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Recent Black Lives Matter protests have already gained some significant victories, reaching further toward abolition than many may have thought possible in this lifetime.
As we stand on the precipice of so much potential change, there’s an understandable impulse to reach for “replacements” — institutions to fill in for police and prisons. Yet we can’t simply call for social workers to replace police.
As we fight to defund or abolish police and imprisonment, we need to be wary of ways that strengthen other forms of surveillance and control. Drug courts, mandatory psychiatric treatment, and sex worker “rescue” programs might seem like better alternatives to our current system but they still disproportionately target Black, Brown and marginalized people, keeping them under coercive systems. Meanwhile, social workers, teachers and medical professionals–while vital to a flourishing society–can’t be called upon to simply “replace” police, thus drafting them into roles of surveillance and punishment. We must also beware of the ways in which “community”-based forms of policing, including neighborhood watch programs and the expansion of the child welfare system’s mandated reporting, replicate many of the same oppressive dynamics as traditional policing.
A just society will not be achieved until we stop looking for ways to make policing and prisons more humane and focus on building the society we actually want to live in.
Join abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba and journalists Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law, authors of the forthcoming book Prison By Any Other Name for a discussion of the urgent need to use this moment for transformative change.