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Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind - The New York Times
"“I get where you’re coming from,” she said. “But how about this: Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” She was asking them to consider why, as a society, we would choose to model cruelty and vengeance.

As she spoke, she felt the kids icing her out, as if she were a new teacher who had come to proffer some bogus argument and tell them it was for their own good. But Gilmore pressed on, determined. She told them that in Spain, where it’s really quite rare for one person to kill another, the average time you might serve for murdering someone is seven years.

“What? Seven years!” The kids were in such disbelief about a seven-year sentence for murder that they relaxed a little bit. They could be outraged about that, instead of about Gilmore’s ideas.

Gilmore told them that in the unusual event that someone in Spain thinks he is going to solve a problem by killing another person, the response is that the person loses seven years of his life to think about what he has done, and to figure out how to live when released. “What this policy tells me,” she said, “is that where life is precious, life is precious.” Which is to say, she went on, in Spain people have decided that life has enough value that they are not going to behave in a punitive and violent and life-annihilating way toward people who hurt people. “And what this demonstrates is that for people trying to solve their everyday problems, behaving in a violent and life-annihilating way is not a solution.”

The children showed Gilmore no emotion except guarded doubt, expressed in side eye. She kept talking. She believed her own arguments and had given them many years of thought as an activist and a scholar, but the kids were a tough sell. They told Gilmore that they would think about what she said and dismissed her. As she left the room, she felt totally defeated.

At the end of the day, the kids made a presentation to the broader conference, announcing, to Gilmore’s surprise, that in their workshop they had come to the conclusion that there were three environmental hazards that affected their lives most pressingly as children growing up in the Central Valley. Those hazards were pesticides, the police and prisons.

“Sitting there listening to the kids stopped my heart,” Gilmore told me. “Why? Abolition is deliberately everything-ist; it’s about the entirety of human-environmental relations. So, when I gave the kids an example from a different place, I worried they might conclude that some people elsewhere were just better or kinder than people in the South San Joaquin Valley — in other words, they’d decide what happened elsewhere was irrelevant to their lives. But judging from their presentation, the kids lifted up the larger point of what I’d tried to share: Where life is precious, life is precious. They asked themselves, ‘Why do we feel every day that life here is not precious?’ In trying to answer, they identified what makes them vulnerable.”"



"The National Employment Law Project estimates that about 70 million people have a record of arrest or conviction, which often makes employment difficult. Many end up in the informal economy, which has been absorbing a huge share of labor over the last 20 years. “Gardener, home health care, sweatshops, you name it,” Gilmore told me. “These people have a place in the economy, but they have no control over that place.” She continued: “The key point here, about half of the work force, is to think not only about the enormity of the problem, but the enormity of the possibilities! That so many people could benefit from being organized into solid formations, could make certain kinds of demands, on the people who pay their wages, on the communities where they live. On the schools their children go to. This is part of what abolitionist thinking should lead us to.”

“Abolition,” as a word, is an intentional echo of the movement to abolish slavery. “This work will take generations, and I’m not going to be alive to see the changes,” the activist Mariame Kaba told me. “Similarly I know that our ancestors, who were slaves, could not have imagined my life.” And as Kaba and Davis and Richie and Gilmore all told me, unsolicited and in almost identical phrasing, it is not serendipity that the movement of prison abolition is being led by black women. Davis and Richie each used the term “abolition feminism.” “Historically, black feminists have had visions to change the structure of society in ways that would benefit not just black women but everyone,” Davis said. She also talked about Du Bois and the lessons drawn from his conception of what was needed: not merely a lack of slavery but a new society, utterly transformed. “I think the fact that so many people now do call themselves prison abolitionists,” Michelle Alexander told me, “is a testament to the fact that an enormous amount of work has been done, in academic circles and in grass-root circles. Still, if you just say ‘prison abolition’ on CNN, you’re going to have a lot of people shaking their heads. But Ruthie has always been very clear that prison abolition is not just about closing prisons. It’s a theory of change.”

When Gilmore encounters an audience that is hostile to prison abolition, an audience that supposes she’s naïvely suggesting that those in prison are there for smoking weed, and wants to tell her who’s really locked up, what terrible things they’ve done, she tells them she’s had a loved one murdered and isn’t there to talk about people who smoke weed. But as she acknowledged to me, “Part of the whole story that can’t be denied is that people are tired of harm, they are tired of grief and they are tired of anxiety.” She described to me conversations she’d had with people who are glad their abusive husband or father has been removed from their home, and would not want it any other way. Of her own encounter with murder, she’s more philosophical, even if the loss still seems raw.

“I had this heart-to-heart with my aunt, the mother of my murdered cousin, John. On the surface, we were talking about something else, but we were really talking about him. I said, ‘Forgive and forget.’ And she replied, ‘Forgive, but never forget.’ She was right: The conditions under which the atrocity occurred must change, so that they can’t occur again.”

For Gilmore, to “never forget” means you don’t solve a problem with state violence or with personal violence. Instead, you change the conditions under which violence prevailed. Among liberals, a kind of quasi-Christian idea about empathy circulates, the idea that we have to find a way to care about the people who’ve done bad. To Gilmore this is unconvincing. When she encountered the kids in Fresno who hassled her about prison abolition, she did not ask them to empathize with the people who might hurt them, or had. She instead asked them why, as individuals, and as a society, we believe that the way to solve a problem is by “killing it.” She was asking if punishment is logical, and if it works. She let the kids find their own way to answer."
prison  incarceration  prisons  2019  mariamekaba  ruthwilsongilmore  geography  policy  justice  prisonabolition  abolitionists  restorativejustice  socialjustice  transformativejustice  activism  punishment  vengeance  angeladavis  mikedavis  cedricobinson  barbarasmith  prisonindustrialcomplex  neilsmith  carceralgeography  bethrichie  society  rachelkushner 
4 weeks ago by robertogreco
Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba: podcast & transcript
"Does anybody go to their local prison and say, "Tell me how many people have left here and are okay and aren't doing things in the community." Nothing. You don't ask the cops for results. We don't ask anybody for results. They're not responsible for coming with an evaluation plan to show how they've used the money. They get unlimited money every single year, more and more and more money, no questions asked. How come that system gets to operate with impunity in that kind of way? And you're asking nonprofit groups on the ground who sometimes are not even nonprofits, just community groups in their neighborhoods, moms sitting on chairs... When they are trying to get a $10,000 grant, to show that they're going to end all violence within five years.

So the whole entire system is set up to actually be just unbalanced in terms of where the energy should be put, in terms of telling that system that is doing the wrong thing, rather than advancing the alternative.

CHRIS HAYES: And it's also not doing... People are victims and perpetrators of —

MARIAME KABA: Both.

CHRIS HAYES: Violence —

MARIAME KABA: All the time.

CHRIS HAYES: It's extremely important for us, in the stories we tell about violence and crime, to basically have cops and robbers.

MARIAME KABA: Good people.

CHRIS HAYES: There's a category over here... And the fact is all people —

MARIAME KABA: We're all both.

CHRIS HAYES: Are all both.

MARIAME KABA: That's very uncomfortable to talk about loudly.

CHRIS HAYES: Are perpetrators and —

MARIAME KABA: That we all harm people and we've all been harmed. Now the degrees are different, our accountability is different. But we're all both. Danielle Sered has a new book out right now, who runs Common Justice here in Brooklyn. And Common Justice is the only program I know of that works with adults to divert adults from prison to the community for violent crimes. So they're doing it. The thing, "I can't wrap my brain around..." Well, they're doing it. Okay? Are they getting $172 billion to do this? No.

What Danielle says in her new book is that no one enters violence for the first time having committed it. Meaning that something happened to you that led to that other form of violence of you either lashing out, using violence, because that's how you learned how to be whatever. No one enters violence for the first time having committed it.

And just that very important thing should condition all of our responses to everything. And it's not. It doesn't. It's the binary. You did something wrong. You're a bad person. You did something ... We all do bad things. We all do bad things. Whether it's out in the open and we acknowledge those things, or we're keeping it to ourselves because we know it's bad and we don't want to be ostracized or disposed of things like that. So we all do that. And I just think that's what transformative and restorative justice allow. They allow for people to be both.

CHRIS HAYES: But there's also... Just to push back slightly —

MARIAME KABA: Of course.

CHRIS HAYES: There's a hierarchy of harm, you know what I mean?

MARIAME KABA: There is. We talked about that. We have different levels of bad things, degrees of bad things, but let me just tell you also, the people who are least likely to cause the same harm again are people who've killed somebody. I know nobody wants to hear that, but it's because it's very hard to kill people. Contrary to what television tells you about serial killers, those images of crime, those crime shows that have literally polluted so many people's brains in this country.

Contrary to that, if you kill somebody, it is such a massively traumatic thing to have done to another person. Unless you are somebody who is evil without any sort of conscience, you are holding that the rest of your life. Go to any prison. And I've been to many, and I've actually taught in prisons, particularly a young people in juvenile facilities. When somebody killed somebody else, the level of remorse for that is something that is inexplicable to somebody who hasn't experienced it and done that.

So this notion that people are just "sociopaths," which I don't like to use that term either because it's very complicated and not directly linked in terms of mental health and violence. The ideas that people offer out there in the general public often take away that idea, the idea of that harm being so traumatic to the person who harmed you, too.

CHRIS HAYES: I mean the literature of army training, this is this sort of thing that happens. There's this famous study and I think it happens in World War II, in which they find out that a huge amount of soldiers are never firing their guns.

MARIAME KABA: Because it's so hard to kill somebody.

CHRIS HAYES: And they're like, "Oh my God, what's going on?" And the answer is, it's actually very hard—

MARIAME KABA: To kill somebody.

CHRIS HAYES: To overcome. And the training in the United States Armed Services uses that to get around that natural moral resistance that we have.

MARIAME KABA: As human beings, it is hard for us to kill other people. That sounds like an anathema.

CHRIS HAYES: It does. Because the whole idea of the model is thin blue line. That basically we're always on the edge of chaos, anarchy, and violence. And that the cops and the system are the thing that ... that’s literally what they say.

MARIAME KABA: Are the thing that stops it from happening. They're the line between us and savagery and anarchy. And that is a lie, because we know that by talking to people who've harmed other people very seriously, who often are desperate for an attempt to try to be accountable for that. They want a chance to talk to the families of the people they harmed because they want to talk to those people, because accountability is a form of healing. To say you did something and it was terrible, and now you're serving 50 years in prison with no chance of getting out. You want to be able to go to sleep at night.

CHRIS HAYES: I 1,000 percent agree with you that the storytelling and the policy rationale of the actual system is built out from the most extreme examples outward, right? So the pop cultural representations, the way we think about it like monsters, sociopaths, these immoral remorseless killers.

MARIAME KABA: But the question is, what about the remorseless?

CHRIS HAYES: That's where I'm going.

MARIAME KABA: And my thing is, I'm going to tell you right now that the remorseless killer who is caught is probably currently locked up for life. Right? Because that's where they're going to end up. My thing is within the new paradigm of a world that I envision, because so many things will have been different, because people will have had their needs met from the time they're a kid.

CHRIS HAYES: How did that remorseless killer get built?

MARIAME KABA: How did they get built? And so my thing is, I think we're going to shift the paradigm in the end so that we have less "remorseless" people. And so we're going to find a different way to handle those people who cannot in good conscience be within our regular society. But it doesn't have to be a prison. It doesn't have to be the prison as we've created it.

So that's the answer for me to that, which is we're going to figure it out. We're going to figure it out. But for now, most people who are locked up are not those people. For now, most people who are...

CHRIS HAYES: That is — I want to just be clear on the record — I 1,000 percent agree with that.

MARIAME KABA: So let's let all those people out tomorrow and then let's argue over the rest, while we're changing the other things that happen. And I'm going to say one last thing about this, which is the reason I can't get behind the right's criminal punishment reform models is not because they're on the right. It's because they refuse to fund and address all the things on the front end that would make the back end not possible. Because what they're doing is saying, "We need shorter sentences for some people, not everybody. We need a better re-entry system by which people get training for jobs that don't exist based on not having been educated from the time they were in the fourth grade in the first place."

So we just fundamentally have an ideological completely different view of how the world operates. In that way, I don't want Newt Gingrich out there doing criminal punishment reform. That is very antithetical to most of the reformers you're seeing out there right now. Who value the "bipartisan" stupid policy.

No. I want them to fund our schools, to allow us to have a planet. I want them to be able to give universal health care to people, because I believe that all those things, will make all the other stuff that were "working on" in criminal punishment reform less likely to occur."
mariamekaba  chrishayes  prisons  incarceration  police  lawenforcement  2019  prisonabolition  abolition  law  legal  restorativejustice  punishment  elizabethwarren  donaldtrump  wrath  accountability  justice  socialjustice  transformativejustice  crime  prisonindustrialcomplex  violence  paulmanafort  politics  policy  anger  remorse  hierarchy  systemsthinking  inequality  race  racism  nyc  education  mindchanging  domesticviolence  patriarchy  feminism 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
Justice in America Episode 20: Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition - The Appeal
"On the last episode of Season 2, Josie and Clint discuss prison abolition with Mariame Kaba, one of the leading organizers in the fight against America’s criminal legal system and a contributing editor for The Appeal. Mariame discusses her own journey into this work, provides perspective on the leaders in this space, and helps us reimagine what the future of this system could look like. Mariame’s way of thinking about this system, and the vision of possibilities she provides, is an excellent send-off to our second season."

[full transcript on page]

"I grew up in New York City and came of age in 1980s. So, um, when I was coming of age in the city, it was kind of the early eighties were a fraught moment for many different kinds of reasons. The tail end of deinstitutionalization. So the first time where we actually started seeing homeless people outside on the streets. Michael Stewart was killed by the police in 1983 which was a very big moment for me. I was 12 years old and that really impacted me. My, um, older siblings were very animated by that fact. Um, crack cocaine is coming into being, this is the time of ACT UP. Um, this is when Reagan comes to power. It was a very tumultuous period and moment of time. So coming of age in that time led me to start organizing for racial justice as a teenager. And I also came of age during the time when there was the Bensonhurst case where a young black man was pursued and then killed by a mob of white young people who were close to my age because he supposedly talked to a white girl in a way that people were not happy about. The Howard Beach incident comes up in 1986. There was a lot happening during my teenagers in the city and I did not have an analysis of the criminal punishment system at that time. I just saw a lot of my friends, I grew up on the Lower East Side, so a lot of my friends ending up in juvie and then in prison and I didn’t, and the cops were always in our neighborhood harassing people and I did not really put all these things together, but I had a frame that was a racial justice frame at a very young age, mainly because of my parents. My mom and my dad. Um, my father, who’d been a socialist in the anti-colonial struggles in Guinea. Like I had a politics at home, but all I understood was like they were coming after black people in multiple different kinds of ways. It wasn’t until I was older and I had come back from college, um, I went to school in Montreal, Canada, came back to the city right after, I was 20 years old when I graduated from college, came back to the city and got a job working in Harlem at the, um, Countee Cullen Library and then ended up teaching in Harlem. And it was there that I found out that all of my students were also getting enmeshed in the criminal punishment system. But I still didn’t have a really, like I didn’t have a politic about it. It wasn’t until a very tragic story that occurred with one of my students who ended up killing another one of my students that I became very clearly aware of the criminal punishment system cause they were going to try to, um, basically try him as an adult. The person who did the killing, he was only 16. And it was that incident that kind of propelled me into trying to learn about what the system was, what it was about. And it concurrently, it was also the time when I started to search for restorative justice because it occurred to me, in watching the family of my student who had been killed react to the situation, that they did not want punishment for the person who killed their daughter. They were, uh, they wanted some accountability and they were also talking about the fact that he did not want him charged as an adult."



"people who are practitioners of restorative justice see restorative justice as a philosophy and ideology, a framework that is much broader than the criminal punishment system. It is about values around how we treat each other in the world. And it’s about an acknowledgement that because we’re human beings, we hurt each other. We cause harm. And what restorative justice proposes is to ask a series of questions. Mostly the three that are kind of advanced by Howard Zehr, who is the person who about 40 years ago popularized the concept of restorative justice in the United States. He talks about since we want to address the violation in the relationships that were broken as a result of violence and harm, that you want to ask a question about who was hurt, that that is important to ask, that you want to ask then what are the obligations? What are the needs that emerge from that hurt? And then you want to ask the question of whose job is it to actually address the harm? And so because of that, those questions of what happened, which in the current adversarial system are incidental really, you know, it’s who did this thing, what rules were broken? How are we going to actually punish the people who broke the rules? And then whose role is it to do that? It’s the state’s. In restorative justice it’s: what happened? Talk about what happened, share what happened, discuss in a, you know, kind of relational sense what happened. And then it’s what are your needs? Would do you need as a result of this? Because harms engender needs that must be met, right? So it asks you to really think that through. And then it says, you know, how do we repair this harm and who needs to be at the table for that to happen. It invites community in. It invites other people who were also harmed because we recognize that the ripples of harm are beyond the two individuals that were involved, it’s also the broader community and the society at large. So that’s what restorative justice, at its base, is really the unit of concern is the broken relationship and the harm. Those are the focus of what we need to be addressing. And through that, that obviously involves the criminal punishment system. In many ways RJ has become co-opted by that system. So people were initially proponents of restorative justice have moved their critique away from using RJ and talking about instead transformative justice. That’s where you see these breakdowns occurring because the system has taken on RJ now as quote unquote “a model for restitution.”"



"Restorative justice and transformative justice, people say they’re interchangeable sometimes, they are not. Because transformative justice people say that you cannot actually use the current punishing institutions that exist. Whereas RJ now is being run in prisons, is being run in schools. Institutions that are themselves violently punishing institutions are now taking that on and running that there. And what people who are advocates of transformative justice say is RJ, because of its focus on the individual, the intervention is on individuals, not the system. And what transformative justice, you know, people, advocates and people who have kind of begun to be practitioners in that have said is we have to also transform the conditions that make this thing possible. And restoring is restoring to what? For many people, the situation that occurred prior to the harm had lots of harm in it. So what are we restoring people to? We have to transform those conditions and in order to do that we have to organize, to shift the structures and the systems and that will also be very important beyond the interpersonal relationships that need to be mended."



"I reject the premise of restorative and transformative justice being alternatives to incarceration. I don’t reject the premise that we should prefigure the world in which we want to live and therefore use multiple different kinds of ways to figure out how to address harm. So here’s what I mean, because people are now saying things like the current criminal punishment system is broken, which it is not. It is actually operating exactly as designed. And that’s what abolition has helped us to understand is that the system is actually relentlessly successful at targeting the people it wants and basically getting the outcomes that wants from that. So if you understand that to be the case, then you are in a position of very much understanding that every time we use the term “alternative to incarceration” what comes to your mind?"



"You’re centering the punishing system. When I say alternative to prison, all you hear is prison. And what that does is that it conditions your imagination to think about the prison as the center. And what we’re saying as transformative and restorative justice practitioners is that the prison is actually an outcome of a broader system of violence and harm that has its roots in slavery and before colonization. And here we are in this position where all you then think about is replacing what we currently use prisons for, for the new thing. So what I mean by that is when you think of an alternative in this moment and you’re thinking about prison, you just think of transposing all of the things we currently consider crimes into that new world."



"It has to fit that sphere. But here’s what I, I would like to say lots of crimes are not harmful to anybody."



"And it’s also that we’re in this position where not all crimes are harms and not all harms are actually crimes. And what we are concerned with as people who practice restorative and transformative justice is harm across the board no matter what. So I always tell people when they say like, ‘oh, we’re having an alternative to incarceration or alternative to prison.’ I’m like, okay, what are you decriminalizing first? Do we have a whole list of things? So possession of drugs is a criminal offense right now. I don’t want an alternative to that. I want you to leave people the hell alone."



"Transformative justice calls on us to shatter binaries of all different types. Most of the people who currently are locked up, for example, in our prisons and jails, are people who are victims of crime first. They’ve been harmed and have harmed other people. The “perpetrator,” quote unquote… [more]
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9 weeks ago by robertogreco

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