On October 15, Atlanta hosted its first Radical Bookfair at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. The exciting event brought together organizers and people from a variety of struggles, communities and generations. It included tabling by book publishers, zine distros and online projects like We’re Hir We’re Queer and A World Without Police. There were 5 well-attended and provocative panels, discussing topics like black armed resistance in the U.S., struggles among political prisoners, queer rebellion in the U.S. South, and the role of art and culture in political resistance. A World Without Police hosted a panel on the struggle for police abolition, with speakers from the African People’s Caucus (Minneapolis), Out of the Flames of Ferguson (Houston), and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (Atlanta).
Check out the full video of the panel discussion online. The panel focused on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the two platforms thrown up by formal Black Lives Matter organizations, Campaign Zero and the Movement for Black Lives, and offering strategies for building alternatives to the police.
The panel discussion captured some of the key questions facing the struggle for police abolition today. The topic of reform was discussed throughout the panel. Campaign Zero was critiqued as an attempt to improve the police, without actually addressing the ways in which the police are an institution which fundamentally enforces the everyday violence of living under capitalism. The institution of policing has it origins in an earlier period of capitalism when the wealthy created urban patrols to manage the growing population of poor people created by industrialization, and plantation owners utilized slave patrols to defeat slave rebellion and escape. Since that period, policing has always taken a violent form, including in more recent years the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” which target black and brown communities for harassment, surveillance and brutality. Campaign Zero was also critiqued as an attempt to mediate the more militant alternatives being explored in the rebellions of the past two years, putting forward so-called “voices” of the movement to negotiate with politicians and channel street resistance into acceptable legal channels.
The Movement for Black Lives platform was also broadly critiqued. While it represents something different from Campaign Zero in that it attempts to see police violence as a systemic issue connected to other types of exploitation, it fails to call into question capitalist social relations. Not only that, but the demands it puts forward stop short of real change. One example given was the demand for community control of police, which historically has meant that middle class or educated folks participate in policing while working class people remain targets of police violence. Ultimately, the platform petitions power to reform itself or hold itself accountable. An analogy was made to the early slave patrols: nobody would have asked for “better” slave patrols or community control of slave patrols. The only solution is abolition.
A variety of alternatives were put forward, both for ways of approaching the question of police violence and for practical ways to begin building a world without police. Demands that help create space for people to resist (i.e. fighting state surveillance) and demands that can be won through struggle without demobilizing people will play an important role in the anti-police movement. Yet we also need to move away from pre-packaged platforms that present demands for people to mechanically implement across the country. Instead, the speakers proposed getting involved in your community and assessing what the community needs where you are at, then building fighting organizations that can address those needs through direct action and community-building. For instance, people in unions can organize to disaffiliate with police unions, since the latter are a key tool in defending police violence.
Self-defense was put forward as a central question for our moment. What can history teach us about how communities have organized for self-defense in the past? How can we redefine self-defense more holistically to involve not just physical safety but also safety against all aspects of capitalist violence (i.e. housing)? Finally, the slogan to “Disempower, Disarm and Disband the Police” was suggested as a framework for thinking about struggle that doesn’t petition power but instead strips away the power that is being stolen from us everyday. This task requires that we explode the myth that the police actually help us in any sense, since history and reality show that everyday problems like domestic violence are usually aggravated by police intervention, not helped.
The bookfair was followed up by the A World Without Police Launch Party in Atlanta on Saturday evening. DJ’s from Houston and Atlanta — Shook The World, Cardomami and The Regal People — kept us dancing throughout the night as we reconnected with old friends and met new ones.
The next day, A World Without Police hosted a follow up discussion to continue strategizing practical ways to build a world without police. The three-hour event with group discussions and break-out sessions led to further discussion in Atlanta aimed towards building a network of police abolitionists. Look out for more news from Atlanta about where these conversations are headed!
As A World Without Police continues to work towards expanding our network of police abolitionists around the US and the world, we are inspired by the events of this weekend in Atlanta. While a book fair, party, and community discussion are small events in themselves, they represent opportunities for us to meet each other, to grow together, to build together. We’re excited about the possibility of more events like this in the future: Skype sessions, regional meetings, and coordinated national actions are just some of the possibilities we see.
We hope you’ll join us in building a network and giving a voice to the police abolitionist pole. If you’d like to get involved with A World Without Police, hit us up!