Love and Healing Through Abolition
Updated: Nov 10
The definition of Abolition is: the action or an act of abolishing a system, practice, or institution. It is also in relation to the movement to end enslavement. Today, the Abolition movement focuses to end the carceral systems that replaced enslavement such as prison and policing institutions; the reformed versions of enslavement. But knowing what Abolition is allows us to understand that it doesn't necessarily point only to prison and policing institutions. Policing bodies and criminalizing actions happens in psychiatric facilities, hospitals, schools, shelters; anywhere power structures are present, carceral mindsets exist.
"Prison abolition isn't just about the physical aspect of incarceration, but also the mental aspect of incarceration." - Vesper Moore
Data shows us that over 70% of those who have been murdered by police in so-called Canada had some form of severe mental illness or were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of their deaths. Even with the addition of "Police and Crisis Teams" (PACT) and "Mobile Response Teams" (MRT), it has not stopped murders at the hands of police from happening. Many of those killed by police are also racialized. For example: Black people in Toronto make up 9% of the population but represent nearly 40% of the victims killed by police. In Winnipeg, Indigenous Peoples represent on average 11% of the population but account for nearly two thirds of victims killed by police. With these facts, Abolition forces us to understand systemic racism and the power structures that allow it to thrive.
Through my work as a budding abolitionist on the frontlines, I have been able to see first hand how healthcare "professionals" treat those most marginalized in our society. I've witnessed a government-funded outreach team leave someone experiencing a drug poisoning in the street because they didn't like they way they acted in their last interaction. I've witnessed staff of shelter systems deny access to people during extreme cold warnings. I've heard the countless stories of medical racism and people losing their lives by negligent healthcare staff who operate from a place of bias. These situations are all made possible through the power structures that exist within these spaces.
Abolition is creating sustainable, preventative strategies to the harm we face. Preventative strategies could look like providing access to appropriate mental health services where people have the space to work through their trauma. It could look like restorative justice programs that work to heal individuals and communities rather than push them through the legal system in isolation. It could look like providing new mothers and families with necessary support systems to create healthy parenting environments. It could look like replacing police with unarmed, community-based teams who have the experience and the knowledge to de-escalate situations without resorting to murder because these are our friends, families and neighbours.
What often happens, instead, is an "us vs. them" approach through institutions that de-centers the needs of the People. Those with no connection to the communities being most impacted, or those living within proximity to us (having a Black friend, a Black spouse, etc.), approach with the idea that they know what's best for us and that we are nothing but receivers of what they have to provide. They do not see us as being part of the community, or make an attempt to be in accompliceship with us. Whatever strategies are taken to help improve mental health collectively must be done through community-based initiatives; by the People, for the People. The first step in creating safe, healthy and loving communities is to give power to those most affected. No one knows what we need better than us.
At the very core of this work is love, which starts with dismantling the carcerality within yourself. Abolition requires revolutionary thoughts and actions in order to build communities of safety and care; it's a constant practice that involves daily check-ins with yourself and others. There is no room for individualism in Abolition because it depends on the dedication of the People to care for one another. It's an investment in the well-being of all people, animals, land, and water. Abolition is love, care, joy, imagination, possibilities. There is no freedom and liberation without Abolition.
"We must commit to dismantling old systems and building new ones if we are to generate a future in which we all know we can belong, be human, and be held." - Adrienne Maree Brown
How do we determine who is and isn't deserving of love? One could say that a lack of love and feeling love is a great factor in the harm people may choose to participate in; for example: adults with childhood trauma but are without access to the necessary support required in order to resolve that trauma is much more a societal failure than it is a personal one, which means the responsibility is on all of us to ensure that person has the tools they need to face these challenges, forcing us to see the humanity in one another and creating spaces where healing is actually possible.
"We’re not only working to abolish the prison-industrial complex (of which police systems are a part). We’re also working to build communities of care. We’re working to see that folks’ needs are met. We’re working to reduce violence and other harm. All of that comes from a place of love for the people." - Stephanie D. Keene
Abolition has been and always will be rooted in love, unconditional love. That's why I feel it's so hard to achieve, because most of us can barely provide that for ourselves, let alone others. We are only just at a time where we feel supported or confident enough to call out our abusers, demanding accountability from those who harm us. But full practice of Abolition requires a process in which there is community for those abusers to fall back on after accountability has been taken, and that's the part we aren't ready for - allowing ourselves to still see the human in someone who may have never seen the human in us.
"What if abolition isn’t a shattering thing, not a crashing thing, not a wrecking ball event? What if abolition is something that sprouts out of the wet places in our eyes, the broken places in our skin, the waiting places in our palms, the tremble holding in my mouth when I turn to you? What if abolition is something that grows? What if abolishing the prison industrial complex is the fruit of our diligent gardening, building and deepening of a movement to respond to the violence of the state and the violence of our communities with sustainable, transformative love?" - Alexis Pauline Gumbs
While most people see Abolition as a destructive action, unable to imagine what could take the place of the systems we currently rely on, it's important to understand that the foundation for something "new" has already been built. Grassroots movements around the globe are creating and sustaining the very structures necessary for our communities to not only survive, but thrive - even under our current conditions of capitalism - where the basic needs like food, shelter and healthcare are met for everyone. Black and non-Black Indigenous Peoples lived without these harmful systems and there will be a time where we will live without them again.
Abolition is a process of radical, transformative healing; of ourselves and of each other. As we can already tell when it comes to the backlash received by those who do not fully understand Abolition, this process requires reaching a level of emotional awareness to be able to look beyond the societal norms of what we have been conditioned to know, and understand that another world is possible. Abolition forces us to look at the ways we have been complicit in the harm and finding new ways of responding and reacting to the world around us. Abolition is a preventive strategy to harm while also being a care-based approach to when harm has been done.
How can we heal when the violence remains ongoing? The state understands this, and uses it against us every day. The more we are broken down through systemic barriers, segregated from one another and criminalized for our acts of survival, the less we have at a chance for personal and communal healing. Our current structures of power are designed to promote a sense of individualization where one places oneself above another. Abolition interrupts those power structures to bring us together in community and recognize our interconnectedness which allows us then to see each others humanity, asking for accountability, and approaching each situation and person involved with care.
"The prison permeates our schools, our workplaces, our homes. The state does not only surveil, police, criminalize, isolate, control, and punish us, but we practice those ways of relating to each other, ourselves, and the more-than-human world." - Ki'amber Thompson
Restorative Justice addresses a specific conflict between individuals or groups within a community, while Transformative Justice strives to use conflict as an opportunity to address larger socio-political issues. Restorative and Transformative Justice practices seek safety and accountability without relying on punishment or alienation. It acknowledges individual experiences in a white supremacist, capitalist society and aims to bring healing to all parties and prevent future harms. Restorative and Transformative Justice practices strengthens relationships and works to repair instead of the current programs which isolates an individual on the account that their actions are an individual failure rather than a societal failure.
Questions to ask yourself: Do police and prisons prevent crime? Address the underlying causes? Heal and transform individuals or society? Is punishment true justice? Do current systems empower victims? Does it provide safety and security? Does punishment empower individuals to take accountability and learn?
"A system that never addresses the "why" behind a harm never actually contains the harm itself. The logic of using policing, punishment, and prison has not proven to address the systemic causes of violence." - Mariame Kaba
The world, and every living within it, demands us to make these changes for our survival and sustainability. The systems we currently rely on are unable to carry us to a future where freedom and liberation exist. We are being asked to connect with something deeper than surface level, reconnecting to community-based practices used prior to colonization where maintaining harmony with each other, the Earth and the Water was second nature. Of course, the changes we seek will not be something we come to know of or see in our lifetime - at least, that's what I believe. But the work we do now will become additional building blocks for future generations just as our ancestors left us the foundation. We commit ourselves to these changes because we know we deserve it.
There will be a day when humans look back on the history of today and think it absurd the fight people had to face for the most basic of needs such as clean water and accessible housing. They'll look back on the criminalization of those who demanded abolition of harmful institutions, decades of research supporting its claims, and wonder why it took us so long. They'll see a time when being anti-fascist was extreme, and those who resisted annihilation became targeted by the state. They'll see how we responded to a global pandemic, allowing people to suffer and die so the capitalist gears could continue to turn and profit. And as they read about our lives, I hope for them to be the ones who learn from history and do everything in their power to avoid it from ever repeating.
(Blog cover image from Emerge.)
"Taylor McNallie dedicates her time to seeking racial justice and collective liberation through education and hands-on work with both marginalized communities and allies alike. As the co-creator of Inclusive Canada, she provides education on anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. She is also a member of the Walls Down Collective which provides access to no-barrier resources and care such as Harm Reduction, free food programs and an alternative to local policing."
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