NUCNC explains differences between police reform and abolition


Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

One protestor holds up a sign that reads “Abolish NUPD.” NU Community Not Cops’ Sunday teach-in focused on distinguishing between reformist and abolitionist ideas.

Isabelle Sarraf, Campus Editor

Northwestern Community Not Cops discussed the differences between police reform and abolition at a Sunday teach-in in collaboration with For Members Only.

NUCNC has called for the abolition of University Police and has been hosting daily actions since Oct. 12. Sunday’s event focused on defining abolition and laying the groundwork for the work the student-led group hopes to do on campus ahead of abolitionist Angela Davis’s virtual visit at FMO’s State of the Black Union this Thursday.

A central tenet of abolitionist thought, one organizer stated, is that police do not keep the community safe. Rather, she said safety should come from the continued building and development of strong relationships and connected communities.

“Across the board, increased police presences usually actually correlate with increased unrest and increased lack of safety, as reported by communities,” she said. “Police were not created to protect or serve communities, and they do not serve in this capacity to this day.”

With about 100 participants, organizers led a game of Kahoot in which audience members were given a concept and had to decide whether it was a goal of police reform or abolition.

Body cameras, increased training, civilian review or oversight boards and the prosecution of police officers who have killed or abused civilians were among ideas of police reformists. The consequences of these policies, an organizer said, are that they aren’t transformative, they don’t require healing and restitution for harm done and the root cause isn’t addressed, leaving room for harms to remanifest.

Suspending paid administrative leave, withholding pensions, holding police liable for misconduct settlements and prioritizing spending on health, education and affordable housing were listed as ideas held by abolitionists.

One danger of reformist practice is the prison system, which an organizer said was introduced as a reformist alternative to forms of corporal punishment. Instead of physically punishing people, she said penitentiaries became a reformist way of dealing with a problem instead of solving it.

“In looking to reform a broken system, we instead created an entirely new apparatus of harm, which has caused even more subsequent damage and further made the problem worse,” she said.

In addition to dismantling the police, one organizer said abolitionists demand reparations, restorative justice and life-giving institutions. Abolition involves adopting a lifestyle and practices that she said focus on the goals of the movement.

Abolitionists do not believe in alternatives to police, one organizer said. She compared the police system to a house with a weak foundation, offering radical change from the ground-up as a solution rather than mending the symptoms of the system.

“For a house to work, you need to have a strong foundation for everything on top of that to work,” she said. “So if your house has a bad foundation, no matter how many rooms you build, walls you paint, decorations you hang — none of that’s going to change the fact that you have an unstable house, and it’s going to crumble.”

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