After years of calls to shut down the brutal penal colony that is Rikers Island, the state surveyed the landscape of dissent, as all colonizers do, and formed a plan to crush, co-opt and exploit the people’s fight for liberation. The state focused its glowing red eyes on what could be gained from the disaster it created. It folded in its tiny ears to block out the deafening legacy of slavery, very much alive today. It flared its nostrils to detect its prey, and then opened its monstrous jaws to devour the vision of the people. Abolition is the vision of the people. Those of us who envision abolition see ourselves in it, engaged with it, in complicated and committed ways. We see a multiplicity of responses to suffering, formed and practiced within families, between friends, and among neighbors. We see a community of strong, caring and wise people with the capacity to lift one another up, without the violent intervention of the state and its proxies.
In its vote yesterday to build four new jails, the city, buttressed by a putrid sea of nonprofits, failed to recognize the wisdom of the people. In the months leading up to the vote, the city got a whiff of the people’s power, they got spooked and they pounced to control every aspect of the narrative and, of course, the purse strings. The bald-faced wheeling and dealing of resources in exchange for carceral power is explained in abstract reports and dystopian renderings. There’s no attempt to hide the transactional nature of their plan because trading human lives for political clout is the expected and agreed upon outcome of a capitalist democracy. And so, billions of dollars go to secure a future of slavery for generations not yet born.
If the city’s nonprofits weren’t so blatantly embedded within law enforcement (with the same organizations in unquestioning, dutiful compliance with prosecutors and jailers), perhaps we wouldn’t see right through their slick attempts to call slavery by another name. Alternatives-to-incarceration, ankle monitors, supervised release, community policing… the flood of euphemisms is astounding, pulling a thin veil over the violent surveillance and genocide of black and brown people, trans and nonbinary people, and people with mental illness.
In the fight against jail construction in NYC, a clear line has been drawn between the reformist compromises forced by capitalist bureaucracy and a true vision of abolition that rejects the false and insulting promise of “humane” slavery. An abolitionist vision does not, and will never, incorporate or tolerate carceral models, even in exchange for critical resources. While that was fiercely clarified throughout this fight, we must take a necessary ideological step to extend our vision of abolition beyond prisons and police. Abolition cannot live and grow without a full reckoning of the society in which prisons can exist. Prison abolition must live inside a larger and longer fight—a fight for the abolition of the state and capitalism. Only when we are liberated from governance that rules from above can we build an abolitionist future.
The state has never given us a reason to trust it, and its latest performance—the song and dance of “decarceration”—changes nothing. We must trust each other, by building revolutionary relationships that actively attack the racist and patriarchal state using violence to hoard power and profit. We will be strategic, creative and relentless in our fight for the abolition of the state, and every incarnation of imprisonment that it manifests.