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Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future without Policing & Prisons Hardcover – October 12, 2021
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Edited by activist and former San Francisco 49ers super bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Abolition for the People is a manifesto calling for a world beyond prisons and policing.
Abolition for the People brings together thirty essays representing a diversity of voices―political prisoners, grassroots organizers, scholars, and relatives of those killed by the anti-Black terrorism of policing and prisons. This collection presents readers with a moral choice: “Will you continue to be actively complicit in the perpetuation of these systems,” Kaepernick asks in his introduction, “or will you take action to dismantle them for the benefit of a just future?”
Powered by courageous hope and imagination, Abolition for the People provides a blueprint and vision for creating an abolitionist future where communities can be safe, valued, and truly free. “Another world is possible,” Kaepernick writes, “a world grounded in love, justice, and accountability, a world grounded in safety and good health, a world grounded in meeting the needs of the people.”
The complexity of abolitionist concepts and the enormity of the task at hand can be overwhelming. To help readers on their journey toward a greater understanding, each essay in the collection is followed by a reader’s guide that offers further provocations on the subject.
Newcomers to these ideas might ask: Is the abolition of the prison industrial complex too drastic? Can we really get rid of prisons and policing altogether? As writes organizer and New York Times bestselling author Mariame Kaba, “The short answer: We can. We must. We are.”
Abolition for the People begins by uncovering the lethal anti-Black histories of policing and incarceration in the United States. Juxtaposing today’s moment with 19th-century movements for the abolition of slavery, freedom fighter Angela Y. Davis writes “Just as we hear calls today for a more humane policing, people then called for a more humane slavery.” Drawing on decades of scholarship and personal experience, each author deftly refutes the notion that police and prisons can be made fairer and more humane through piecemeal reformation. As Derecka Purnell argues, “reforms do not make the criminal legal system more just, but obscure its violence more efficiently.”
Blending rigorous analysis with first-person narratives, Abolition for the People definitively makes the case that the only political future worth building is one without and beyond police and prisons.
You won’t find all the answers here, but you will find the right questions--questions that open up radical possibilities for a future where all communities can thrive.
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
“This collection is certain to be an invaluable organizing tool, hopefully leading to widespread change.”—Booklist
“Abolition is persistence. Abolition for the People combines examples and interpretations to show how people can and do achieve extraordinary change. We do so by combining analysis with socially powerful—organized—human energy. Such energy is renewable because we build on the past while inventing as we go. At the end of the day what matters is not what we say but what we do and do again: take a knee, build a movement, strengthen communities, share practices and resources, and fight for a world in which life is precious.”
—Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag
“This book brings clarity to the centuries-old systems of racialized policing and carceral control, and the impact of these systems on our lives now, and in the future. The short, rich essays in Abolition for the People are vital for the education of young people.”
—Ericka Huggins, Restorative Justice Practitioner and Facilitator
“Carefully curated, incisively conceptualized anthologies like Alain Locke's The New Negro and Toni Cade Bambara's The Black Woman can transform worlds. Abolition for the People is in this tradition. Kaepernick has assembled a community of visionary thinkers who unequivocally show that the path to freedom requires abolition.”
—Barbara Smith, Co-founder, the Combahee River Collective
“Colin Kaepernick has assembled many of the most important writers and activists in the growing movement to abolish prisons and the police, and has produced a book that holds the promise of educating and inspiring a new generation of abolitionists to build a new world without police and prisons through struggle, solidarity, and imagining our society anew.”
—Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
“Abolition for the People is an invitation to transform our communities into places where conflict, harm, and violence are addressed with collectivity, care, and holistic accountability—not the brutality and empty justice of policing or prisons. Each contributor guides us through the challenging work needed to radically change how we relate to each other as people under the heels of global capitalism, patriarchy, and anti-Blackness. A reflection of decades of organizing and intellectual work shaped by Black feminism, this book is a necessary love letter to our people that delivers uncomfortable truths alongside a compassionate, realistic approach to building abolition in our lifetimes.”
—Charlene A. Carruthers, Cultural Worker and author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements
“Abolition for the People is a necessary and urgent blueprint for a world where all Black people are safe, healthy, and free. The essays in this volume answer the most common questions about abolition—What is abolition? Why not reform? What next?—while also shining light on the new systems of safety and justice that people are building in real time. The voices of political prisoners, grassroots organizers, scholars, and the family members of people killed by the police join together to call us into the work of imagining and building a world without police and prisons. Its brilliant use of essays, reading guides, and infographics makes Abolition for the People both a textbook and touchstone for people who are coming to abolition for the first time, those who have been doing the work for decades, and everyone in between. The book connects the uprisings of summer 2020 to a long history of naming and resisting anti-Black state violence and reminds us why reform can never truly deliver freedom. I will read this book at home. I will assign this book to my students. I will keep it close by as a reminder that the last year mattered and that those of us courageous enough to be moved by this moment are not alone.”
—Nikki Jones, author of The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption
“Abolition for the People is nothing short of a gift to all of us who are working for freedom from the long, violent reach of the carceral state. Anyone who has been dreaming about a radically different world will be inspired by the rich collection of essays, and all who are fighting for justice will be encouraged, because taken together with the reader’s guides and infographics, this book delivers on the promise of helping to build an abolition movement for all people. Indeed, as the struggle for liberation continues, the vision of abolition is made clearer and more beautiful after reading this powerful and exhilarating book.”
—Beth Richie, author of Arrested Justice and Abolition. Feminism. Now.
“Abolition for the People is an unprecedented collection of some of the most powerful and passionate voices on the planet speaking to the most critical social justice issue of our time: how to dismantle the carceral-surveillance-punishment industry. This inaugural collection from Colin Kaepernick's new publishing house is a political tour de force. Sharp, provocative, eloquent, and gut-wrenching—Abolition for the People is a must-read for anyone trying to make sense of the waves of protest that have swept over this country in recent years, from responses to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. If you read it carefully, this collection will make you rage against the injustices of the moment, and simultaneously push you to recommit to the collective struggle for a more just future.”
—Barbara Ransby, author of Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century
“Abolition for the People is an accessible and essential resource for today's movements. With moral clarity and political urgency, Colin Kaepernick and the book's contributors lay out the pitfalls of contemporary reform efforts. They are not misguided or too slow. They are how we got to where we are today. Complete with reading guides, graphs, and other valuable resources, reading this book—like abolition itself—is meant to be done in the community of others. Abolition for the People is more than a who's who of abolitionism. It's a what's what of abolitionist practice.”
—Garrett Felber, author of Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State
“Abolition for the People is the book we've been waiting for. With an all-star lineup of some of the most powerful thinkers and activists in the world today, this critical text not only explains the mechanics of mass criminalization in the United States, but it also shows us how we can undo the harms of the past to liberate all of our futures. The wisdom in these pages is sure to inspire generations of people committed to the struggle for decades to come.”
—Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s
About the Author
- Publisher : Kaepernick Publishing (October 12, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1595911162
- ISBN-13 : 978-1595911162
- Item Weight : 1.4 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #372,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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An introductory section of this 2021 book explains the cover (which figures prominently in many of these 1-star reviews): “The cover art … depicts a youthful, confident, and courageous Black feminine-presenting person announcing the call for abolition. This representational choice reflects our uncompromising commitment to honoring the centrality of Black women, trans, and gender non-conforming folx as leaders and luminaries of the abolition movement.”
The Editor’s Preface states, “[This book] argues that efforts to reform police and prisons have nearly always enhanced their power, reach, and legitimacy. Simply stated, police and prisons---including the anti-Black ideologies that have created and sustained them---are death-making machines that run counter to harm reduction and the possibility of authentic human flourishing… Conceived as a comprehensive introduction to abolitionist concepts, principles, practices, histories and ways of relating to one another and the world, [this book] builds on decades of organizing and writing against police and prisons… While you might already agree that police and prisons do not make communities safer, you may still have important questions, such as, ‘What is abolition?’ ‘Is abolition practical?’ and ‘What does abolition look like in the real world?’ … In October 2020, we published the first iteration of [this book] as a digital collection.. This book expands significantly on our original efforts and includes three new essays, a reader’s guide, a new introduction, many expanded contributions with new content, and new infographics drawn from six in-depth data stories.” (Pg. 13-15)
Colin Kaepernick states in the Introduction, “Those who have been terrorized by law enforcement, who have had enough of their very existence being criminalized, and who dedicated their lives to the cause of liberation by any means necessary are demanding the abolition of the carceral state… It’s been five years since I first protested during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ At the time, my protest was tethered to my understanding that something was not right. I saw the bodies of Black people left dead in the streets… I saw Black death all around me at the hands of the police. I saw little to no accountability for the police officers who had murdered them. It is not a matter of bad applies … but interlocking systems that are … authorized to kill Black people and other communities under the pretense of ‘justice.’ It is only logical that systemic problems demand systemic solutions.” (Pg. 25-26)
He continues, “This project seeks to introduce abolitionist values, practices, histories, and ambitions to an audience that is looking for a path to a better and more just society. Organized around four central themes---1) police and policing, 2) prisons and carcerality, 3) f-ck reform, and 4) abolition now… The omnipotent threat of premature death at the hands, knees, chokeholds, Tasers, and guns of law enforcement has only further engrained its anti-Black foundation into the institutions of policing. In order to eradicate anti-Blackness, we must also abolish the police. The abolition of one without the other is impossible.” (Pg. 27-28)
He goes on, “I recently revisited the 2016 postgame interview when I was first asked about not standing… Unconsciously, my critique of police terrorism was fastened to a reformist framework… But I had missed the larger picture. The focus on individual punishment will never alter the outcome of a system rooted in Black death. I wanted change… Yet, the reforms often proposed---use-of-force policies, body cameras, more training, and ‘police accountability’---were the same recycled interventions consistently proposed in the past.” (Pg. 29)
He concludes, “My hope is that you, the reader, squarely confront the white supremacist underpinnings of policing and prisons and the state-sanctioned oppression, destruction, and execution of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color… My sincere hope is that you will be forced to make a moral choice… Will you be actively complicit in the perpetuation of these systems, or will you take action to dismantle them for the benefit of a just future?” (Pg. 31)
Stuart Schrader notes, “When protesters chant ‘Defund the police,’ cops respond, ‘But who will come to rescue you when you’re in crisis?’ We could turn the question back on the police: What if you didn’t have the military to rescue you in your moments of crisis? And this new question opens onto a new horizon of abolition, and of hope: a world without police or soldiers.” (Pg. 58)
Kimberlé Crenshaw (author of books such as ‘Black Girls Matter’) says, “Like the murder of Emmett Till three generations ago, the police killing of Breonna Taylor and the legal judgment that lent it legitimacy may inspire a new generation to repudiate policing, illegitimate state power, and its legalized facilitation against Black bodies.” (Pg. 82)
Dean Spade explains, “Why is abolition so important to queer and trans resistance, and why have queer and trans people and communities been leaders and visionaries in the fight for abolition? First, because queer and trans people have been and remain targets of the police… Second… because we refuse to have our movement for liberation co-opted by law enforcement as a public relations strategy… The third reason… is that our movement emerged from and is completely intertwined with movements for racial and economic justice and against colonialism worldwide.” (Pg. 102)
Derecka Purcell (author of ‘Becoming Abolitionists’; she has a JD from Harvard Law School) suggests, “The criminal legal system is like the master’s house. Reforms are the master’s tools. Sometimes, Black public defenders will be able to use a tool or two to get their client free, or a Black prosecutor or judge will even appear to be in charge of the house, which was true in my client’s case. But this will never bring about genuine change. Reforms do not solve the root causes of harm---individual or institutional.” (Pg. 148)
Dylan Rodríguez points out, “The #8CantWait campaign… attracted immediate and widespread support from celebrities and elected officials, including Oprah Winfrey, Julián Castro, and Ariana Grande… One of the many glaring problems with #8CantWait---which advocates de-escalation, ‘warning before shooting,’ banning chokeholds, and installation of a ‘use of force continuum’---is that many of its proposed policy reforms were incorporated by the most homicidally anti-Black police departments in the United States… #8CantWait attempts to convince those questioning … that policing is reformable---that it can be modified and refurbished to protect and serve the very same places, communities, and bodies it has historically surveilled, patrolled, intimidated, and eviscerated.” (Pg. 155-156)
Naomi Murakawa argues, “The first trap of reform is that ‘reform the police’ usually means ‘reward the police.’ As a supposed concession to the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests… the Obama administration gave police… $43 million for body cameras. Body cameras have not delivered on early promises to reduce force and increase accountability, but they have expanded police surveillance powers, especially when equipped with facial-recognition software. As police patrolled Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, they captured images of protesters---by using the very technology that elites promised would contain some of the police powers that had sparked the protests just a few years ago.” (Pg. 165)
Bree Newsome Bass acknowledges, “The current political divide on this issue … separat[es] those who think the system is simply in need of reform and those who correctly define the problem as the system itself. The reality is that Black people fall on both sides of this divide, which is why we find so many Black officers in uniform arguing for a reformist agenda even as every reform they propose is vociferously opposed by the powerful, majority-white police unions and most of the rank and file. Reformists remain committed to preserving the existing system even though the idea of reforming it to be the opposite of what it was designed to be is an unproven theory that’s no more realistic than the idea of abolishing police altogether.” (Pg. 177)
Robin D.G. Kelley explains, “The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition made up of over 150 organizations, came up with such a plan to divest billions of dollars from prisons, policing, and the Pentagon, and invest in education, universal health care, housing, living wage jobs, restorative justice, food justice, and green energy… The federal government doles out billions with little oversight and no accountability, and no evidence that we are safer as a result of militarized policing…” (Pg. 187)
Mumia Abu-Jamal states, “Prison abolitionists … want to build a society in which social problems are solved not by police and prison guards but by medical and mental health specialists, social workers, domestic violence experts, educators, and community-based organizers and problem solvers charged with addressing crises in the communities where they live. Because they are radicals, they seek solutions that address the root causes of social problems.” (Pg. 198)
Dan Berger and David Stein say, “The call to defund is best understood as an effort to revoke the political and economic power of police---and of the larger criminal legal system it upholds.” (Pg. 232)
Mariame Kaba states, “Some people may ask ‘Does this mean that I can never call the cops if my life is in danger?’ Abolition does not center that question. Instead, abolition challenges us to ask, ‘Why do we have no other well-resourced options?’ and pushes us to creatively consider how we can grow, build, and try other avenues to reduce harm… We need more and effective options for the greatest number of people.” (Pg. 240)
I personally wish that Kaepernick had---rather than sitting/taking a knee during the Anthem---announced at a press conference on a NON-GAME DAY that he had started an organization (with other athletes?) to raise money for the families of Black people killed by police. This would have avoided much (though not all) of the adverse actions to which he has been subject, and he and Eric Reid would probably still be actively in the NFL. Wishful thinking…