History is the wisest teacher, not only because it lays out a roadmap for how we should deal with our present circumstances, but because it also allows us to ask better questions looking into the future. Speaking of history being a wise teacher, Frederick Douglas once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Why is this important? And what does it have to do with abolition?
These 12 powerful words perfectly define what abolition should look like- building and creating(not repairing or reforming) new systems, laws, institutions, ideologies, practices, and structures which will enrich, strengthen, and uplift our people and their communities. The term “Building” carries the assumption that we all come together-a collective efficacy working across our differences by focusing on on our commonalities. Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
Many people believe that the ills that plague many black and brown communities can be cured by “reforming” them away. They believe that by “reforming” the police, or even our criminal law system, that will somehow lend itself to… Justice? Safety? Or maybe equity? Sadly, we only need to look to our nation’s history to know that “reform” has never equated to justice, safety, nor equity, for certain communities. Fortunately, more and more people have begun to realize that.
If we want true Justice, completely different from our current system of revenge, we must embrace and engage, unapologetically and unashamedly, in the praxis of Justice. But, it must be a Justice tempered with mercy and forgiveness. Achieving a world where police and prisons are no longer necessary will require from us a certain level of courage as change can be frightening. And fear can be a real hindrance. However, courage is simply the realization that there exist somethings more important than fear.
Abolishing systems, institutions, structures, etc., that deny people their basic freedoms, and human dignity is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, building and creating healthy communities remains much more important.