Speech on the Necessity of Abolition

given by ACL at an action for Muhsin Sharif in front of Lane County Jail 12.11.20

When we speak of abolition, we do not solely mean the abolition of prisons: we also mean the abolition of the material and historical conditions under which prisons become possible in the first place and the creation of relations of care and solidarity, an infrastructure of mutuality. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney put it: “What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” These negative and positive arcs of abolition delineate our everyday lives. They give form to our anger and grief, form to our plans and plots, our loves and desires, dreams and demands. In short, they express our aspirations and struggles for a radically different future. 

Abolition means that we begin to question the forms of violence sold to us as necessary for the sake of protecting the racist, capitalist status quo. Abolition means transforming education, healthcare, the structure of the workplace, and it means reimagining the very meaning of justice. We are not just calling for more money to be redirected to these ends; we are also demanding a wholesale transformation of our social universe––our social relations to each other in everyday life and an upheaval of our current notions of safety and freedom, which are so bound to carceral ideology. We are not asking only to defund the EPD. The state already partly conceded this in Minneapolis. Tellingly, they cut the police budget by 8 million dollars, but refused to reduce the size of the police force overall. In Eugene, we have been reassured by city authorities that nothing meaningful can be done about our concerns, that we are demanding changes which are ‘unrealistic.’ But let us not forget that the realism of the status quo requires that the voices and lives of those most immediately affected by police and state violence be completely ignored. We need to make loud and clear, through militant action and organization, that we will not settle for these crumbs.

Everywhere we are being told that a return to “normal” is on the horizon. But this normality offered to us remains a normality of death and violence, of racist domination and capitalist exploitation. It does not matter who holds power when the very institutions which prevail in this society only serve to reinforce oppression. Police violence in Eugene continues unabated. The shooting of Muhsin Sharif on November 30, 2020, a year to the day after the murder of Eliborio Rodriguez by the Eugene Police Department, marks another BIPOC person in our community who has directly suffered from this deadly and cruel normality. Do not let the police, the media, and the local city government misguide you into believing that this is the exception when we, as well our Black, brown, and indigneous comrades know, that this is norm––just business-as-usual. 

The cops and the state will always devise justifications for their acts of terror. Our task must be to oppose these justifications in all their forms, to dispel the lies and the structures of oppression they sustain. We do not want to reform an institution the origin of which lies in slave patrols and the protection of white property owners. We want nothing to do with a set of state institutions which derive their legitimacy from white supremacy, settler colonialism, and capitalism, not to mention the racialized forms of criminalization which reinforce them. Indeed, historically settler-colonial narratives have relied on the creation of a racialized internal enemy within a given “community,” usually construed as the “criminal” against whom the state can enact the most brutal and violent means of repression. 

We are told we need to know the details. We are told we need to know how, when, and where, as if in those details we would uncover anything else but what we already know––namely, that the police exist only to uphold white supremacy and ensure the continuation of a system that exploits and destroys us. We should reject this logic from its root, in the same way we should reject attempts to construct certain forms of resistance and struggle as valid and other as invalid. We must avoid falling for discourses that legitimate the police in any way.

Moreover, we must stress that EPD is already a reformed police department and that they explicitly see themselves as a model for the rest of the US. We must understand that state-sanctioned violence will persist, whether or not there is an interagency deadly force force investigation team. State violence persists, even alongside the important work done by Cahoots to ameliorate some of these structural issues. State violence persists, even as the University of Oregon makes moves to diversify the UOPD. We do not want more diverse cops. Black or white, cops serve the capitalist state. As long as police patrol our communities, state sanctioned violence will persist. They will continue to enforce the inhuman sweeps of houseless people, destroying their personal belongings and forcibly removing them from their living spaces during a global pandemic.

If Black Lives Matter, it is time to stop asking whether the cops shooting anyone is ever justified. We need to challenge the absolute legitimacy of the state to inflict violence on Black people, trans people, undocumented people, Indigenous people, people of color, and workers and poor people of all colors. The same people who ask whether a justification can be found for murdering Black people are the same people who seek to channel our energies toward collaboration with the capitalist state and its violent protection of private property and white supremacy. We demand abolition because we know that life itself is at stake. ​​​​​​​

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