“Abolition of Repression.”
Legates, friends, comrades, brothers, and sisters. Greetings!
There can be no serious consideration of the subject of prison abolition in America without reflection on the work of black feminist scholar activist Dr. Angela Y. Davis who, in 2003, published Are Prisons Obsolete? by Seven Stories and Open Media Press.
Her work is the ubertext, the forerunner of works on the abolition of the oppressive spectacle of prison, especially in the era of mass incarceration.
Early in her text, Professor Davis recounted her memories of the early sixties: a period of American history when black radicals were imprisoned for their work in the black liberation movement, among which was Angela Davis herself.
She wrote: “When I first became involved in anti-prison activism during the late sixties, I was astounded to learn that there were then close to 200,000 people in prison. Had anyone told me that in 3 decades, 10 times as many people would be locked away in cages, I would have been absolutely incredulous. I imagine that I would have responded something like this: ‘As racist and undemocratic as this country may be’—remember, during that period, the demands of the civil rights movement had not yet been consolidated—’I do not believe that the U.S. government will be able to lock up so many people without producing powerful public resistance. No, this will never happen, not unless this country plunges into fascism.'”
That’s the insight and vision of Dr. Angela Y. Davis. My thinking really tracks hers, for as one who came to consciousness during the sixties, the explosion of the prison population was quite unthinkable. But history sometimes takes unforeseen forks in the road, leading us to unforeseen destinations.
The notorious drug war launched by the late president Richard Nixon was the toll gate leading to this unprecedented road to perdition by way of mass incarceration. His call for a drug war had immense impact on millions of lives and predominantly black and brown communities.
It is ironic in the extreme that the U.S. is now undergoing another unprecedented drug crisis. This time, by an explosion of opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl, drugs more powerful than heroin.
But the addicts are largely white and rural, and their drugs are lethal. According to recent published reports, some 70,000 people addicted to these drugs die per year in the U.S. But the drug dealers wear white coat and have pain prescriptions to service their drug clients.
These drug users, unlike those in the ghettos of America, aren’t treated with derision or contempt. They’re treated with love and compassion and they, if they survive, aren’t sent to prison, they are asked to enter rehab clinics instead.
The movements that emerged from the rebellion of Ferguson, MO have reemerged in the Black Lives Matter movement, and many BLM affiliates have embraced abolition to address the issue and the rigors of mass incarceration.
And Pennsylvania, we’ve seen the rise of a statewide movement called Decarcerate, which is today fighting for release of thousands of lifers in state prisons. These activists, many of them young enough to be the grandchildren of the sixties generation, are continuing the long struggle for freedom by dismantling the tentacles of mass incarceration.
But we are now at the emergence point of that movement, not its end. Sadly, there is more work to be done.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.