“We must fight for liberation beyond reforming or seeking “justice” from a system that is designed to protect capital and property and thrives on the disposability of Black lives,” – Stephanie Younger

By Stephanie Younger •

The 2020 uprisings in defense of Black life made an abolitionist politic accessible to many people, allowing us to reevaluate why we are conditioned to believe that carceral systems work, that police keep communities safe, and how we can make this system obsolete. The presence of the prison industrial complex is so normalized that we often respond to viral instances of state violence against Black people on social media with the belief that the police aren’t actually doing their job.

Since 2020, we have seen reforms that seek to “change the system,” and avoid meeting the demands of Black liberationists to divest from it.

An example that comes to mind is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. In March 2021, Derecka Purnell, a writer, author, lawyer and organizer wrote an article for the Guardian addressing the failures of this piece of legislation that doesen’t meet the demand to defund the police. Purnell writes, “Congress does what it always does when the police kill people: give cops more money.”

“The George Floyd Act, named after someone who died because he didn’t have money to cover cigarettes, gives millions of dollars to police in grants. And lawmakers gave the police more money right after they failed to secure a $15 federal minimum wage and failed to deliver on the $2,000 checks they promised to voters who put Democrats in office. But, Congress made sure to include $750m in the George Floyd Act to investigate the deadly use of force by law enforcement. Protesters have been demanding to defund the police to keep us safe; not spend millions of dollars to investigate how we die. We know how we die – the police.” 

– “The George Floyd Act wouldn’t have saved George Floyd’s life. That says it all” by Derecka Purnell for The Guardian

As Purnell observed, funding a system that is doing exactly what it’s designed for to investigate its own violence, fails to address the root of the problem.

That being said, the root of the problem is the existence of the prison industrial complex alone. This is a system that is not, and never will be accountable to the people it claims to “serve and protect.” It can never work to rehabilitate and keep people safe. We must fight for liberation beyond reforming or seeking “justice” from a system that is designed to protect capital and property, and thrives on the disposability of Black lives. Abolition recognizes that the prison industrial complex thrives on disposability, and not accountability, conceptualizes its absence and acts into existence, the presence of transformative ways to address harm and violence.

Critical Resistance defines “Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) Abolition” as, “a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.” In that same article about the Prison Industrial Complex, they state,

“It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives.”

“What is the PIC? What is Abolition?” Critical Resistance

Stephanie Younger is a 19-year-old based in Richmond, Virginia, whose work centers the intersections Black feminism and womanism have with prison and police abolition.