and warehousing individuals. We expose the brutality and abject failure of the current system. We foreground a revolutionary transformation of ideas while demanding that our resources be radically reallocated. Collectively envisioned and determined, abolition will look different from one community to the next. There are many vexing questions and unknowns to puzzle through, but we can do this together. We must, we will, and we are.