Young millennial activists are weary of state violence enacted by the police; however, in Chicago, instead of enacting liberal reform by way of body cameras and training, they are calling for an overhaul of the institution and embracing an explicitly abolitionist perspective, in an exclusive piece by the Chicago Reader.
Jessica Disu, a Chicago resident who calls herself a “humanitarian rap artist and peace activist,” openly challenged the idea of repairing a “broken system” by boldly proclaiming on FOX News in a special TV program hosted by Megyn Kelly, “Here’s a solution. We need to abolish the police.”
A herald of disapproving boos, denouncements, and anger ensued from the audience at Disu’s brave political pronouncement.
“Abolish the police?” came Kelly’s shocked reply.
“Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu stated firmly. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice.”
“Our police is not working—we need to replace it with something new,” she told the audience. “It’s more than a repair. We need something new.”
Disu remains undeterred by anti-Black insults and threats that she’s endured since she openly called for police abolition on national television. She makes the connection of objection over abolition to that of past refusal to end enslavement in the United States. “I’m sure when someone first said, ‘We have to abolish slavery,’ it was like, whoa, that’s the stupidest idea, we’re making all of this money off of free labor, and you’re saying abolish? Like, that sounds ridiculous.”‘ (Only a small number of people in the antebellum south believed that slavery would be abolished; most of the population favored a “benevolent” reformist movement of the institution or doubted that slavery would ever be abolished.)
The police, as also stated by Disu, began as a form of slave patrol. “The institution of slavery and the control of minorities were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities,” explains researcher Victor E. Kappoler. “For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans, the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.”
The practice of police abolition came about in conjunction with the prison abolition movement in the 1960s and 1970s, with front-runners like former Black Panther Party member Angela Davis, who viewed the prison system as obsolete, violent, and inefficient in resolving what was an outcome of political, economic, and social repression. Davis was put on trial for aiding a courtroom hostage incident, led by Jonathan Jackson, in 1970. After her acquittal, the movement for prison abolition took off, and was mostly led by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women.
Chicago activists and organizers are continuing the legacy of Davis by prison abolitionist work, and now most recently this summer, police abolition work, due to one specific person. Mariame Kaba, an organizer originally from New York City, came to Chicago in the mid 1990s to do graduate school work, growing up with a “collectivist” and “Black nationalist framework” after being raised by a Guinean father and a Senegalese mother. She hopes to build community institutions dealing with drug addiction, mental illness, and “other social problems” that will one day one day “make the police unnecessary”. Her presence in the city deeply influenced the new generations politics and views towards abolition.
Kaba insists that police abolition and prison abolition is not simply about “destruction and anarchy”, but about building alternatives outside of the current system that exists. “You can’t just focus on what you don’t want, you have to focus also on what you do want. The world you want to live in is also a positive project of creating new things.”
This summer, millennial community organizations in Chicago such as Assata’s Daughters, BYP100, and Seeds Of Autonomy have organized protests, sit-ins, and radical actions in favor of radically envisioning safer neighborhoods by promoting community accountability and transformative justice. Most recently, the Let Us Breathe Collective has staged an occupation on the city’s west side in North Lawndale, right across from the infamous “black site” called Homan Square, in which Chicago Police Department illegally disappeared and tortured “suspects”. The Collective transformed their campsite into a beautiful organizing space, naming it, “Freedom Square“. As a community, they abide by being present, being helpful, being generous, and being transformed as liberatory principles.
“We’re imagining a world without police,” said Camesha Jones, 24, of Bronzeville, during a protest last month. “The city of Chicago has spent (millions) of dollars because of police misconduct settlements. I’m here to imagine a world where that money would be spent on education, mental health, to open school, clinics, create jobs.”
These young millennials are making Black lives, community, and revolution happen—without police.