Mariame Kaba, an African American and abolitionist campaigner, believes incarceration, policing, surveillance and punishment-driven social approaches have no place in a healthy and thriving society.
Kaba is co-founder of Project NIA, an advocacy organization working to end youth incarceration, and she has founded, co-founded or helped lead several other abolitionist campaigns.
“All of a sudden, people had a real interest in abolitionist thinking and abolitionist organizing,” Kaba said. She said she believed abolishing the prison-industrial-complex, sometimes known as the PIC, “would be popular eventually.
It was my belief that more people would want to engage an abolitionist vision and practice. I’ve always believed that. But I still think PIC abolition is an unpopular view … and we have a lot of work to do to bring more people in.”
Prodded to make sense of “defund the police” and explain PIC abolition, Kaba said the political framework is a “vision of a restructured society and world,” one without prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers.
“It’s trying to bring into being a world where we have everything that we need to survive and thrive,” Kaba said. “That includes food and shelter and education and health and art and beauty and all the things. That’s what PIC abolition is as a framework and a practice.”
“When I was working in a domestic violence organization … I saw what we were offering people was so limited. We’re not actually addressing the roots of these forms of violence. A lot of folks were like, ‘I don’t want my partner in prison. I don’t want to call the cops.’ That pushed me toward learning about restorative justice. Between anti-violence work and then learning about restorative justice, it was that that opened my imagination and started pushing me toward an abolitionist horizon.”
Restorative justice is a set of practices that work to repair and prevent harm by addressing the needs of all involved in an incident, without calling on police or relying on punitive solutions.
It is important to bring people together in pursuit of an abolitionist future — “abolition is a collective project,” she said.