HOW IT WORKS
The Road to Abolition
Acknowledge how deeply ingrained the conjoined concepts of crime and punishment are in our society — and how this was constructed during the Age of Reason and the rise of capitalism, initially as a reform by Protestants and Quakers to replace with penitence (see: "penitentiary") the barbaric earlier forms of public capital punishment (e.g., stoning, hangings, amputations, etc.)
Today, as Harvard sociologist Devah Pager has said, “Prison is no longer a rare or extreme event among our nation’s most marginalized groups… Rather it has now become a normal and anticipated marker in the transition to adulthood.”
Acknowledge that in the United States crime and punishment are racialized — dating back to post-slavery Black Codes, chain gangs and the transformation of petty thievery into a felony, and continuing today through racial profiling and the criminalization of entire communities of color.
As Angela Davis puts it: "[T]he category 'lawbreakers' is far greater than the category of individuals who are deemed criminals since, many point out, almost all of us have broken the law at one time or another... Thus, if we are willing to take seriously the consequences of a racist and class-biased justice system, we will reach the conclusion that enormous numbers of people are in prison... not so much because of the crimes they may have indeed committed, but largely because their communities have been criminalized."
Acknowledge that policing, sentencing and incarceration are directly tied to corporate interests; as lawyer Steve Donziger says, "In the criminal justice field, the raw material is prisoners, and industry will do what is necessary to guarantee a steady supply. For the supply of prisoners to grow, criminal justice policies must ensure a sufficient number of incarcerated Americans regardless of whether crime is rising or the incarceration is necessary."
Acknowledge that prison is not meant for penitence or rehabilitation, as exemplified by the decision to add an amendment to the 1994 crime bill that eliminated all Pell Grants for prisoners, effectively defunding all higher education programs.
Acknowledge that there is no reason that our society, and how it deals with crime and why people commit crimes, has to be this way — and that our current system doesn't work to deter crime or better our communities.
Acknowledge that reforms don’t work, as they maintain a system designed to benefit the wealthy and the white, and "help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison" (Angela Davis) — and that the copaganda that defunding the police is an unpopular idea is false and disingenuous.
And immediately begin developing the framework for reimagining the new community-based network of solutions that will put public safety over punitive action and provide resources and support to help proactively protect our communities from imminent threats and safety concerns.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. WHY DID YOU CREATE TEN DEMANDS FOR JUSTICE?
By decriminalizing drug users, sex workers and immigrants, for instance, we would drastically reduce the incarcerated population and the need for police.
By abolishing police, we would immediately eliminate one third of all stranger murders in this country.
By creating systems that promote healthy and safe communities, and repealing laws against victimless ‘crimes’ that disproportionately impact the poor and people of color, there will be less ‘crime.’
Even victims of crime want investments in education, jobs and drug and mental health treatment, not prisons and jails.
In Freedom to Thrive, Popular Democracy shows that "the choice to invest in punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make our communities safer. Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons."
And that’s what the Ten Demands address — how to defund and abolish police and prisons, while providing reparations for communities harmed and building toward a society in which all communities ensure their own safety and well being.
As Angela Davis says, these measures include "both transformation of the techniques for addressing ‘crime’ and of the social and economic conditions that track so many children from poor communities, and especially communities of color, into the juvenile system and then on to prison."
2. HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHAT WOULD BE INCLUDED IN YOUR DEMANDS?
In late May 2020, a multi-racial, multi-cultural coalition of activists formed organically in an attempt to consolidate and re-focus disparate demands from Black American and abolitionist organizations and leaders. The team worked for weeks, researching legal and legislative documents and speaking with individuals from the abolitionist and formerly incarcerated communities, creating, editing and recreating the list of demands.
After more than a month of collaboration, TEN DEMANDS released Ten Demands for Justice on Thursday, June 25.
In addition to demanding the abolition of police and prisons, our demands include action steps that can be taken today to begin the process, including but not limited to defunding and demilitarizing the police; freeing numerous populations from jails and prisons; eliminating cash bail; ending all corporate prison contracts; decriminalizing poverty, drugs and sex work; requiring full police transparency and accountability; and implementing independent investigations of police departments. On the road to abolition, we expect the federal, state and municipal governments to enact these changes immediately.
Our purpose is by no means to own abolition, but to help amplify the work of predominantly Black feminist leaders of the abolitionist movement through the mass distribution of our demands, online and off.
Since the initial release of our demands, we have continued internal discussions and incorporated additional feedback we've received through the site and on social media.
In addition, our post-transitional plan includes extending TEM DEMANDS beyond criminal justice to other key socio-political issues, including but not limited to Ten For Economic Justice, Ten for Educational Justice, Ten for Electoral Justice, Ten for Environmental Justice, and Ten for Health Justice.
Want to get involved? Contact us.
3. HOW WOULD ABOLITION WORK?
“Positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment — demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance” (Angela Davis).
When people are harmed, they will be held responsible — but not through the current system of policing, courts and incarceration. There will be consequences, not lawlessness. These consequences will simply focus on personal responsibility and repair, bettering society rather than discarding criminalized people.
As criminologist Herman Bianchi explains, a person who breaks a law — no matter the severity — will no longer be deemed “an evil-minded man or woman, but simply a debtor, a liable person whose human duty is to take responsibility for his or her acts, and to assume the duty of repair.”
Thus, the alternative to reactive punitive punishment is education, intervention, free health care, substance abuse and mental health counseling and treatment, mutual aid, mediation, and reparative, transformative justice and rehabilitation — all of which have been used to great success in other countries for generations.
4. WHAT ABOUT RAPE, MURDER, KILLER AND CORRUPT COPS AND WHITE-COLLAR CRIMES?
Cops and cages aren't working. Only 2% of major crimes are solved. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators walk free — and three out of four aren't even reported. Nearly half of all murderers get away with it. And punishment doesn't deter crime. So, should we throw up our hands and refuse to attempt an alternative?
As writer and organizer Eve L. Ewing tweeted on July 6, 2020, "abolition means abolition means abolition means abolition. [I]t doesn't mean we turn the monster against the bad people. [I]t doesn't mean we say, '[W]ell, kill the monster eventually, but as long as we have it...' [I]t means we stop feeding the monster."
As abolitionists, we envision a new, humanist society.
Change won’t happen overnight, and there will be hesitation and outright dismissal from all sides. But this won’t deter us. The current dichotomy of crime and punishment was created, and therefore it can be destroyed.
The new system would focus not on punishment and vengeance but on prevention, reparation and rehabilitation — and this would apply to all lawbreakers and victims.
Much has been written on how to implement a system of justice designed for reparation instead of retribution, and there’s mounting experiential evidence of the advantages of these approaches.
We recommend investing time in these readings from Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Mariame Kaba, Movement for Black Lives, BCRW Social Justice Institute, Critical Resistance, Black Youth Project 100, Advancement Project, INCITE!, and others.
5. WHAT IF THE LAWBREAKER HAS A MENTAL ILLNESS?
There are now more people with mental and emotional illnesses in prisons and jails than there are in psychiatric hospitals. And we’ve all heard stories of people with mental illness being beaten and murdered by police who were not trained to manage or deescalate, and know of many other instances of people with mental illness being executed by capital punishment. It should not be surprising that the vast majority of these individuals have been and still are poor and/or people of color.
"Within the healthcare system, it is important to emphasize the current scarcity of institutions available to poor people who suffer severe mental and emotional illnesses," Angela Davis says.
"[The] call for new facilities designed to assist poor people should not be taken as an appeal to reinstate the old system of mental institutions, which were — and in many cases still are — as repressive as the prisons. It is simply to suggest that the racial and class disparities in care available to the affluent and the deprived need to be eradicated."
In other words, with the billions of dollars made newly available from defunding police departments, we could create new community-driven institutions providing free care to all people who suffer from mental and emotional illnesses, with priority given to the most at-need populations.
6. WHAT ABOUT THE COURT SYSTEM?
"A growing body of research strongly supports the anecdotal evidence that restorative justice programs increase the odds of safety, reduce recidivism and alleviate trauma. Until We Reckon cites studies showing that survivors report 80 to 90 percent rates of satisfaction with restorative processes, as compared to 30 percent for traditional court systems." – Michelle Alexander
During the transitional period when police departments and prisons are defunded and transformative community programs are developed, criminal courts would remain active for crimes with victims. As soon as we as a society were able, we would disintegrate criminal courts. Civil courts would remain, in addition to a new community justice system that revolves around reparation, rehabilitation and transformation.
7. WHAT WILL HAPPEN WITH UNEMPLOYED COPS?
There will be opportunities for everyone, including former police officers, to apply to work in their own communities in new roles designed to facilitate intervention, education, mediation, reparation and rehabilitation.
However, with at least 40% of cops found to be domestic abusers and at least 15% demonstrating symptoms of PTSD, any former officer applying for any of these roles will be required to undergo mandated counseling and testing.
In addition, no former officer who has ever been found to have abused their power in any way will be permitted to apply; there are plenty of employment opportunities, including construction jobs, conservation posts and infrastructure work, for which they can be trained and through which they would not need to interact with members of society on a daily basis.
8. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEN DEMANDS FOR JUSTICE AND 8TOABOLITION?
There are more similarities than differences between 8toAbolition and Ten For Justice, as both initiatives seek abolition of police and prisons, and we fully support the 8toAbolition demands and all abolitionist efforts.
The primary differences between the two initiatives are in the depth and breadth of the demands, our inclusion of concrete steps on the road to full abolition, and Ten for Justice’s inclusion — based on feedback from the Black community and Tribal Nations — of apologies and reparations.
9. YOU REFER TO ENDING "BROKEN WINDOWS POLICING." WHAT IS THIS?
More than a half century ago psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo published research that became the basis for the broken-windows theory of policing, which about 13 years later James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling used as the sole empirical evidence for suggesting that "[i]f a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken."
The authors of the 1982 Atlantic article "distorted the study to suit their purposes" — and it worked, with this tactic adopted by increasingly militarized police departments across the United States.
10. YOU INCLUDED A DEMAND TO "BAN THE BOX." WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
"The Ban the Box campaign was started by All of Us or None, a national civil rights movement of formerly-incarcerated people and our families. We started the campaign in 2004, after a series of Peace and Justice Community Summits identified job and housing discrimination as huge barriers to our successfully returning to our communities after jail or prison. The campaign challenges the stereotypes of people with conviction histories by asking employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions. Since 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history, the impact of this discrimination is widespread and affects other aspects of life in addition to employment opportunity." – Ban the Box Campaign
17. WITHOUT POLICE AND PRISONS, HOW DO ABOLITIONISTS PLAN TO DEAL WITH HATE CRIMES AND RISING WHITE NATIONALISM?
"A mass shooter opened fire in a New York City subway on April 12, 2022, and suddenly, once again, it feels like everybody wants more police. Even though a Latin American immigrant — and not the police — solved the case. Meanwhile, NYC already has a budget bigger than entire nations’ military budgets — and thousands of cops, ostensibly on patrol to prevent this type of emergency. Einstein said it himself: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So, I ask, even with the incessant copaganda, how does anyone think we should throw more cops at this problem?
The problem, by the way, is meager public health and safety. Crime is a symptom. You want to stop crime. Remove the circumstances that cause it."
18. WHAT IS THE TEN DEMANDS STANCE ON ICE AND IMMIGRATION DETENTION?
Our 10th demand to end carceral punishment includes the following: "Abolish ICE, end immigration detention and mandate legal immigration status priority to ICE detainees and their families."
Also, read this thread.