Colin Kaepernick has fully come to grasp that the only way to get ahead of the establishment is to build something of your own. This revelation led the former football player turned activist to launch Kaepernick Publishing in 2019, with the mission to elevate a new generation of writers with diverse views and voices to help build a better and more just world. Now the publishing house is releasing its first powerful offering, Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons. A collection of more than 30 essays, the anthology examines the anti-Black roots of policing and imprisonment. Writers and activists such as Mariame Kaba, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kiese Laymon, Derecka Purnell, and others share their thoughts and findings through historical exposition, researched data, and personal essays—some that take us through their own firsthand realities of being incarcerated. Artist Emory Douglas, best known as the former minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, designed the striking cover art.
In the book’s intro, Kaepernick shares how he sharpened his own views after studying the writings of political activists like Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, and Angela Y. Davis, who pens the book’s foreword. The University of California professor emerita jumps right in with a declaration that policing and punishment are firmly steeped in racism and that any attempt to undo the harm without scrutinizing its systemic roots is doomed to fail.
Abolition is divided into four parts, with the first two exploring the anti-Black history of policing and prisons. That includes Hollywood’s role in helping to support these violent systems. In Mark Anthony Neal’s essay “The Myth of the Good Cop,” he unpacks the concept of “copaganda.” It’s when mainstream media legitimizes police officers’ bad behavior toward Black and Brown communities by presenting fair and hardworking cops (who are mainly white) as justifiably dealing with bad “Black criminals,” who deserve brutal treatment.
Another powerful essay is a conversation between Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a founding member of the Black Unity Council who has been incarcerated since 1972, and his son, Russell Shoatz III. With his father’s health ailing, Shoatz III is demanding that his dad, a political prisoner of war, be set free.
The book also takes on how decades of police reform have failed society. Naomi Murakawa, associate professor of African American Studies at Princeton, raises the alarm that reforming the police often means rewarding them with greater budgets for more biased training, hiring, and hardware–none of which actually challenge the core violence inherent to policing. Other essayists delve into the systems that force repression and genocide on poor people, youth, queer communities, and women, especially those of color.
The book’s argument is clear: the anti-Black ideologies on which policing and prisons are based are counterproductive to human vitality; and that the existing reform is antithetical to social transformation.
To that end, the book’s last essay, written by educator and activist Mariame Kaba, explains how everyone can put abolitionist notions in motion. She advocates that change starts with transforming our own beliefs and expanding our imagination of what a different world can be.
Abolition is designed to be a “blueprint to sharpen senses…inspiring all to take action to build a world without and beyond police and prisons.” Each essay ends with reader’s guide questions that can be used in the classroom, or among any group yearning to understand centuries of racist policing.
“I’m proud to have edited this collection and hope it adds to the chorus of voices calling for a world without and beyond policing and prisons,” Kaepernick shared on his Twitter account back in May. He stresses that this book doesn’t lay out all the answers. But he believes it can foster an environment of provocative questions and open up radical possibilities to lead to a future where all communities can thrive.
Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons is available now, in print, e-book, and audio formats.