Read Amna Akbar on the Abolitionist Moment at NYRB!

We are assured Amna will have more to say here at the Blog, but for now check out her account of the abolitionist movement has developed into the type of coalition that can make real change in this moment.

From the conclusion: “The struggle for abolition belongs to a broader push to rewrite the social contract, including efforts to cancel student debt, tax the wealthy, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and the Red Deal. Over the years, I have heard organizers rally around “not one more dollar” or “starve the beast.” Now, more and more, you hear “care, not cops.” That new slogan embodies the abolitionist horizon, not simply to dismantle prisons and policing, but to build alternate forms of community care and collective provision for all.”

Or take it from Keeanga Yamahatta-Taylor:

On Reimagining State and Local Budgets in an Abolitionist Moment

On Reimagining State and Local Budgets in an Abolitionist Moment

Brian Highsmith–

For nearly three weeks now, masses around the country have taken the street to protest the violence that is routinely inflicted upon Black people by unaccountable police. Their demands for change, made in the tenor and tradition of abolitionist organizers, swiftly have coalesced into a shared refrain: Defund the police.

Behind this demand is a call to fundamentally reimagine community safety, beginning with permanent enacted reductions to—and ultimately, the wholesale replacement of—our current policing and punishment infrastructures. Amid an economic contraction that has already eaten a nearly trillion dollar hole in state and local budgets, concurrent ruptures are prompting an overdue reassessment of our budget priorities. This scrutiny has extended well beyond policing budgets: a prominent collective of abolitionist organizers released a document calling for, among other structural changes, states to “[d]isconnect property taxes from school funding.” Fiscal structures and funding priorities that local public finance experts have long taken to be intractable are being challenged by a new generation. Seemingly overnight, the parameters of our collective public imagination have widened.

Of course, no political reimagination truly happens overnight.

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Who Should Pay for Police Misconduct?

Who Should Pay for Police Misconduct?

Joanna Schwartz–

George Floyd’s family will almost certainly bring a lawsuit against Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, the three officers on the scene who stood by, and the City as a whole. Assuming Floyd’s family prevails, who will foot the bill? And who should?

In this transformative moment—during this nationwide conversation about what we empower the police to do and whether law enforcement agencies as we currently know them should continue to exist at all—sorting out who should pay the bills when the police misbehave may appear an overly technocratic fix for a fundamentally broken system.

But I believe, as Christy Lopez recently wrote, that we must “work on parallel tracks.” Even if we reduce police departments’ footprints and budgets, those changes will take time. Even if we abolish police forces as we currently know them, there will almost certainly be people authorized by the government in some form to protect public safety. There will almost certainly be instances in which those people—and other government officials—violate people’s constitutional rights. And current budgeting systems fail to achieve the paired goals of compensating people whose rights have been violated and deterring future misconduct.

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We Cannot Prosecute Our Way to Making Black Lives Matter

We Cannot Prosecute Our Way to Making Black Lives Matter

Kate Levine–

Cities across the country are in turmoil after the cold-blooded killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. While the protests are motivated by and calling for a range of solutions to the ongoing problem of police brutality, the loudest call is for accountability in the form of criminal charges against the officers involved in Floyd’s death. Already, these calls have born fruit. The Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, who has taken over the prosecution, announced second degree (felony) murder charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Mr. Floyd, and through accomplice liability, this murder charge will also apply to the three rookie officers who were present and did not stop Chauvin, their training officer. All four face 40 years in prison if convicted. Meanwhile, protesters, media pundits, and influential celebrities have turned their attention to criminal sanctions as the means for justice for Breonna Taylor, a young black woman who was killed during a botched and likely illegal no-knock raid in Louisville, Kentucky.

In some sense, the notion that a quick criminal legal response is “justice for George” makes perfect sense. For too long police officers have committed violence against poor and marginalized people of color with no consequences. Moreover, there is no “equality under law” in our criminal legal system, which imprisons black Americans at a rate far outstripping white Americans. But for those of us with the privilege and power to take a step back and think before we jump on the criminalization band wagon, it is worth considering both how limited the justice of individual accountability in the form of criminal prosecution will be, and how much police brutality is a symptom and a result of our bloated, racist, and dehumanizing prison industrial complex.

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Don’t Reform Policing, Transform It

Don’t Reform Policing, Transform It

A version of this post appeared on the Boston Review’s website yesterday.

Jocelyn Simonson–

There is a distressing disconnect between the ringing demands for justice on the streets and the suite of “police reform” proposals that many experts say satisfy these demands. Protesters and social movements talk about divesting from policing and investing in black communities. They talk about ensuring that “the most impacted in our communities need to control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us,” as the Movement for Black Lives stated in its list of demands this week. The call is for stability, resources, control. The call is for power.

On the other hand, expert explications of the gold standard methods of “reforming police departments” focus on how to increase the efficiency and decrease the harmfulness of existing police forces. They emphasize measurable “success” in police reform: either instrumentally focusing on the “costs” and “benefits” of particular police tactics or seeking out “legitimacy” and cooperation between law enforcement and communities.

As the critical response to the8 Can’t Wait” campaign for “research-based” reforms to police department rules testifies, living up to the demands of the moment requires looking beyond technocratic fixes and reckoning with more transformational possibilities. It requires listening to the longstanding call from movements for more power over policing, more investment in their communities—not just to defund the police but, in the words of Families for Justice as Healing and other Black- and women-led groups in Boston last week, to defund racism itself. Although it is easy to dismiss these differences as a clean split between abolition and reform, the reality is not quite so facile.

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The Many Forms of Police Violence

Monica Bell – 


Jim Bourg/Reuters

Over the past week, there has been unprecedented acknowledgment of the physical violence that Black people in America have faced, for generations, at the hands of police. While this is an important development, the work to eradicate police violence will not be complete if the public remains concerned only with the most visually and viscerally jarring forms of police violence, and those for which police seem most responsible. The public must realize that violence—not only of the physical sort, but also the structural and symbolic variety—is endemic to much of the routine work police do in communities across America.

These forms of violence emanate from multiple institutions and how they interact, and not only individual institutions operating on their own. Reforming one institution–or even, as some have proposed, eliminating one institution—will not, on its own, bring an end to the racial violence that took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many named and unnamed others. It will certainly not end the anti-black violence that is a daily part of the black experience. It is the daily indignity of Blackness and racial violence—the combination of the physical, the symbolic, and the structural sort—that explains the uprisings happening across the country right now.

In a forthcoming article in NYU Law Review, I examine how these forms of violence operate, mobilizing police resources to validate white fear of property loss, creating major barriers to to neighborhood mobility, and perpetuating racial residential segregation. To illustrate, let me offer another story of police violence.

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Gideon and the Promise of Right to Counsel

This week, we’re sharing two discussions on John Whitlow’s recently published article reflecting on New York’s right to counsel in evictions proceedings. Our contributors share visions of right to counsel that move beyond due process rights. The contributors show that right to counsel campaigns are part of broader movements that seek to address the material deprivation underlying the need for counsel in the first place.

John Sadek and Sam Natale –

373 U.S. 335. For many public defenders, these eight characters are immediately recognizable. Better known as Gideon v. Wainwright—the famous Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to public defenders in criminal cases. Many defenders have those same eight characters tattooed as a mark of vocation and a symbol of dedication to the work.

Gideon similarly marks the whole profession: it is our foundational myth, which is retold as follows. Clarence Gideon, facing a felony charge, asked the trial court to appoint an attorney to represent him—a request the trial court denied, stating that the court could not appoint a lawyer. After conviction and without counsel from his prison cell, Gideon handwrote and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. Yale-educated attorney Abe Fortas then took on the case and persuaded the nine justices, who unanimously ordered a new trial for Clarence Gideon. They held that the assistance of counsel in a criminal trial is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, a right that requires appointed counsel when a person cannot otherwise afford a lawyer.

Liberal law schools everywhere champion this story as a testament to the will and fortitude of a man who kept pushing for his rights, and a Supreme Court, that, in their wisdom, agreed and made this right the law of the land. The moral of this story is that an individual with faith in the system and a talented lawyer with the right ideas can change everything. However, this myth is missing the role of movements in establishing this right—the decades of union and anti-racist organizing that led to all but eight states adopting right to counsel far before Gideon was even decided.

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After Money Bail: Lifting the Veil on Pretrial Detention

Click here to read all posts in our Money Bail series, including the introductory post presenting an LPE perspective on pretrial detention.

Sandra G. Mayson —

Ending money bail will not itself produce an effective and just pretrial system. The wonderful prior posts in this series have explored several reasons why this is so. I would like to add one more: Ending money bail will not itself produce justice because we have been using money bail, and the detention it produces, to meet a host of social needs. Forsaking it will require us to find better ways to meet them.

The purported function of money bail is release. It is supposed to balance our competing interests in liberty, security, and the effective administration of justice by ensuring that people at liberty show up for court. In fact, though, money bail also operates as a mechanism of detention. And we have been using it that way: to detain those who seem dangerous, to inflict punishment, to encourage guilty pleas, and to impose short-term restraint on disruptive people. Sometimes we have done these things intentionally. Sometimes we have done them inadvertently. What we have not done is admit what we are doing. The apparent rationality of a financial incentive mechanism has obscured the functions that money bail actually serves. It has enabled us to use jails as a first-line response to social problems without deliberation, accountability, or acknowledgement.

Ending money bail will eliminate a profound source of inequality in the criminal legal system. But it will also expose the difficult social, political and legal questions that money bail has obscured. At risk of oversimplification, here are a few of them. Continue reading

Reading Bail Reform Through a Critical Race Lens

Click here to read all posts in our Money Bail series, including the introductory post presenting an LPE perspective on pretrial detention.

Sean Allan Hill II—

Recent years have seen an explosion in calls to reform bail laws across the country. California and New York, among other states, witnessed the launch of grassroots campaigns made up of, and led by, traditional actors like public defenders and non-profit leaders, as well as the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. These campaigns sought new bail schemes that would facilitate, rather than impede, pretrial release. In California, this took the form of SB10, while in New York, coalitions lent their support to A10137-A. While the California bill incorporated pretrial risk assessment instruments (PRAIs)—tools that rely on computer algorithms to predict the probability of selected outcomes—into bail proceedings, the New York bill did not.

Critical race theory can supply a framework for interpreting the progression of bail reform in the respective states. This framework implicates carceral policies in the persistence of racial and class hierarchies, and seeks to assess how the law generates racist ideologies that normalize the over-representation of Black people in the criminal legal system. Whether the decarceral objectives of grassroots coalitions will be achieved, or compromised, is therefore a question of how well they recognize and address the relationship between PRAIs and longstanding perceptions of Blacks as exceptionally dangerous. Continue reading

Community Bail Funds as a Tool for Prison Abolition

Click here to read all posts in our Money Bail series, including the introductory post presenting an LPE perspective on pretrial detention and Part I of this post on “Moving from Ending Money Bail to Demanding Pretrial Freedom.”

Brett Davidson, Elisabeth Epps, Sharlyn Grace, and Atara Rich-Shea—



We direct bail funds in Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts that are deep in the fight to end wealth-based incarceration. Collectively, our four community bail funds have purchased the freedom of more than 4,000 people at a cost of over $3 million. Our organizations intervene at the point of release, paying bail for those who cannot pay themselves and developing strategies to end pretrial incarceration. When people are free while awaiting trial, they have better case and life outcomes, which makes bailing people out one effective way to lessen the impact of criminalization on individuals, families, and communities.

But bail funds do much more than just pay bail: we are organizing hubs in community and key players in the larger movement for prison abolition. In total, more than 60 community bail funds across the country play leadership roles through diverse tactics running the gamut from policy development and courtwatching to direct action and participatory defense campaigns. The mission of community bail funds is to organize to make ourselves obsolete—not only because there are no more bails to pay, but because we have ended pretrial incarceration and supervision. Continue reading