Why I Believe We Should Abolish The Prison System And Police Force
"We would be remiss not to speak on the neoliberal profit driven policies that serve as the impetus to locking our nation's most vulnerable up."
When I advocate for the abolishment of the police force and the prison system, people look at me with contempt and befuddlement. They say, "you're crazy," "you must be outside of your mind," "what will we do with the criminals?"
Well, let's start with the word "criminal." What is a criminal? Someone who commits a crime, correct? For starters, let me say this: People do not commit crimes, they commit acts. Acts get socially constructed into crimes. When we talk about the exponential expansion of the prison system we would be remiss not to speak on the neoliberal profit driven policies that serve as the impetus to locking our nation's most vulnerable up. Blacks are incarcerated at disproportional rates. African Americans make up about 13.3% of the nation's population, yet we occupy 40% of our nation's prisons. Are African Americans just bad at not getting caught, or is there some systemic racism going on?
Well, what will we do with violent offenders like murderers and rapist, you ask? Here's a fun fact, the expansion of the prison system falls heavily on drug offenders (over 60%), meaning the vast majority of prisoners are not violent criminals. So when we speak on mass incarceration, this what we speak on.
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Historically, it is believed that the prison system was invented by the Quakers, who believed that individuals that committed crimes could pay "penitence"—meaning the prisoner would be placed in isolation to reflect on their crimes, and even given a bible. The prisoner would come together with other inmates to socialize and eat. Penitentiary is derived from the word "penitence." Of course, once slaves were freed the prison system, it became a pretext to incarcerate freedmen, by making everything from vagrancy to cursing around women a crime. When prison was for whites, it was about reform and rehabilitation, but once it became about locking blacks up, it was solely about contempt and blame.
This is why I say crime is a social construct, the people in power can make anything a crime, when yesterday it was okay to do. Just like how marijuana was illegal in many states just a few years ago, propagating an influx of people to go to jail, and now it's suddenly legal, making huge profits for white CEO's and their white board members.
I want to abolish the police force for the same reasons. The police force has its birth in the slave patrols. The police force was never intended to service blacks, and they rarely do. It's less about the individual cop and more about the system of policing that undergirds white supremacy. Within the public's imagination, blacks are always seen as older than they really are, feral and more violent than their white counterparts. Do you notice even as blacks, we try to justify our humanity when a cop kills a black man or women?
"He had good grades." #JordanEdwards
"He was only 12." #TamirRice
"She was conscious and knew her rights." #SandraBland
"He had a permit and he was a good dude." #PhilandoCastile
When in reality, our humanity should be justified just by being human and black.
We are also overrepresented as criminals on television.
Again, when I speak on the abolishment of the prison system and police force, I am not a quixotic hopeful romantic, and I am NOT naive. I understand that it couldn't just happen in one day, but what most people don't understand is that this is a freedom dream. Remember, for blacks, some of our ancestors fought and dreamed for a day that they would never get to see. Many of our ancestors dreamed for a day that was intangible in their lifetime, but fought strenuously anyway. That's what this is all about for me. A dream for tomorrow.