Should prison abolitionists be concerned that Derek Chauvin is going to prison?
Let us do a brief review of the history, the game, and the players and why we would do well to avoid binary responses to messy situations. Furthermore, political purity is a white hegemony concept, especially as it relates to the West.
My prison abolition ideas have to do with my fight against anti-blackness and anti-other: Latinx and Indigenous. We will be using anti-blackness as the term for racism that includes Latinx and Native Americans, but focuses much of the repression on the African American community.
The prison-industrial complex in the U.S. is an important component in RACE and RACISM. You can’t separate the U.S. prison system from the anti-blackness that created it. That is the GAME. That is the ball you need to keep watching.
The U.S. prison system was constructed owing to the South’s insatiable hunger for exploitable Black labor. In Southern States after the Civil War, the African American populace was effectively criminalized with a restrictive set of rules that was almost impossible to avoid violating. The punishment for even minor violations was prison and labor. In the modern era, the appetite continues not to be satiated as the imprisonment rates of Black people in the U.S. are many times higher than in any part of the natural or overdeveloped world.
Exploitation and expendable white people have existed throughout the entire stolen U.S. history, but in the prison system in the U.S., the primary focus has been about Black people.
And we can demonstrate this with a simple thought experiment. If prison is being used to control the African American community, when would be the time of the highest incarceration rates? We would predict when there was an expansion of liberty to tighten the clampdown. As predicted, the rates of imprisonment rose dramatically at three points in the U.S.:
- After the end of enslavement, Emancipation Proclamation
- After the Civil Rights Movement,
All Black people related. All anti-blackness related.
My goal is to stop the oppression of Black people.
The British abolitionist movement started in the late 1700s when English and American Quakers began to question the morality of the enslavement of Black people.
Prisons existed in Britain, Germany, and France, but the Quakers were not referring to prisons in general, they were referring to the inhumane treatment of Black people.
The history of abolition is about NOT stopping prisons; it is to stop the inhumane treatment of Black people. Abolition at its roots is about curbing or ending anti-blackness.
It is not class reductionist. It is not just about prisons. It is about Black humanity.
The Abolitionist newspapers at time had ample opportunity to discuss prisons in their cause. They did not.
“These publications argued against slavery as a social and moral evil and often used examples of African American writings and other achievements to demonstrate that Africans and their descendants were as capable of learning as were Europeans and their descendants in America, given the freedom to do so. To prove their case that one person owning another one was morally wrong, they first had to convince many, in all sections of the country, that Negroes, the term used for the race at the time, were human.”HISTORY NET
People who co-opt and appropriate the term abolition for purposes that do not work directly in dismantling the tools of anti-blackness, do so dishonestly.
Now let’s return to the soon to be sentenced Derek Chauvin. Some will say “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” But sometimes the player MAKES the game. Derek Chauvin is not just the player. He is the damn game. The three other officers present seemed to be uncomfortable during the killing of George Floyd but made no move to stop it. Why, Derek Chauvin MADE the Game.
How do I feel about being an abolitionist and Chauvin going to prison?
Stop being so binary. This isn’t our game, it’s theirs. This isn’t about the use of repressive tools to control an entire population. The imprisonment of Derek Chauvin for murder is an appropriate use of what prison advocates suggest is the actual function: to separate dangerous individual from society, punish transgressions, and hopefully rehabilitate. This is their game and their rules must be applied with their players. If they don’t, then we know that their game is fixed. And it is not OUR role to save their fallen warriors.
It is not OUR role to save a coercive State from itself. It is not OUR role to save those fallen functionaries from a system they built, promoted, and labored. Remember John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry to save America from its “peculiar institution?” How did John Brown’s fundamentalism work? And even if Brown’s Raid had succeeded at Harpers Ferry and unleashed a revolt of ad hoc armed, untrained, unled, beaten down humans against a well trained army and well regulated militia, the problem with fast revolutions is that they never end where you planned.
We win not by rescuing them from themselves, we win by forcing the racist, white favoriting and accommodating State to break their teeth on their own rules. If white people go to jail, guess what? Imprisonment will no longer be a favored method to deal with social issues. Don’t believe me, examine the disparity of how our system deals with meth and oxycontin as opposed to crack. Crack was associated with the African American community and the State’s response was extreme repression with SWAT forces being used against violators. After arrest, both dealers and users were subject to onerous punishment, and imprisonment. Meth and oxycontin are associated with the white working-class and have resulted in a change in the institution. Kindness, drug courts, and treatment is applied to users.
The strict binary argument that it is class and not race, is infantile, ignorant, and disingenuous. It is often class and it is often race, and it is often Blackness.
This is how you make change, not by letting them break you with your rules, but breaking them with their rules.