ANOTHER FUTURE IS POSSIBLE: JUSTICE, CARCERALITY, AND ABOLITION
EDITED BY JADEN M.B. JANAK
As political exile Assata Shakur writes in her 1987 autobiography, “Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.” PIC (prison industrial complex) abolition theorizes and constructs a world beyond the scarcity, state abandonment, imperialism, and disposability that define earthly existence. Simultaneously criticism and creation, PIC abolition necessitates the critique of existing institutions and structures while engaging in the messy and difficult process of building community mechanisms that provide health, safety, and wellness for all. Instead of police, jails, tracking systems, and detention, abolitionists call for community, accountability, and a respect for human and non-human life. The theory of PIC abolition emerged from historical legacies of organizing and resistance that structured the movement for slavery abolition.
PIC abolition traces its intellectual lineage to the maroon communities of Quilombos in Brazil during enslavement and Turtle Island’s (now the United States) hush harbors where strategizing and criminalized worship took place. The abolition movement can be seen in large visible actions like the poisoning of enslavers or the clandestine freeing of enslaved persons but also in the intimate actions of love that sustained enslaved people even while under the threat of violence and death. For centuries, community strategists and intellectuals have led the fight against slavery and its many afterlives while building a world where liberation is not only possible, but inevitable. This organizing history of study and struggle animates the contemporary PIC abolition movement. In the present moment, organizations such as Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, and Black & Pink have established autonomous communities rife with free access to healthcare, food, resources for LGBTQ+ denizens, and lessons on self-defense and autonomy. It is this context in which these reviews emerge as roadmaps for the ideological and organizational construction of the PIC abolition movement.
The opening reviews of this section reflect on the figures and policies who inspire regressive state policies and the movements against them. Edward Reyes’ commanding review of Savannah Shange’s Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco uses an ethnographic case study of a school in San Francisco to understand larger themes in policing, criminalization, and the role of education. Shange’s urgent work analyzes how anti-Black structures like Robeson Academy, where she taught for six years, emerge even in so-called progressive environments like San Francisco. Shange insists that alongside the criminalization of Black and Brown students is always abolitionist resistance. Shannon Woods continues the critique of “democratic” state mechanisms in her incisive review of Paul A. Passavant’s Policing Protest: The Post-Democratic State and the Figure of Black Insurrection. Passavant’s work analyzes the evolution of policing through the lens of three interrelated crisis moments: the Civil Rights Movement and its confrontation with democracy, urban fiscal troubles of the 1970s, and the post-Civil Rights Movement ‘crime’ crisis and argues that the escalating violent policing of protests is evidence that the United States has reached a post-democratic state. Woods pushes Passavant’s analysis to consider how the ‘figure of Black insurrection’ emerges not as a footnote to this trend of extralegal policing, but as central to understanding it and thus undoing it. In his masterful review of Keisha Blain’s Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America, Joshua Crutchfield explicates the intellectual history of Fannie Lou Hamer, the famed Mississippi Civil Rights and women’s rights organizer. Through an examination of her speeches, internationally-minded politics, and organizing work in Mississippi, Blain argues that our contemporary movements can learn from the strategy and tactics of Hamer and her compatriots. Taken together, these reviews expertly analyze historical and contemporary accounts of organized abandonment while also illuminating well-worn paths for abolitionist struggles to come.
The following reviews demonstrate the failed promises of freedom for Black people and the need for abolition. Debjyoti Ghosh’s review of Black Market: The Slave’s Value in National Culture After 1865 by Aaron Carico chronicles the construction of the United States through print culture analysis. Carico argues that the fabric of the United States is stitched with the ideological tenets of anti-Black racism. Ibrahim Bahati builds on this analysis through a review of The Long Emancipation: Moving Toward Black Freedom by Rinaldo Walcott. Walcott contends that true emancipation has evaded Black people because such freedoms cannot be guaranteed through legislative acts. Black life forms such as fashion, music, love, and faith, have emerged as antidotes to this evasive freedom and pose the potential to reorder society altogether. These reviews challenge the legitimacy of democracy’s promise and instead posit the way to secure sovereignty for Black and Brown people is through an abolition of racial capitalism.
This section troubles the idea of the nation-state and its accompanying systems as freedom-granting institutions and unearths how political actors have begun constructing other community-minded mechanisms. The works profiled in this section skillfully weave criticism and creation, discussion of theory and practice, and historical analysis and contemporary commentary to prove abolition is not a far-off theoretical concept, but instead, abolition is already here.