Last summer, thousands of people across the country gathered in the streets, painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the asphalt, walking with raised fists and screaming through cigarette butts after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and of several other people. Many of the songs were simple: “No justice, no peace!” and “Black lives matter!” But a new statement stands out: “Defund the police”.
It was a moment that Mariame Kaba always knew he was coming.
“Suddenly people got a real interest in abolitionist thought and abolitionist organization,” Kaba said. She said she believed the abolition of the industrial prison complex, sometimes known as PIC, “would one day be popular. I believed more people would want to adopt an abolitionist vision and practice. I always believed. That. But I’m staying I think abolishing PICs is an unpopular vision … and we have a lot of work to do to attract more people. “
Kaba has spent most of his life as an abolitionist of PIC, a person who believes that incarceration, police, surveillance, and social approaches that focus on punishment have no place in a healthy and prosperous. Kaba, popularly known online as ‘prison culture’, has spent decades organizing around abolitionist goals, and has established herself as one of the framework’s foremost advocates, organizers and political educators. in the world.
She is the founder of Project NIA, an advocacy organization that works to end youth incarceration, and she has founded, co-founded or helped lead several other abolitionist campaigns, including Reparations Now – Getting Reparations for Survivors of police violence in Chicago – the Chicago Community Bond Fund, the Chicago Freedom School, and Survived & Punished New York. She was also instrumental in efforts to free Marissa Alexander in Florida and Bresha Meadows in Ohio, women who have been jailed for the past decade after defending themselves against gender-based violence.
Kaba said her phone started ringing over the summer as mainstream media bugged her to make sense of “defund the police” and explain the abolition of PIC. For her, the political framework is a “vision of a restructured society and world”, without prisons, without prisons and without detention centers for immigrants.
“He is trying to create a world where we have everything we need to survive and thrive,” Kaba said. “It includes food and shelter, education, health, art and beauty and everything in between. That is what abolishing PIC as a framework and a practice is.”
Even as wider conversations about abolishing the PIC began, Kaba refused TV appearances and speeches. Instead, she compiled the lessons from her life’s work into a book, “We do this until we break free.”
“It felt like it was the right time to put something in the world,” Kaba said, adding that she wanted to create an accessible introduction to abolition that was timely but not academic. “It was, like, ‘Where’s a book that people who just want to walk through a door and get a feel for the abolition of PIC? What could they pick up from the news? “And I thought this book might be useful for that.”
Kaba’s collection of interviews, essays and other writings give an in-depth look at what it means to be an abolitionist, addressing frequently asked questions such as “If prisons don’t exist, what will we do with the murderers? and rapists? “
The book, edited by author and sociologist Tamara Nopper, has garnered praise from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Andrea Ritchie, and other renowned abolitionist thinkers. As much as it is an educational resource, “We do this until we break free” contextualizes abolition as an attainable and very possible goal. That, Kaba said, is one of his goals for the book, which is scheduled for release on Tuesday by Haymarket Books.
“There are two audiences in mind. One is people who may not know much about the abolition of PIC and are looking for a way to participate in the discussion,” Kaba said. “The second are the current abolitionist organizers who lead abolitionist campaigns. … So you don’t have to be someone who doesn’t know anything, and you don’t have to be someone who knows all.”
Although Kaba is known on Twitter for her ideas and comments, she understands that most of the real work takes place offline. In its various organizational roles, Kaba works with other organizers to support incarcerated people by raising bail and savings funds, coordinating visits and more.
She promotes and facilitates transformative and restorative justice processes and helps campaign for people who face criminal sanctions related to actions like self-defense of abusive partners – also known as criminalized survivors – while researching and publishing toolkits, zines and other resources to educate the public. But as beloved as she is an organizer, Kaba consistently refuses to focus on the spotlight – she often chooses not to be photographed or to appear in videos. For a long time, she even refused to put her name on her writings and resources. Despite being well known, Kaba is a deeply private person.
“I am very conscientious that I am not the main person anywhere,” Kaba said. “I don’t want that. I want to work with other people. I choose very carefully and deliberately how I am going to present myself in the world. I always want to make sure that I always open the door to other people. .. That, to me, is really important. We always need more people. “
She said she also understood the danger of living out her radical politics: “I know a lot of people hate my guts. I’m very clear. I’m not mistaken about what’s really going on there.”
Kaba’s childhood helped lay the foundations for his passion for justice and liberation. Her father worked for the United Nations and participated in the struggle for independence for Guinea, making Kaba the internationalist she is today. Her father spoke openly about her politics, and Kaba was surrounded by books in her family’s house. Her mother was a deeply religious woman who focused on charity and caring – a radical centuries-old political practice that emphasizes solidarity and interdependence to meet people’s basic needs – for Kaba and her people. six siblings. Kaba often traveled with her family and she learned to speak different languages in her multilingual home. Her home was filled with books and African art, only adding to the joy of her family’s visits to Africa.
“I recognize that a large part of my belief in myself as a person was cultivated by the fact that I considered myself black and that was just who I was,” Kaba said. “It was a break for me to go into my pre-teen years and start to really recognize that in this country blackness was viewed negatively and unevenly. But my childhood gave me so many tools to be proud of myself, my family and my lineage. It was a tampon. “
Kaba came of age in the 1980s on the Lower East Side of New York City, where she saw firsthand the societal, racial and economic flaws in society. She was going to a privileged high school on the Upper West Side, which painted a clear picture of the racial disparities between her classmates and her friends on the Lower East Side.
Kaba said she developed her politics through reading and her experiences with family and friends who found themselves in the criminal justice system. His teenage years were marked by a series of incidents of racial violence, including the murder of Michael Stewart, a young black graffiti artist who was beaten to death by New York City police in 1983; the Howard Beach Murder, in which Michael Griffith, 23, was killed by a racist mob in 1986 in Queens; and the death of Eleanor Bumpurs, who was shot dead by police at her home as she attempted to evict him from her New York apartment.
The experiences made Kaba think deeply about racialized violence and how the criminal justice system often perpetuates harm. In the mid-90s she moved from New York to Chicago, where she spent 20 years co-founding several organizations and projects, with a particular focus on gender violence.
“My process was gradual. I always had this sense, from when I was very young, of fairness. I really wanted things to be fair. It wasn’t until my early twenties. that I started to see the patterns of things. I had seen it repeated earlier. I became curious. Why is this the case? I am a sexual assault survivor. I have had people in my life. lives that were caught in the system, “Kaba said.” When I was working in a domestic violence organization … I saw that what we were offering to people was so limited. We don’t attack each other. really at the roots of these forms of violence. A lot of people would say, ‘I don’t want partner in jail. I don’t want to call the cops. It pushed me to learn restorative justice. Between anti-violence work and then learning about restorative justice is what opened my imagination and started to push me towards a horizon abolitionist. “
Restorative justice is a set of practices that aim to redress and prevent harm by meeting the needs of everyone involved in an incident, without calling the police or relying on punitive solutions.
Kaba credits the 2001 Joint Declaration on Gender-Based Violence and Prison Abolition of Critical Resistance and INCITE! – two abolitionist organizations – for its feminist abolitionist policy. Today, Kaba is among those who have provided essential educational resources to those interested in abolishing the PIC.
Kaba said she was not interested in fame or notoriety, but simply in bringing people together in pursuit of an abolitionist future – “abolition is a collective endeavor,” he said. she declared. “It’s going to take and involve everyone.” And although she identifies her work with Reparations Now as one of her greatest accomplishments, Kaba doesn’t think much of her legacy.
“I don’t think about it at all. I always do my best to close the gap between my values and my actions,” Kaba said. “If I died tomorrow, I could tell you right away that I did what I wanted to do. And I tried to do it in a way that brought in other people.
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