The tragic news of the recent killings of police officers ratchets up calls for more policing. Demonizing those of us who call for defunding the police. New York City’s mayor refers to defunding the police as a bumper sticker.
President Joe Biden’s meeting with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on February 3, 2022, comes as cities across the U.S. face a rise in violent crimes and represents a politically awkward shift in how the Democratic Party is approaching policing and criminal justice.
As a Senator in the 1990’s, Biden was known to be tough on crime, and Adams, a former NYPD captain, has been vocal about his support for police and the criminal justice system. They both find their long-held positions on policing and crime back in the Democratic mainstream, as some mayors and elected officials have shifted their stance on crime and the “defund the police” movement over the past several months.
During his meeting with Adams, Biden expressed his opposition to defunding the police as he said, “the answer is not the defund the police, it’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding, to be partners [and] to be protectors.”Joe Biden, Eric Adams Meeting Marks Democrats U-Turn on ‘Defund the Police’ BY MATTHEW IMPELLI, Newsweek, 2/3/22
As an abolitionist, it feels like menace is in the air. I’m reminded of my teen days when I resisted the draft while the Vietnam war was raging. It was great to be living in the Scattergood Friends School community then.
Most people think about abolition in terms of what it is against. Against the institution of slavery, against police and prisons. I like to think about what abolition is for.
I am a member of the Quakers for Abolition Network. Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh have been organizing this effort. Following are two articles published in Western Friend. To join the Quakers for Abolition Network, email Jed Walsh (jedwalsh9 [at] gmail.com) or Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge (mbartonrowledge [at] gmail.com).
Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
M: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo. The racial dynamics of police violence are being highlighted by the recent uprisings and the Black Lives Matter movement.
We are in the same place, with a call to imagine a culture radically different than the one in which we live. Abolishing police and prisons, like abolishing slavery, would change the structure of our society: dramatically decreasing violence and undoing one set of power relationships that create domination and marginalization. And in place of this violence, we could, instead, have care.Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, Nov 2020
Perspectives from the Quakers for Abolition Network
In late 2020, the two of us wrote an article for this magazine, called “Abolish the Police.” Through writing the piece, we realized we wanted to convene a larger space where Friends with an interest in police and prison abolition could have conversations with one another. Quaker abolitionists today face major pushback from our Meetings; we hoped that drawing Friends together would support and strengthen our work.
In this context, the Quakers for Abolition Network is being born. We are a collection of Friends from at least five Yearly Meetings; we range in age from high school to our 80s; we are disproportionately queer and trans. While AFSC and FCNL staff are participating, this is a grassroots project without any formal connections to existing organizations. We are in the process of defining our mission statement, structure, and our methods for addressing white supremacy when it shows up in our work, while building relationships with each other as we go. Below, four Friends write about their approaches to abolition, their lessons, and their visions for where Quakers might be headed.
Jeff Kisling: Mutual Aid and Abolition
I grew up in rural Iowa, where there was very little racial diversity and interactions with police and the court system were rare. About ten years ago, I was blessed to become involved with the Kheprw Institute, a Black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when a Black mother broke down in tears, explaining how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. It was obvious that every other person of color in the discussion knew exactly what she was saying.
After retiring, I was led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid, a multiracial organization founded to support houseless people. For over a year, I’ve helped my friends fill and distribute boxes of donated food, while continuing to learn about the framework of mutual aid.
To me, mutual aid is about taking back control of our communities. Besides the food giveaway, we support houseless people and maintain a bail fund to support those arrested agitating for change. We also work for the abolition of police and prisons.
To join the Quakers for Abolition Network, email Jed Walsh (jedwalsh9 [at] gmail.com) or Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge (mbartonrowledge [at] gmail.com).Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh: Introducing the Quakers for Abolition Network, Western Friend, Sept 2021