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 – 

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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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