Abolition is a well-developed theoretical framework that gives us the tools to reimagine the systems we currently have in place. Instead of systems that perpetuate anti-Black racism and profit off the subjugation of economically marginalized people, abolition presents us with alternatives. It enables us to reimagine how best to keep communities safe, to develop preventative measures to reduce crime, and to formulate restorative remedies to harm.
In the wake of the mass demonstrations this spring and summer, abolition suddenly became more prominent in mainstream discourse. However, it is not a new theory for change. It is a descendant of the early 19th century abolitionist movement to end slavery. It too sought to address exploitation, subjugation, and the power imbalance. Then, as now, abolition was seen as fringe and radical. Abolitionist theories emerged again in the 1940s with explicit calls to abolish prisons and police, and to replace them with a radically different social and economic order. It is important to examine the history of abolition as a theory for change. It can help inform the way we frame contemporary demands for transformational change.