We need to reimagine our criminal justice system.
There’s a devastating cycle that we bear witness to every few months when a high-profile case pops up: A Black person is killed by a cop. Usually, in the end, nothing happens to the officer. A murderer is able to live their life after taking someone else’s without consequence, all because of a uniform.
Every time this occurs, I’m reminded of the number of people that are content with keeping this system in place. Some people, like white people, aren’t as impacted by the prison industrial complex and we’ve lived with those systems our whole lives. People think it’s the only way to exist, but there’s always room for change. And we desperately need to abolish the police and prison system that’s been established.
As we know it today, the police system is relatively new. Reforms to police in the 19th century created procedures to catch “runaway slaves,” and just generally intimidate the Black population. After slavery, police imprisoned and convicted Black people for anything. From slavery to the war on drugs, our police system causes harm to and incarcerates Black bodies. It’s literally rooted in white supremacy.
“Defund the police,” the rallying cry over protests last summer is a step in the right direction. Spending billions of dollars for police to intimidate, harass and incarcerate people of color, those suffering from addiction, sex workers, etc., does nothing to truly prevent or stop crime. To prevent crime, we have to address the root causes of it.
Crime is often born out of desperation. Some resort to crime for money; impoverished neighborhoods don’t have many resources and are vulnerable to crime. Once someone is in the criminal justice system it can be impossible to escape because jobs are hesitant to hire “criminals.” It’s a cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration that destroys lives.
Radical changes have to happen to destroy the violence that police and the prison system perpetuate. It’s not enough to just give police body cams or train officers more; we’ve seen time and time again that implicit bias training just doesn’t work. Prisons don’t prevent or deter crime either. A 2009 study found that after three years in prison, 67% of the prisoners were rearrested and about 47% were reconvicted of a different crime. We need to dismantle our criminal justice system, then build something better in its place.
Abolition wouldn’t create chaos like some suggest. No one is trying to get rid of all police officers at the snap of a finger. But we can funnel the billions of dollars these systems use to contribute resources to the community, create relationships and for the most part, prevent crime before it happens. People would have access to food, housing, education, healthcare, and jobs. Instead of calling the police with blaring lights and dangerous weapons, we would call teams of people that live in the community to help mediate issues or provide care. When problems do arise, we would use restorative justice models to repair the harm that was inflicted and to prevent further crime.
This is not a new idea. Honestly, I’m not saying anything that Black activists haven’t been saying for decades now. Mariame Kaba, Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and plenty of other activists have advocated for the abolition of police and prisons since before I was even alive. But the world needs to start listening. We can solve these issues. We just have to dare to dream it and work together to make it happen.