Critical Resistance defines abolition as the goal and practice of ending the prison industrial complex, which the organization describes as “the overlapping interests of government and
industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems.” According to Critical Resistance, abolition is not simply about eliminating
physical prisons, but about transforming the social conditions of oppression that give rise to violent systems of policing and incarceration.
Abolition is the vision.
Abolition examines the root causes of systemic and interpersonal violence and how dominant narratives of policing have become internalized in our collective thinking.
Abolition is an iterative practice that not only seeks to eliminate physical prisons, but also strives to transform the social conditions that lead to and feed oppressive, violent systems of policing,
punishment, and incarceration.
Abolition is the antithesis of surveillance culture.
What distinguishes abolition as a strategy is that it does not assume that the use of carceral technologies and mass
criminalization are inevitable. Drawing from historical lessons and legacies of resistance, an abolitionist approach calls for “a deep rethinking of our reliance on policing and
surveillance to resolve all conflict, violence, and harms within our communities and society. It requires confronting our own sense of safety and the responsibilities of public safety,
said a researcher and policy analyst interviewed for this research. If surveillance is, as one organizer put it, about “constant control of the body,” then movements for abolition ask:
How do we make structures of oppression and control irrelevant?
Organizations are creating successful abolitionist campaigns to fight tech and criminalization. In 2019,
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition (SLSC)
won a hard-fought campaign to eradicate “Chronic Offender Bulletins” (COBs), which the LAPD had used to track so-called persons of interest in low-income communities of color.
SLSC organizes on multiple fronts to abolish all surveillance tools and programs. Toward this end, the coalition has developed what it calls “abolitionist technologies”
—creative interventions using art, media, and performance—to galvanize public support against the state’s deployment and funding of surveillance technology.
In its campaign to end the LAPD’s drone program, SLSC disrupted a police commission meeting using political theater to draw connections between the violence that drones inflict on migrant
children in the US and children in occupied Palestine. SLSC calls for redirecting funding for surveillance programs into community resources instead:
“We urgently need more investments in public housing, education, health centers, youth development programs, healthy food, and steady employment–factors that promote real public safety.”
What distinguishes abolition as a strategy is that it does not assume that the use of carceral technologies and mass criminalization are inevitable.
Instead, abolition begins with the following questions: What resources were not available to communities that led to relying on the state for a sense of safety?
What resources do communities need to build and sustain interdependent networks of care that would make surveillance culture obsolete?
Ultimately, ending the criminalization of communities of color in the US requires dismantling the state’s architecture of surveillance,
policing, and criminalization and the systems upon which it depends.