Updated: Jun 20, 2022
Abolition has made its way to the forefront of many conversations lately. Personally, I am so glad to hear more and more people discussing this movement and what it can do for our communities. Rather than giving my own explanation here, I encourage you to research and learn from those who have been studying abolition for many years. Mariame Kaba and Angela Davis have both written and talked about the subject extensively, along with many others. Today, I want to share my thoughts on how this idea could have worked during a significant moment of my life.
In 2018, I was in a bad car accident. I was struck by a motorcyclist who was going about 165 mph, which spun my car and left it demolished. I was lucky to walk away. Police officers were the first to arrive on scene. The asked me what happened, and I could barely answer—I was violently shaking and everything had happened so quickly that I barely understood the situation (a witness helped fill me in). After some questions, they led me away from the scene and into the back of a police car. I remember the cold hard plastic of the backseat. I asked if I could try to retrieve my phone so that I could call someone, and they sent an officer to go look for me. No luck. I sat there, alone and freezing, watching as they surveyed the scene. Shortly after, an ambulance arrived. The paramedics helped me in and gave me a blanket as they examined me for injuries. One paramedic asked if I had been able to contact anyone, and when I told her no, she let me call my mom from her phone. We drove to the hospital.
My mother later told me that the police officers frightened her (they did me, too). They were not helpful or compassionate. The paramedics, however, gathered around her to show her pictures they had taken of the scene. They offered their sympathy and tried to convey that this was clearly not my fault, and that it was a miracle that I was alive.
Later, after another exam by a kind doctor who was equally shocked that I walked away from the accident, an officer returned. He needed to get a written statement for me. They had just taken an x-ray of my hand after I complained of pain in my thumb. I had trouble gripping the pencil, had cuts on my hand, and was disoriented from the concussion. The officer insisted that I had to try my best to write with good pressure so that it reached down through the carbon copy. I did my best. They left.
A few days later, an officer knocked at the door. My stomach dropped, and my mom and I looked at each other with fear in our eyes. But he was there to return my phone and glasses. They had somehow been recovered from my car unscathed. My car was to be impounded by police for another month, so I was unable to retrieve the rest of my belongings until then. When we were finally given permission to go get it, it took the tow yard staff over an hour to move all the cars necessary, and it was buried under a heavy layer of snow. The staff was rifling through my trunk when we came upon it.
Following this traumatic accident was an equally traumatic litigation process. The motorcyclist had tragically died in the accident. He was driving on a suspended license, on an uninsured motorcycle. There were drugs and alcohol in his system. He broke many laws that night, as well as on previous nights of street racing. I had a mostly clean driving record, had basic required insurance, and was following traffic laws that night. However, I ended up having to sue my own insurance company to try to pay for all the damages like buying a new car and paying for numerous doctor and therapy visits, since there was no way to recover anything from him.
I also found him on Facebook shortly after the accident. This ended up being a poor choice for my mental health, as I saw videos of him street racing, and posts from his family and friends that condoned his reckless lifestyle. I had moments where I wanted to speak with them, to understand how they could support such dangerous habits after losing him to those very behaviors. But I knew it would likely only cause all of us more pain, and it didn’t seem right to try to contact someone who had lost a son when I had only physical injuries and PTSD to handle. To this day, I still struggle with that PTSD, and I think of the accident and the motorcyclist and his family very often. Two years later and I think of it daily.
Recently, I have wondered what the whole thing would have been like in a world where police and prisons have been abolished. Would it have occurred in the first place if the young man had been given access to resources and recovery options rather than being repeatedly ticketed, only to continue his behavior? Would access to mental health and drug abuse services helped him?
That night, if it were just the paramedics who had showed up, would I have been treated more compassionately from the start? If we had different systems in place for victims, would I have had to hire a lawyer? A primary motivation for that choice was an officer who told us off the record that he was uninsured, so I knew my hospital bills and car would not have been paid for. If we had healthcare for all, an achievable measure when things like police budgets are cut, maybe it would not have been necessary. Would we have been offered restorative justice options afterward, allowing myself as well as his family to heal?
There are countless stories and situations in which an abolitionist world can be imagined, showing what a difference it could make for people. This is just one example from my own life, though there are others. I’m sure you have some too. I encourage people to think with this framework. What has occurred in your life in which police or the prison industrial complex were involved, that may have gone differently otherwise? If police and prisons were abolished and all that funding was opened up to your community, what would you like to see? What needs could that fulfill?