Writings on Palestine

As the IDF military operations in Gaza following the attacks of October 7 continue unabated, and the death toll among Palestinians gets close to 29,000 people (or about 1 in 100), our need to understand the roots of this conflict becomes ever more urgent. For this reason, we are making freely available to our readers a selection of articles published over the years in Social Justice about the Palestinian question.

• The “Just War” Theory: Application to United States and Israeli Militarism, by Daniel C. Maguire (SJ 37/2-3, 2010-2011)

• The Effects of Israeli Violations During the Second Uprising “Intifada” on Palestinian Health Conditions, by Lama Jamjoun (SJ 29-3, 2002)

• Globalization, the Palestinian Economy, and the “Peace Process” by Adel Samara (SJ 27-4, 2000)

• Palestine and Israel: Perils of a Neoliberal Repressive Pax Americana, by Joel Beinin (SJ 25/4, 1998)

• Israeli Control and Palestinian Resistance, by Fouad Moughrabi (SJ 19/3, 1992)

• Introductory Comments: On Responsibility, by Paul Takagi (SJ 17/1, 1990)

• Politics and Crime in Israel: Reactions from the Home Front, by Stan Cohen (SJ 17/1, 1990)

• Echoes of the Past in the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, by Osha Newman (SJ 17/1, 1990)

• Control of the Palestinians in the Jewish State: A Review Essay, by Elia Zureik (SJ 17/1, 1990)

• • •

Mike Davis and Betita Martinez: A Revolutionary Encounter

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Image: Mike David, illustration by Carolyn Ramos for Voice of San Diego; Betita Martinez, art by Favianna Rodríguez.

In loving memory of two dear friends of the journal—Mike Davis, who joined our Advisory Board back in 1989, and Elizabeth Betita Martinez, who has inspired all of us throughout her life—we share a memory of Betita written by Mike for our special issue dedicated to the Chicana activist.

Elizabeth Occupies Wall Street

by Mike Davis*

I first met Betita—then known to me as Elizabeth Sutherland—in 1964 when she was working with Friends of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in New York City. She played a brief but seminal role in my political education and was one of the chief organizers of a pioneering anti-apartheid demonstration that might also be characterized in retrospect as the first “Occupy Wall Street.”

Todd Gitlin, a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and his friend Chris Hobson developed the strategy of the Chase Manhattan demonstration. Inspired by the pioneering “power structure” research of SNCC (notably Jack Minnis’s 1964 document, “The Care and Feeding of Power Structures”) that had exposed the deep involvement of northern banks and corporations in the Mississippi economy, Gitlin and Hobson had discovered the central role played by David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan as a “partner in apartheid” during the economic crisis following the massacre of demonstrators by South African police at Sharpeville in 1960.

Rockefeller organized a consortium of banks to rescue Pretoria’s credit standing and preclude any international boycott. Chase Manhattan, moreover, continued a bloody and lucrative business with the Oppenheimers (Anglo-American Ltd.) and the other “kings of the Rand.” (The recent massacre of almost 50 striking platinum miners at Marikana is an eerie reprise of Sharpeville, 52 years on.)

Todd proposed the action to the December 1964 SDS National Council meeting in New York with the explicit hope of collaborating with SNCC. Despite the fact that I was the greenest and dumbest person in the New York national office of SDS (I had just been expelled from Reed College in Oregon), I was assigned to coordinate the action. Although I had been active in San Diego in the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) during high school, I was a total virgin vis-à-vis left organizations and their Cold War politics.

From the very beginning, we had terrific support from the progressive American Committee on Africa—especially George Hauser, Kim Bush, and Judy Bennion—as well as from individual members of the African National Congress (ANC), some of whom were in New York performing as actors and musicians at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. Also very supportive was a brilliant young diplomat from the Tanzanian mission to the United Nations, who was very close to Malcolm X’s recently formed Organization of Afro-American Unity. The OAU, of course, was trying to internationalize the freedom movement in the United States.

My Tanzanian friend wanted to arrange a discussion between SDS and Malcolm X, and we had a preliminary meeting with Malcolm’s friend, the extraordinary Black nationalist pioneer Lewis Michaux at his famed African National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem. But within a few days America’s “black shining prince” had been murdered.

It was one of the coldest winters in New York in a generation, and since the SDS staff was paid only $25 a week, all of which was expended on rent in a shared coldwater studio apartment in the Bowery, I seldom took the subway and spent most of my time on Arctic sidewalks walking up and down Manhattan. I was frozen and clueless.

At this point, in late January or early February 1965, my fairy godmother, Elizabeth Sutherland, rescued me and the Chase Manhattan project. She was simply dazzling, as were the tough, sophisticated kids in Friends of SNCC who were readying their “new nonviolence” to put under siege the federal courthouse in Foley Square and the Johnson administration in Washington, DC.

Another flashback: whatever his subsequent sins as mayor of DC, Marion Berry will always be my hero for supreme coolness under fire. After SNCC had jammed the revolving cold weather doors at Foley Square, enraged federal marshals had taken Berry inside and given him the third degree with telephone books and the like. I was standing at a side door with Clark Kissinger—then national secretary of SDS—and a New York Times reporter when Berry was hurled out on the icy sidewalk by marshals. He slid half a block—we assumed seriously injured—and then slowly stood up and with a calm smile said softly, “Hi, I’m Marion Berry, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and I want to complain about the Johnson administration’s refusal to defend the lives of freedom fighters in Alabama.”

Elizabeth and I went to One Chase Manhattan Plaza to scope out the enemy terrain. In a previous reconnaissance, my scruffy appearance—war-surplus duffle coat and frozen canvas high tops à la Southern California—had immediately attracted half a dozen security guards. But Elizabeth, dressed to the nines, probably could have walked straight into the boardroom on the sixtieth floor.

On another occasion, we went to the Urban League with Kim Bush to solicit support for the demonstration and they did everything but spit on us. The NAACP was more polite but equally unsupportive. Then Elizabeth organized a meeting for the Chase Manhattan coalition with John Lewis, who came up from Alabama with stitches still in his head.

But the Alabama Highway Patrol and George Wallace were not the only enemies of SNCC. Behind the scenes in New York, powerful right-wing social democrats (“Shachtmanites” was still a term I was learning to pronounce) coalesced around David Dubinsky and the International Lady Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) were determined to punish SNCC and destroy its northern fundraising base. They apparently were incensed by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s defiance at the Democratic convention the previous year, as well as SNCC’s “new militancy,” as it was called.

About the same time that Elizabeth briefed us on this conspiracy to defund SNCC, I had spent a day in Croton-on-the-Hudson talking with Victor Perlo, an old Communist Party economist who was an expert on big banks. Through him I discovered that the ILGWU’s pension fund was the largest pool of capital managed by Chase Manhattan. Here was a magical key to force disinvestment in South Africa.

SDS, after all, was still officially the student department of the League for Industrial Democracy; and the LID was a front group of the old Socialist Party (SP), an antique store exclusively owned and controlled by Dubinsky and the Garment Workers. Surely one word from Dubinksy to Rockefeller would suffice.

I lost my political virginity during a short meeting with Norman Thomas in his spare, frigid office at the LID/SP headquarters. He was one of the few figures on the American left who was actually a familiar icon: my mother, a registered Republican (but Irish rebel), had voted for him in 1932 when my father’s boss had ordered all of his employees to vote for Hoover. While recovering from a rather catastrophic hot-rod crash in my senior year in high school, my father had bought me Ray Ginger’s The Bending Cross, a biography of Eugene Debs, and I assumed that Thomas was of the same fiber as Debs.

He wasn’t. Very tall, ancient, and as gaunt as Klaus Kinski, he sat unsmiling in front of a steel desk, improbably eating a watermelon and spitting the seeds with deadly accuracy into a wastepaper basket a few feet away. Ping. Ping. Ping. It was unnerving.

Without directly looking at me, he growled: “The ILGWU is the bulwark against Stalinism and the most progressive union in American history. You little fucks are not going to embarrass us. Do you understand?” He then threw me out of his office.

A few days later I was called in to meet with Bayard Rustin, the genius behind the 1963 March on Washington. In contrast to Mr. Socialism, Rustin was completely charming and obviously the smartest person on earth. Betita had warned me that he was an irresistible seducer and so he was.

“Are you aware,” he said with a rather diabolical grin, “that you’re sitting in the same chair that Bobby Kennedy sat in when I told him that the March was happening whether or not he and his brother approved?” I squirmed, as had Kennedy, because the chair—a famous joke in civil rights circles—had a notoriously loose spring that goosed every visitor.

Rustin praised conscientious white kids in SDS and our interest in fighting apartheid, told a story about Mandela, mentioned A. Philip Randolph, promised to lend support to our demonstration, and warmly shook my hand. I was half way down the block before I realized that he had also given me the same warning as Thomas, if not so brazenly: “Don’t fuck with Dubinsky.” SDS could also be defunded.

Indeed SDS was pulled off the social democratic teat later in the spring, when we refused to exclude members of the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party from participating in our anti-apartheid and antiwar campaigns. Meanwhile, however, we had the singular satisfaction of knowing that David Rockefeller was deeply embarrassed by “Chase Manhattan: Partner in Apartheid.” We had our own inadvertent spy network. Three SDS members in the Boston area were children of bank board members, while Abby Rockefeller, David’s renegade daughter, was a clandestine sympathizer of the New Left, as well as an early feminist.

Elizabeth kidded me mercilessly about SDS’s ruling class family ties, but also reassured me that this was why we were unlikely to suffer the kind of police violence that SNCC encountered daily in Mississippi and Alabama. I’d become a little unnerved after a recent visit to the NYPD’s Wall Street precinct to inform them of our plan for nonviolent civil disobedience at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. The fat, ruddy Irish cops, with a drunken priest hovering incongruously in the background, sweetly told me that they hadn’t put a dent in their nightsticks in years and therefore would relish meeting us. A captain suggested that I’d be wise to buy one of the sacred medallions that the priest was selling.

A few days before the Chase Manhattan sit-in on March 19th, 1965, I paid for the cold New York winter and Spartan living conditions with strep throat and a 106-degree temperature. (Elizabeth once warned me that the entire SDS National Office would probably die of scurvy.) But I shivered in the Bowery with the satisfaction of knowing that David Rockefeller was also shivering sixty stories above Wall Street.

The demonstration, despite police threats and a bank injunction, was an exhilarating success. Todd Gitlin, Elizabeth, and Kim Bush spurred on the seven hundred demonstrators, Friends of SNCC high school and college kids in the vanguard, launching what in retrospect was the first “Occupy Wall Street.” (SDS chapters carried out solidarity demonstrations in several other cities.)

A few weeks later, SDS, SNCC, the American Committee on Africa, and other Chase Manhattan activists went to Washington, DC for a conference that was supposed to launch an ongoing anti-apartheid movement. I forget the details—mostly because of bitterness—but the National Student Association totally sabotaged and derailed the coalition. Two years later (as reported in a Ramparts magazine exposé in March 1967) we all found out that in 1965 Phil Sherburne, the NSA president who had been a principal figure at the conference, was working for the CIA and Johnson administration.

As years went by, I wondered what happened to our mentor and muse Elizabeth Sutherland. In the late 1980s, after a Bay Area launch of my first book, Prisoners of the American Dream, Susanne Jonas invited me to have dinner with the legendary Betita Martínez.

Betita and I stared at each other for almost half a minute. “You’re that little SDS boy!” she exclaimed with some shock. “Elizabeth,” I chuckled. “I’ve missed you.”

•  •  •

* Mike Davis (1946–2022) was a political activist, urban theorist, and historian. He was Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside and was an editor of the New Left Review. Among his many books are Prisoners of the American Dream (1986), City of Quartz (1990), Ecology of Fear (1998), Late Victorian Holocausts (2001), The Monster at Our Door (2005), Planet of Slums (2006), and No One Is Illegal (2006).


A Future in the Balance: The Fight Against the Carceral State in Central Appalachia

by Judah Schept* 


Image: Wallens Ridge State Prison, Big Stone Gap, VA, from itsgoingdown.org.

Three years ago this month, in June 2019, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) withdrew its Record of Decision to build United States Penitentiary Letcher, a maximum security federal prison sited for a former mountaintop removal site in Letcher County, Kentucky. Were it to have been built, USP Letcher would have been the fifth federal prison, and ninth overall, in Eastern Kentucky, part of a sprawling carceral geography that has taken shape – and shaped – Central Appalachia in recent decades, and which I explore in detail in my recent book (Schept 2022). While the work of numerous forces and conditions has resulted in this moment, the prevalence of the federal prisons in particular is due in large part to the efforts of U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, who represents all of Eastern Kentucky, and who has pursued a now decades-long practice of bringing federal prisons to his region as part of a strategy of rural job creation and economic development, despite dubious evidence of success. Indeed, three of the counties to which Rogers brought prisons – Clay, Martin, and McCreary Counties in 1992, 2003, and 2004 – remain three of the poorest counties in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country.

But as the attempt to bring this process to Letcher County accelerated, it was met with considerable opposition in the form of a coalition of concerned residents and landowners, community organizers, environmental activists, and people in prison. Residents and landowners resisted the BOP’s attempts to purchase land, identifying the agency’s maneuvers as part of a long history of land expropriations in the region. Environmental activists argued about the impacts of the prison on fragile ecosystems and joined prisoners from around the country in demanding answers for the potential public health consequences from nearby mining operations on people who would be incarcerated there. Community organizers intervened in the simplistic arguments from prison boosters about economic development, demanding real investment in the community in the form of “#our444million” – the original price tag of the prison – while disavowing potential jobs premised on the immiseration of other people.  The coalition’s work during the most concentrated years of BOP efforts to site the prison, from 2016 – 2019, severely damaged the credibility of the project. The BOP’s withdrawal of the ROD was an historic victory against the carceral state.

And yet, three years after the historic defeat of USP Letcher, Rogers, with the support of Senator Mitch McConnell, stubbornly insists on the viability of the prison. In its Fiscal Year 2022 Performance Budget submitted to Congress, the Department of Justice proposed the cancellation of over $500 million dollars previously allocated in construction funds to build USP Letcher. What does this mean? It means that three years after the defeat of the prison, half a billion dollars remains allocated for it as Hal Rogers (and McConnell) insist on the righteousness of the project despite the DOJ itself – under both the Trump and Biden Administrations, and due directly to the coalition’s efforts – admitting the prison isn’t necessary (Ruger 2020). To put this another way, Letcher County organizers defeated USP Letcher in part by demanding real investment in their county, pointing to studies that demonstrate the fallacies of prison-based economic development and insisting on a kind of solidarity economy, noting that “Appalachia deserves real economic alternatives that are not built on human suffering” (Ryerson and Schept 2018). Three years later, the congressional representative tasked with bringing federal investment to the region insists on holding the funds in the liminal space created between congressional appropriation and the DOJ’s commitment not to build the prison. Held in the balance, and hijacked in the process, are the very communities Rogers supposedly represents.

Why does Rogers show such dedication to USP Letcher, and more broadly to the prison economy he has helped to build? While it is tempting to attribute both to the tenacity of the ‘prince of pork’ (as the congressman is known), it is important to note that Rogers is one of many actors at various scales of the state turning to prisons and jails as putative solutions to a growing crisis in the region.

Crises, as Stuart Hall and his coauthors have defined them, occur when existing social formations cease to be able to reproduce themselves on the basis of current social and economic relations (Hall et al. 2013; Hall and Massey 2010). Just during the period in which the bulk of my research occurred, between 2011 and 2018, Eastern Kentucky lost 73 percent of its already-dwindling coal jobs; there are now just 4,000 coal jobs in the entire state, the lowest total since the 19th century (Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet 2021). Moreover, the decline of production – due to depleted coal seams, the growth of natural gas, expanding renewable energy markets, the rise of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and environmental regulations – has dramatically impacted the Coal Severance Tax, a fee applied to the gross value of coal extracted, and which historically has generated millions of dollars in revenue for coalfield counties. As the coal industry has departed the region, the “burden of social reproduction”—strategizing, planning, and paying for the very survivability of communities—has been fully offloaded down scale, to cash-strapped counties, community organizations, and households.[1]

Prisons have been deployed most explicitly to try to resolve issues of unemployment. In a telling comparison, there are more than 6,000 corrections jobs in the state, although that number does not include the medical, clerical, and mental health workers employed inside of prisons and jails. In short, prison and jail jobs have overtaken coal jobs in Kentucky by thousands of positions, accelerated no doubt by the federal prisons built in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As one industry publication observed more than twenty years ago, in 1999, in a story headlined “Corrections Replace Coal in Eastern Kentucky,” “In Kentucky’s coal country, prisons have become the cornerstone of an economic renewal meant to offset the decline of coal mining” (Correctional Building News, 1999, quoted in Christie 2001, 136). Three new prisons have opened since then. In addition, rural jails have recently proliferated in Eastern Kentucky, holding significant numbers of state prisoners in exchange for per-diem payments in order to shore up revenue shortages (Norton and Schept 2019). Both the prisons and jails signal an enduring and extensive investment in the stability of communities — from producing the next generation of workers to bringing more students to schools, patients to healthcare facilities, support to social services, and updates and expansions to infrastructure. Cages of all kinds, then, are utilized to address crises at the points of both production and reproduction, and offer important affective and symbolic recuperation to communities in crisis, which are responding to the shifting ground, quite literally, occurring in their region and look to the prisons and jails in order “to set the stage for ordinary working people to accept extraordinary measures in hope of securing livelihoods” (Gilmore 2007, 131).

There is no doubt that a startling political and economic realignment is under way in the coalfields. Crucially, however, the change is neither complete nor inevitable, nor is it uncontested. First, the carceral political economy doesn’t fill the footprint left by the coal industry’s departure, even as prisons are often positioned as a kind of rural jobs program to replace coal. The jobs that the prisons do provide do not come close to matching the coal industry’s historic employment levels in the state and region. At the height of coal employment in 1949, the industry employed 75,707 people in Kentucky, or more than ten times the record number of prison and jail workers in the state today. Moreover, the coal industry’s dominance of the region’s economy occurred for a century. In addition, prison jobs don’t necessarily go to local residents, particularly within the federal system, which often moves employees within the Bureau of Prisons and has stricter requirements for employment. Despite all of this, there is no doubt that carceral growth has become a dominant development strategy for the region.

Second, that strategy has now suffered a significant defeat. The work of the coalition to impugn the BOP, delay the process, and rechart the terms of the debate destabilized USP Letcher, and the project lost its footing under the weight of both opposition and the newly shifting and unstable terrain of contradictory positions within the carceral state. The coalition had forced the BOP to admit it had erred in both its economic projections for USP Letcher and the stated need for the prison in the face of the declining federal prison population. The coalition was fueled by a capacious vision of environmental justice, grassroots democracy and antiracist class solidarity, and both countered the notion of total support and offered visions of alternative economic and political futures. Crucially, however, the victory against USP Letcher was an example of “when a win isn’t a win,” as one organizer observed. That is, there remains no alternate regional reinvestment strategy for the federal money appropriated to the prison, evidenced by Rogers’ insistence that the money remain allocated. The demands for redirecting #our444million toward other forms of desperately needed community support remains unmet. This starkly reveals how the prison was never intended or structured as a true rural employment program; rather, the rhetoric of “jobs” has long been used to secure consent for a prison-building regime primarily deployed to resolve urban and rural crises of “organized abandonment.” Still, the coalition notched a significant victory against the carceral state. In the process, they confirmed both the centrality of abolition to a vision of just transition and the potency of radical rural organizing.

*Judah Schept is a Professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. Grounded in the interdisciplinary field of Critical Prison Studies, his work examines the history, political economy, and cultural logics of the carceral state. He is the author of Coal, Cages, Crisis: The Rise of the Prison Economy in Central Appalachia (New York University Press, 2022) and Progressive Punishment: Job Loss, Jail Growth, and the Neoliberal Logic of Carceral Expansion (New York University Press, 2015). He is also co-editor of The Jail is Everywhere: Fighting the New Geography of Mass Incarceration (Verso Books, 2023). His writing can also be found in journals such as Radical Criminology, Theoretical Criminology, Punishment and Society, Social Justice, Crime, Media, Culture, and the Boston Review. Judah serves as the book review editor for Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order. He has been active with numerous organizations and campaigns centered on decarceration, abolition, and other fights for social justice. He holds a PhD from Indiana University and a BA from Vassar College.

• • • 


[1] I use “burden” here deliberately, invoking both Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Jessie Wilkerson. Gilmore argues, “Organized abandonment—the removal of jobs, factories, benefits, schools, you name it—sums up to a general burden that households and communities bear,” reminding us of who pays for capital’s quest for profit and the state’s reorganization. Wilkerson’s understanding of the “burden of social reproduction” expertly points us at once to the gendered histories of care work in the coalfields and beyond as well as the ways that such work, such as the creation of rural health clinics in eastern Kentucky, connected in certain conjunctures to antipoverty organizing and militant labor insurrections. See Wilkerson 2019, 145.


Christie, Nils. 2001/1993. Crime Control as Industry: Toward Gulags, Western Style. New York: Routledge.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2007. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Crisis, Surplus and Opposition in Globalizing California. Los Angeles and Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts. 2013/1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. 35th anniversary edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, Stuart, and Doreen Massey. 2010. “Interpreting the Crisis.” Soundings 44(Spring):57–71.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. 2021. “Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report.” Available at: https://eec.ky.gov/Energy/News-Publications/Pages/Coal-Facts.aspx

Norton, Jack and Judah Schept. 2019. “Keeping the Lights On: Incarcerating the Bluegrass State.” Vera Institute of Justice, March 4th. Available at: https://www.vera.org/in-our-backyards-stories/keeping-the-lights-on

Ruger, Todd. 2020. “Powerful appropriator battles Justice over prison in Kentucky.” Roll Call, March 11. Available at: https://rollcall.com/2020/03/11/powerful-appropriator-battles-justice-over-prison-in-kentucky/

Ryerson, Sylvia and Judah Schept. “Building Prisons in Appalachia: The Region Deserves Better.” Boston Review, April 28th. Available at: https://bostonreview.net/articles/prisons-are-not-future-appalachia-deserves/

Schept, Judah. 2022. Coal, Cages, Crisis: The Rise of the Prison Economy in Central Appalachia. New York: New York University Press

Wilkerson, Jessica. 2019. To Live Here You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice. Champaign: University of Illinois Press

• • • 

Where is Police Abolition in Criminal Justice Studies?

by Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land and Kevin Walby*

49951928836_5b7b2522ec_cImage by DANIEL ARAUZ via FLICKR. CC BY 2.0.


Criminology and criminal justice studies have too often failed to incorporate lessons from the front lines of struggles for radical changes to the criminal justice system. This failure is apparent in recent advancements toward police abolition. Over the past two years, abolitionist organizers and intellectuals have cracked open and begun to reinvent some of the concepts central to our disciplines – like safety, violence, and justice. They have raised popular expectations of what changes can be demanded from the systems we investigate. Yet, for students who come knocking on the doors of our criminal justice department(s) for help making sense of these changes, most of what we have to offer in terms of current writing and analysis is from scholars outside of our fields.

What does it say about criminology and criminal justice studies that the front lines of thinking through questions that should be at the center of our disciplines are so far outside of them? Why is it still difficult to find abolitionist analyses of policing in critical criminology? What are the possibilities for disciplinary re-formation brought out by this moment?

In 2016, Brown and Schept wrote to criminologists about abolition in a similar moment of rupture – when uprisings in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin precipitated a shift in consciousness about systemic racism and policing in the US. In an article in Punishment and Society, they used “the present moment of carceral crisis as a point of departure to critically engage with the project of criminology”. We are trying to do something similar in our recent article in Social Justice (Dobchuk-Land and Walby 2022). We are pointing scholars of the criminal justice system to the insights being generated by activists and community organizers through their work advancing anti-violence work, community development, and abolitionist consciousness-raising.

In the context of continued uprisings, and the communities that are being built around other forms of safety and accountability, police studies as it exists within criminology has too little to say about police abolition as a serious goal. We don’t want to get caught up in trying to ‘rescue’ criminology – but we know from our research and experience that there are many critical criminologists wanting to change the world who fail to take abolition seriously. For critical criminologists and criminal justice studies scholars interested in contributing to social justice, the relevance and utility of what we know about the criminal justice system – our ability to resonate – depends on engaging with abolitionist advancements.

Why invest our abolitionist energies in criminology and criminal justice studies?

As in any discipline, the political orientation of criminology and criminal justice studies has shifted across time and place. In his 1988 reflection on the origins of radical criminology, Platt describes a discipline re-shaped through the uprisings and protest movements of the late 60s and early 70s only to be returned to its conservative status quo at the time of his writing (notably, he references this journal as one of a few bastions of that radical legacy).

While critical criminology has proliferated, and academic penal abolitionist work has continued apace, the cutting edges of studies of policing and community safety have become grounded more firmly outside of criminology and criminal justice studies. This is good in many ways: to consider the criminal justice system (CJS) in other disciplinary settings is to consider it in relation to histories, political worlds, and social structures beyond itself. Those who are focused only on changing the criminal justice system easily become instruments of reform, narrowly focused on the techniques of the administration of justice without calling the entire apparatus into question. Part of our job as abolitionist criminologists is to amplify the lesson that we can’t remove or abstract the process of changing the criminal justice system from the process of changing the entire world.

Without committing too strongly to defending a discipline, we might consider the ways that advancing abolition as criminologists is still useful. Our disciplines have tools and literatures that can be drawn upon in our collective work toward the horizon of abolition. There are so many myths that come out of policing that are reproduced by police-friendly academics, and so many myths that criminologists cook up that police latch onto. In response to abolitionist demands, many criminologists continue to advocate ahistorical and ineffective reforms, reject abolitionist demands as ‘utopian’, and contribute to the common idea that ‘expertise’ on the CJS means alignment with the system itself. Those of us schooled in the same canons can speak directly to those claims and actively contest the policing myths that liberal and conservative administrative criminologists continue to tout (and identify the police money that is often behind them). We can also insist that while we may be experts on how the system works, we can’t claim expertise on the range of community safety visions and strategies that make up the range of “alternatives”.

Shifting course to keep up

In our article, as we try to take stock of some of the advancements made outside our field that are directly relevant to criminology and criminal justice studies, we might also stop and think about the conditions under which the chasm between the formal avenues for thinking about criminal justice have departed so significantly from the paths being charted by abolitionists into new ways of developing community safety. What are the conditions under which criminology and criminal justice studies has failed to incorporate lessons from the front lines of social change?

In the midst of uprisings, there were many criminologists (some of whom even tried to organize themselves as such in Canada under the moniker of “evidence-based policing studies”) who were prepared to go on the record saying that the demand to ‘abolish’ the police is too radical, too dangerous. These criminologists don’t seem to have noticed those for whom the absence of policing is already an operating premise, and who are already charting paths to safety and survivability.

Criminology and criminal justice studies have a lot to offer in terms of describing the CJS. We can describe what is going on, and how it works, and why. But abolitionists outside of criminal justice are where it is at in terms of developing the theory and practice of how to change how we respond to harm and transgression. We need to study not only the system and its impacts, and new forms of community safety, but also how change happens: how to organize, how to scale up small scale interventions – these are legitimate areas of criminological investigation.

To better understand how the CJS changes/how to change it, we need to de-center it, to integrate it with analyses of other structures and systems. Abolitionists remind us to refuse the conceptual isolation of the CJS from other systems; to insist when we talk about the CJS that we frame our conversations in terms of the multiple systems that work together to produce violence and responses to it. This is essentially a call for more conjunctural analysis, a method that already exists in our disciplinary history (Hall et al 1978).

Common sense understandings of the criminal justice system have shifted immensely over the past two years. Recent uprisings and protest movements precipitated this consciousness shift, and it happened on top of a solid foundation of decades of abolitionist praxis that preceded it. The academic worlds of critical criminology and criminal justice studies haven’t kept pace. Without speaking directly to the demands abolitionists have put on the table, new criminological work on public safety is unlikely to have much resonance with those people who actually have the capacity and energy to organize for change.

• • • 


Brown, Michelle and Judah Schept. 2017. “New abolition, criminology and a critical carceral studies.” Punishment and Society, 19 (4): 440-462.

Dobchuk-Land, Bronwyn and Kevin Walby. 2022. “Police Abolition as Community Struggle Against State Violence.” Social Justice, 48 (1).

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, & Brian Roberts. 1978. Policing the crisis. London: Macmillan.

Platt, Tony. 1988. “‘If We Know, Then We Must Fight’: The Origins of Radical Criminology in the U.S.” Critical Sociology, 15 (2): 127-138.

• • • 

* Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Winnipeg and a member of Bar None, an abolitionist prisoner solidarity organization based in Winnipeg. Kevin Walby is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Winnipeg. He is co-author of Police Funding, Dark Money, and the Greedy Institution (Routledge, 2022) and co-editor of Disarm, Defund, Dismantle: Police Abolition in Canada (BTL Press, 2022) and Changing of the Guards: Private Influences, Privatization, and Criminal Justice in Canada (UBC Press, 2022). He is the Director of the Centre for Access to Information and Justice (CAIJ). He is co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons.

This blog piece is extracted from a longer article, “Police Abolition as Community Struggle Against State Violence”, in the current issue of Social Justice, Vol. 48(1).


On the Outs: Global Capitalism and Transcarceration

by Oscar Fabian Soto

This blog piece is extracted from a longer article, “On the Outs: Global Capitalism and Transcarceration”, published in Vol. 48-1 of Social Justice.

Image by ckp, via DeviantArt.

Image by ckp, via DeviantArt.

On a cold April night back in 2008, I was arrested and charged with two felonies and six misdemeanors. Once inside the jail, awaiting my sentence, I could hear loud banging noises, homies screaming out their barrio (hood), and keys getting closer and closer. Finally, the large metal door with a small window in the center opens. A correctional officer with a mean mug look opens the door to my release.

After my release, I became engulfed in the criminal injustice system’s constant surveillance by police and reporting to probation officers weekly. To the experience of thousands, if not millions, these two social control mechanisms contribute to the continued incarceration of people released from prison. Therefore, on the outs I didn’t feel free; instead, I felt imprisoned in my community. It became normal. Years later, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I began to theorize the link between global capitalism and reintegration.

In fact, the story of reintegration as we see it today is central to the new global capitalist world order as it is manifested in the United States. As an insider who experienced incarceration and reintegration, I strive to find the link between global capitalism, super-incarceration and reintegration, and solutions to abolish these systems, especially global capitalism, which contributes to the massive immiseration of poor communities around the globe.

William I. Robinson’s theory of global capitalism, a theory that addresses the restructuring of global capitalism, coincides with the expansion of surplus humanity, thus, leading to the increase in the prison population, commonly known as hyper-incarceration. His theory, in a nutshell, explains how capital responded to the crisis in the 1970s by going global, which allowed it to break free from the constraints of the nation-state. However, while capitalists accumulated capital, inequality around the globe has reached hideous levels; the top 1 percent of humanity owns more than half of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 80 percent of humanity has to make do with less than five percent of the world’s wealth. Thus, global capitalism has expanded the ranks of surplus and precarious populations.

Here it is essential to highlight Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist philosopher, and critic of Benito Mussolini’s fascist government. Gramsci further developed the concept of hegemony to refer to the unity of coercion and consent in the capitalist system. Consensual domination rests at the level of civil society, while coercion rests at the state level. So, the restructuring of the 1980s and beyond came in response to the challenges to the hegemonic classes posed by the mass upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. In the United States, civil rights organizations, including the Marxist-Leninist Black Panther Party, developed into anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist movements. In response, the state escalated massive repressive mechanisms, including hyper-incarceration.

As William I. Robinson has discussed in his work on global capitalism, in the birth of the 1960s global rebellions and the 1970s crises, transnational capitalists set in motion capitalist globalization as a project to tame resistance globally, regenerate global accumulation, and reestablish the loss of legitimacy. Thus, capitalist globalization or the restructuring of global capitalism has expanded the ranks of surplus humanity in the United States and around the globe. Robinson has developed the concept of the global police state to highlight the linkages between the expansion of surplus humanity, on the one hand, and systems of social control, including hyper incarceration and reintegration, on the other.

One of the major points of the global police state is the convergence of social control, suppression, and marginalization with the economic need to accumulate in the face of crisis (stagnation or overaccumulation). There are various ways to unload overaccumulation but I have focused on  militarized accumulation. In this militarized accumulation, the global elite have acquired an interest in massive investments in war, conflict, and systems of social control. The war on drugs, the threat of terrorism ideology, and immigrant detention centers, as well as gang injunctions (which in California target only poor Black and Brown communities), border and containment walls, prison industrial complexes, and police militarization have all become sources of accumulation.

Thus, hyper-incarceration in the United States has developed in unison with capitalist globalization. For this link, we now turn to Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s book Golden Gulag which highlights the massive expansion of California prisons. The economic crises of the 1970s resulted in chronically unemployed surplus populations left behind as manufacturing jobs disappeared, in surplus finance capital in need of new investments, in surplus land as the farming industry took several hits including a major drought in the late 1970s, and in surplus state capital as the military Keynesian state form lost legitimacy.

We now return to the structural obstacles formerly incarcerated persons face during reintegration. The prison reentry industry (PRI) emerged as a byproduct of the era of mass incarceration in the United States. The PRI is a form of structural violence perpetrated by the state to ensure the continued control and subordination of the most marginalized groups in society. John Lowman and others coined the term transcarceration to refer to the “neoliberal reorganization of prison facilities through a consolidation of both capital and the state’s captive nation.” Transcarceration refers to the non-prison programs beyond imprisonment, which in recent years have become privatized. I argue here that transcarceration is part of the more prominent global capitalist’s agenda to keep the prison industrial complexes afloat.

Today, the prison system has become inscribed in the economic, political, and ideological life of people in the United States and has spread globally. Thus, the criminal injustice system has spread beyond the sum of all prisons and jails into correctional communities, the labor market, transnational corporations, media outlets, laws and policies, and global capitalism. Thus, an abolitionist approach to the criminal injustice system involves developing and struggling for alternative strategies to abolish global capitalism, the producer of all these social injustices. Therefore, it is essential to center decarceration and find an alternative to incarceration. This would include demilitarizing schools, changing and having an accessible health care system for all, creating meaningful full employment, and shying away from the privatization of education.

Through this lens, it is imperative to show that the abolition of the system of hyper-incarceration involves dismantling the larger structure of global capitalism. Therefore, we must revitalize radical criminology, which focuses on the structural processes of inequalities and critiques capitalism. As these massive movements continue around the globe, it is our duty as intellectuals to open up a counter-hegemonic movement from below that combines racial and class struggles while having a revolutionary critique of class exploitation and global capitalism; a move away from post-narratives which dominate today’s economic, political and ideological arenas. Something short of revolution may be out of the question as folks continue to fall down the ranks of surplus humanity into more repressive and militarized systems of social control.

• • • 

Oscar Fabian Soto is a revolutionary Chicano activist-scholar, Teaching Associate in the Department of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and Black Studies. He’s also a lecturer at CSU-San Marcos, CSU-Long Beach and San Fransisco State University. He works with formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised gang- involved youth and working class communities in the Southern region of California. He is recipient of a Hein Family Fellowship, Sally Casanova Pre- Doctoral Scholarship and the Excellence in Teaching Award at UCSB among other awards. He gives frequent motivational talks at middle schools, high schools, continuation schools, college campuses, and colloquiums. His teaching pedagogy seeks to dismantle hierarchical organizations, empower people from the margins, and fight for revolutionary system change.


Making Violence Visible: Mapping Violence against Guarani and Kaiowá Women in Brazil

by Camilla Rossi* 

Photo, for Rossi blog In November 2020 the Guarani and Kaiowá Women’s Council, Kuñangue Aty Guasu, shared the first comprehensive report documenting the initial outcomes of their Violence Mapping project, ‘Corpos Silenciados, Vozes Presentes’. Located in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, since 2006 the Kuñangue Aty Guasu has been working with their local communities to collect reports on the specific ways violence affects the lives of Indigenous Guarani and Kaiowá women.

Historic and systemic violations against the Guarani and Kaiowá communities have led them to live in a context of extreme precarity, often described as the most severe humanitarian crisis faced by Indigenous people in Brazil. Decades of aggressive appropriation of their traditional territories (tekohá) for agricultural expansion, and the ongoing delays in delivering the official demarcation of Guarani lands by the federal government, have forced these communities into small, overcrowded, poverty-ridden reserves. Recent reports showed that these areas are affected by the highest incidence of gender-based and sexual violence among any Indigenous communities in Brazil.

“Violence is a hotly debated topic during our annual assemblies”, the members of the Kunãngue Aty Guasu report. They note how this violence is often “silent” (violência silenciosa), normalised to the point that it goes unrecognised by the very women suffering from it. The ‘Violence Mapping’ project aims to support local women as they turn this silence into a narrative, to make violence visible so that it can finally be identified and addressed. To do so, the Guarani and Kaiowá women have now joined efforts with Dr Jerome Lewis at University College London (UCL) Anthropology, Fabiana Fernandes at the Institute for the Development of Art and Culture (IDAC), and the UCL Multimedia Anthropology Lab (MAL). This partnership, supported by the UCL Global Engagement Fund, aims to visualise the data gathered by Indigenous women and present it as an interactive map, documenting the incidence and geographical distribution of such violence.

What is Violence for Guarani and Kaiowá Women 

As outlined in the Kunãngue Aty Guasu’s reports, the violence affecting Indigenous women is a broad and complex phenomenon, rooted in the historical marginalisation that they continue to face on a daily basis and operating at the intersection of their ethnicity, gender, and chronic economic precarity. They point out how the only law aimed at protecting female victims of violence – Law 11.340, better known as the Maria da Penha Law – does not grasp the complexity of the Guarani and Kaiowá context, and therefore fails to fully protect Indigenous women. As many of the forms of violence they experience are not accounted for in the non-Indigenous (karai) legal system, their suffering continuously slips through the cracks of the judiciary system.

In ‘Corpos Silenciados, Vozes Presentes’, violence against women is identified as both physical and psychological, and perpetuated by various people and institutions – including husbands, boyfriends, the police, public institutions, health professionals, and universities. Among its manifestations, the Women’s Council highlights the stigmatisation of sexual violence among Indigenous communities and the consequent silencing of rape survivors; the demonisation of Indigenous culture, ranging from racist, malicious looks to accusations of witchcraft, death threats, torture, and murder of their elders; the widespread obstetric violence characterised by lack of appropriate care and information, and intrusive, humiliating interventions which disrespect Indigenous cultural sensitivities and needs; and the confinement and confiscation of their lands for profit.

The latter point is particularly important as the Guarani and Kaiowá’s relationship with their ancestral land is fundamental to their physical, spiritual, and cultural existence. The Brazilian State, unwilling to demarcate Indigenous territories and recognise Indigenous land rights, is identified as the main perpetrator of violence. Groups of Guarani and Kaiowá have been responding with the ‘retomadas’ – the reappropriation of lands that have already been identified as part of their territory, but are still in possession of farmers. These attempts have been met with ruthless violence and evictions. The Guarani and Kaiowá women have long been at the forefront of this fight, exposing themselves to unique challenges and risks.

Making Violence Visible 

Strengthening the capacity of community-led responses to gender-based violence is essential to make visible the scale and spread of such violence, consequently facilitating strategies for delivering social justice. This commitment is what built the foundations of a voluntary collaboration between the Guarani and Kaiowá women, IDAC, and UCL MAL in October 2020, when they worked together to strengthen the digital communication infrastructure available to Guarani & Kaiowá women and to support the online coordination of their annual assembly.

Building from the success of this first collaboration, this partnership is now working to support the Kunãngue Aty Guasu’s long-term efforts to combat gender inequalities, by assisting in the creation of a digital infrastructure to monitor and make visible the violence against women. More specifically, the project aims to develop an interactive map to visualise and monitor the incidence and geographic distribution of gender-based violence against Guarani and Kaiowá women. Community members will be supported with comprehensive training on the use of the digital platform and the process of data input, designed specifically to increase accessibility for communities with low written and digital literacy.

The data visualisation and analysis made possible by the interactive map will provide an invaluable resource for the Guarani and Kaiowá women’s monitoring efforts, allowing them to identify, collect, and widely disseminate new datasets by their own terms. In a context where cultural and infrastructural challenges have historically excluded these communities from participating in scientific research and from accessing justice, this project aims to support Guarani and Kaiowá women’s’ capacity to represent their interests, so to develop accurate, sensitive, and effective mitigation measures to combat gender inequalities and violence.

“Falar de mulheres Kaiowá e Guarani é urgente, é agora!”

During the project’s introductory meeting, held on the 6th of May, the members of the Kuñangue Aty Guasu described how researching and collecting data on violence against women has exposed them to further harassment and violence, both physical and psychological. It is also important to remember, they remarked, that the process of writing and talking about their suffering in Portuguese is in itself a form of violence. As they wrote in ‘Corpos Silenciados, Vozes Presentes’:

“The Guarani and Kaiowá dialect is our first language. Portuguese is the second language in which we were forced to understand the violent process of decimation and colonisation of our bodies. Writing in the Karai language (Portuguese) is also violence, but it is the fighting tool […] necessary to send out our cry for help.” (Kuñangue Aty Guasu, Corpos Silenciados, November 2020)

These issues highlight the need for a deeply collaborative research approach which amplifies Indigenous women’s own views, strategies, and needs in the fight against gender-based violence. By reinforcing the Guarani and Kaiowá women’s capacity to collect and analyse data locally, collectively, and autonomously, the partnership aims to counteract this history of colonial oppression and to create a global network of support.

While this initial activity aims to directly address gender inequality and violence among the Guarani and Kaiowá women, the platform and training provided will contribute towards strengthening the community capacity to respond to other pressing challenges. Amplifying the voices of resilient Indigenous women, this partnership aims to contribute towards tackling institutional inequality and discrimination, and to address daily issues of hunger, poor water sanitation, and lack of healthcare resources that Indigenous communities in Brazil continue to face. In the words of Jaqueline Aranduhá, accomplished anthropologist and Indigenous leader: “Indigenous women struggle for their survival every day. Still, we are here at this meeting today because this is for the long-term, because it matters.”

The partnership will present the interactive map at a public event in September. Check out the UCL MAL website to join the online conference and learn more about the development of the project!

•  •  •

*Camilla Rossi is a BSc Anthropology Alumnus at University College London.

Police Abolition or Police Surveillance: The Looming Choice

by Micol Seigel*


Image created by Hugh D’Andrade. CC BY 3.0.

Speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention last month railed against democrats’ supposed plans to defund the police.  The major spotlight on these denunciations reflects how visible this once-fringe proposal has become.  It also highlights the political position defunding occupies today:  far, far beyond the pale for conservatives and “centrist” voters.  Yet there is concrete movement in this direction on the part of some localities—Minneapolis being a case in point—and dedicated eloquence by activists nationwide.

The chasmic disagreements over defunding the police mean that the road to this abolitionist reform will be anything but smooth. Activists will have to struggle mightily in direct and open venues as well as the shadowy spheres of “frontlash” tactics—sideways measures to contain a political backlash.  Political scientist Vesla Mae Weaver developed the concept of frontlash to describe how opponents of civil rights progress developed mass incarceration.  It might very well apply again now as police departments nationwide build an arsenal of surveillance technology.  Technologies touted as “alternatives” to policing and incarceration are the most serious and underestimated obstacles to genuine police reform.

Underway but underappreciated, the growth of surveillance technology could undermine attempts to shrink the police. Instead of police abolition, this danger could sap this moment’s potential and usher us into a dystopic Big Brother scenario.

Police have used surveillance technology since the mid-1800s, with surges in periods of radicalism such as the 1870s, the 1930s and the 1960s. The history of anti-black racism within surveillance techniques runs deep, as sociology professor Simone Browne has compellingly detailed, looking back to the disciplinary gaze inflicted on antebellum Black people via branding, runaway slave notices, lantern laws, and more. Nowadays the technology includes the thick blanket of surveillance cameras mounted on buildings, fixed points, vehicles, and police themselves; alert, alarm and communications systems; electronic monitoring shackles; data-extraction techniques; and drones. Drone patrols seem particularly likely to surge in years to come, with the nightmare possibility of drones making arrests or simply delivering death. Robocop returns. Equally terrifying is the possibility of ever more data-extraction, to the point that people’s transit, travel, employment, education, purchases, and so on become restricted from afar. Electronic monitoring (EM) has been widely used across the US for extra oversight in parole, and increasingly as a method of punishment when people are sentenced to EM-bound house arrest directly. As many have explained, EM is not an “alternative to incarceration” but rather “another kind of jail.” Its breathtakingly oppressive costs rack up to the hundreds within one month and the tens of thousands for longer terms.  The devices often malfunction, lose radio or wi-fi connection, or record location incorrectly, triggering a violation that can land a person back in jail on a longer sentence than they originally faced because the violation itself is classified as a crime. There is also no evidence that they succeed in preventing crime or compelling attendance at trial.

Electronic Monitoring is dreadful enough in its current incarnation—bulky, hot, often painfully chafing ankle shackles—but even more insidious forms are waiting in the wings:  smaller, more powerful devices, even cellphone apps, capable of capturing much more data than the simple, location-tracking GPS that dominates the market presently. This tech already extends carceral spaces beyond brick and mortar prison walls, and its expansion even further has been long brewing, but is developing even faster as authorities attempt to use it to fight COVID-19.

Experts face the future with concern for the rise of all these technologies. “Assuming that ‘defunding the police’ gains momentum, and even starts to happen somewhere, I think it’s highly likely that surveillance policing of one kind or another will replace some human policing,” writes Mike Nellis, professor of law.  Criminologist Tony Platt agrees:  if reformers are successful at defunding and dismantling, it is “very likely EM will get a big boost as an ‘alternative’ to policing and incarcerating.” (Mike Nellis, electronic communication, 6/14/20; Tony Platt, electronic communication, 6/14/20).  Michelle Alexander, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow, fears that e-carceration may be the evolution of mass incarceration—the “newest Jim Crow.”

Technology is only as fair as the society that generates and applies it. Crime statistics in the US have been racist since the nineteenth centuryOur algorithms are racist (the “New Jim Code,” per Ruha Benjamin); so is AI. “Predictive #algorithms are the new frontier of institutionalized #racism in criminal ‘justice,’” tweeted law professor Dorothy Roberts. Given how profoundly racialized U.S. urban space is today, spatial restrictions are racial restrictions, and spatial restrictions are one of the most likely outcomes with more widespread surveillance policing.  As James Kilgore of Challenging E-Carceration has worried, “Adaptations of the Chinese and Indian use of QR codes open up the possibilities of creating personal or group/area exclusion zones or zones with movement restrictions, much like hotspot policing. In India entire areas are risk assessed then the degree of movement allowed depends on the assessment result. This has frightening possibilities for racialized monitoring and supervision in the US” (James Kilgore, electronic communication, 6/14/20).

Indeed, such scenarios already exist, as in the exclusion zones that restrict where people with sex offense convictions can work or live, or the aggressive, all-encompassing surveillance of the overwhelmingly Black and brown city of Camden, New Jersey. When the city disbanded its police department, replacing it with a smaller county force, surveillance shot through the roof.  Some 121 cameras “cover virtually every inch of sidewalk,” supplementing a thirty-foot mobile crane called SkyPatrol; thirty-five microphones around the city that can detect the exact location of a gunshot, scanners that read license plates, and more.  Detroit’s “Project Green Light” spins a similarly alarming web. Liberal reformers see these as possible models other cities might emulate.

In many cities, little new infrastructure will be needed, for private security systems already proliferate that can be put to public use through mandatory or voluntary conscription.  Philadelphia already does this. The “safecam” network, in which police provide residents with security cameras to “deter crime,” obligates those who accept to give law enforcement access to their camera footage at any time. Existing security cameras from such companies as Ring and SimpliSafe are also being patched directly into Police Departments, often by having the company do its own direct outreach to customers.  One recent solicitation from Simplisafe to its clients came via email, reported Jasmine Heiss of Vera’s In Our Backyards.  It read:

As our police departments and emergency responders respond to this crisis, they are getting stretched thin.
We want to help. We want to do our part to reduce their burden—while making sure you get help when you need it most. Here’s how: 
All you need to do is turn on Video Alarm Verification—a feature that’s already included in your system. With Video Verification, if someone breaks into your home, our monitoring pros act immediately to inform the police they have visual proof of an active crime. And that means police dispatch significantly faster. That makes you safer.
 (Jasmine Heiss, electronic communication, 6/14/20)

These companies are profiting from the love affair so many people have with personal surveillance cameras in their houses, an extension into domestic space of our obsession with the cellphones that grab all our data.  This electronically enhanced navel-gazing is not politically neutral.  Those who hope to chart a path to a police-free world will have to reckon with its implications.

The fear that surveillance technologies could come to replace some human policing is no crackpot sci-fi delusion. It is all too real. If protestors of racist police brutality have succeeded in pushing localities to move towards shrinking their police departments, the forces of reaction might launch this sideswipe ambush. Their success could drain the potential of the proposals on the table. The spirit of police abolition would have little in common with this feeble letter.  Activists today might consider adding to their demands that local governments not replace aggressive policing with aggressive monitoring.

This nation has been perched at similar moments of crisis and opportunity for change before.  Many, perhaps even most, were followed by expanded repression. The defeat of Reconstruction saw the rise of convict leasing, chain gangs, and segregation; the promise of labor movements and activism after the First World War were followed by McCarthyism; threats to Jim Crow in the 1950s and the social movements associated with the 1960s preceded mass incarceration. As we have seen before, great groundswells of support for ending obviously racist and evil systems give way to new mechanisms of containment, nurtured by proponents of the old. Each time it took several decades for the new trend to emerge in full force, making it impossible for freedom fighters to track until it was too late.

•  •  • 

*Micol Seigel is Professor of American Studies and History at Indiana University, Bloomington.  In 2018-2019, she was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in International Relations at the University of São Paulo. She teaches and studies policing, prisons, and race in the Americas; her book on the nature of police work and the assumptions that underlie its legitimacy in a democracy, Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police, was published in 2018 by Duke University Press. Her work has appeared in such venues as American Quarterly, Social Text, Transition, Social Justice, the Journal of American History, Hispanic American Historical Review, and her Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States (Duke, 2009) received a finalist mention for the Lora Romero first book prize of the American Studies Association. A founding organizer of the Critical Prison Studies caucus of the American Studies Association, Micol’s research has been supported by Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center for Historical Studies, FLAS, Fulbright, the ACLS, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Cornell Society for the Humanities, and the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Micol is a longtime member of Critical Resistance, a founding member of Decarcerate Monroe County and Indiana Against E-Carceration, and an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program instructor. She is currently working on a transhistorical and geographically promiscuous study of places without police.

For invaluable contributions, edits and suggestions, the author thanks Chelsea Barabas, Jasmine Heiss, James Kilgore, Mike Nellis, and Tony Platt.

 • • •

From Islamophobia to Oikophobia in the Netherlands

by Maartje van der Woude* 

Vandalism Amsterdam Art Graffiti Spray Holland

The stakes in the May 2019 elections for the European parliament are unusually high. The results will indicate whether or not nationalist, anti-immigrant, and Euro-skeptic parties continue to grow and expand their influence. Here in the Netherlands, once known as a “beacon of tolerance,” I expect rightwing parties to increase their share of the vote on May 23.

The serious rise of the Right in the Netherlands can be traced to the early 2000s when the Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the Trump-like Geert Wilders, launched an attack on leftwing “undemocratic elites” who had allegedly burdened the country with unregulated migration and integration politics, and had closed their eyes to the Islamization of Dutch society. In the 2017 national elections, the PVV received 1.4 million votes out of roughly 10 million, gaining twenty of the 150 seats in parliament and coming in second behind the neoliberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, far ahead of the social-democratic Labor Party, which was governing with the VVD and saw its support decimated. The result was actually a relief to many progressives who had feared that the PVV might win an outright victory.

While the PVV reached a plateau in 2017, its exclusionary politics and Islamophobia shifted Dutch politics to the right and gave a boost to the recently formed Forum for Democracy (FvD) that promotes similar policies in a slicker and seemingly more mainstream package. FvD is a think tank reconfigured as a political party, led by Thierry Baudet, the Dutch face of the Alt-Right movement.

Whereas the PVV and FvD share the central themes of Euroscepticism and Islamophobia, the FvD dresses up its prejudices in the notion of oikophobia, a term taken from the conservative British philosopher Roger Scruton to describe a “pathological aversion” to an imagined national homeland. Oikophobia, Baudet insists, is destroying the nation-state through its surrender to feminism, cultural Marxism, modern art, immigration, the European Union, and non-Western values.  Cultural self-hatred, claims Baudet, will “homeopathically dilute the Dutch population with all the peoples of the world, so that the Dutch will cease to exist.” In response to a media firestorm, Baudet said he wasn’t talking about race but about culture.

In the 2017 national elections, FvD entered Dutch parliament with two out of 150 seats – a modest but remarkable result for a party that didn’t exist in the previous election. Despite its impressive appearance on the national political stage, very few pundits took the FvD seriously. Yet, it has shown to be popular among new voters and among higher-educated people who always found Wilders too lowbrow or too coarse. The fact that there are several prominent public figures and university professors, including one from my own law school, openly and actively involved in FvD adds to the illusion that Baudet’s politics are moderate and reasonable.

During the provincial elections in March 2019, through which seats in the Dutch Senate are apportioned, the neophyte party won 13 of 75, taking votes from the PVV as well as from the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. As a result, the current government coalition lost its majority in the Senate.

I worry that too many political organizations and analysts underestimate the growing influence of the FvD. This new respectable version of racism, intolerance, and xenophobia taps into people’s fears and anxieties that demands for rights by underrepresented groups will undermine cultural homogeneity; and that “incursions” from the Global South will result in the “demise of the nation.” FvD is successfully diversifying the radical right by presenting itself as a voice of good sense, while delivering apocalyptic messages about the loss of Dutch national identity and the dangers of Europeanization.

Universities play an important role in the loss of Dutch identity and the demise of the nation, according to Baudet, by brainwashing students with radical leftist ideas. A pamphlet issued by FvD calls upon young people to “Rise and resist against your teachers.” It’s illustrated with an image of a young person throwing a rock and with the face of my colleague from the law school who will enter the Senate for FvD. Though more than 1,500 academics have signed an open letter protesting the party’s position on higher education, the call to report leftist professors is gaining traction. I expect to be reported.

According to several polls, FvD would emerge as the winner if national parliamentary elections were held now in the Netherland. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for progressive activists to realize that this is not a temporary shift away from the normal politics of Dutch tolerance, but rather a long-term trend that requires an urgent response.

•  •  •

* Maartje van der Woude is professor of Law & Society at the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance & Society at Leiden Law School, the Netherlands. She is also a part-time criminal trial judge at the District Court Noord-Nederland and a member of the editorial board of Social Justice.

Pushback on Human Rights in France: The Republic on the Move, but in Reverse Gear

by Rémy HERRERA*

Image by Funkographer, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/aramisphotos/. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For some months now, France has been the scene of a turbulent upheaval. Fierce social conflict has long been a defining feature of the country’s political life. It has been a historical given in a nation constructed, for the most part, after 1789 on the basis of a revolution of universal scope that, along with the social advances won in 1936, 1945, and 1968, still exerts a strong hold on the collective memory and the country’s institutions, despite attempts to eradicate all traces of it.Yet for nearly 40 years, France, like all the other countries of the North without exception, has found itself encased in the deadly straitjacket of devastating neoliberal policies that can only be seen as an extraordinary act of social violence, an assault on labor. Their destructive effects—on individuals, society, and even the environment—are propagated by a state that works hand-in-glove with whomever wields the most power at a given time. They are further aggravated by the constraints of the anti-social content of European Union treaties that the French rejected in the 2005 referendum but which were imposed on them in a denial of democratic process—an additional assault on an entire people. It is this particular perspective, in the general context of a systemic crisis of global capitalism, that explains the increasing waves of popular uprisings that have taken place in recent decades: strikes in 1995, riots in the suburbs in 2005–2007, demonstrations in 2000 and 2010. Today, a widespread discontent and general feeling of malaise finds its expression in the yellow vests movement, named after the high-visibility safety vest for motorists worn as a uniform by hundreds of thousands of French people expressing their disapproval of President Emmanuel Macron. This is a new mobilization in terms of its origin, scale, and forms of struggle. It all started on a small scale at the end of October 2018 with a simple citizen petition, without any party or union affiliation, posted on social networks, calling for the abolition of the fuel tax increase recently approved by the government. The yellow vests movement, however, is coming up against the worst resurgence of police violence since the Algerian war. In the face of the various protests, all demanding greater social justice, the authorities have chosen to respond with greater repression, to the extent that human rights are regressing at an alarming pace.

State of Emergency: Origins of the Crackdown

The starting point for the ramping up of repression can be clearly identified as the state of emergency proclaimed in metropolitan France on November 14, 2015 in the wake of the previous day’s terrorist attacks, and extended to the overseas departments on November 18. The security policies put in place then have forced the French people to accept a drastic curtailment of their civil and political rights. Although the state of emergency was lifted on November 1, 2017, most of the special measures it had introduced had by then acquired the force of law: preventive search and arrest, security perimeters, individual house arrest, border controls, etc., are now authorized under the Act Reinforcing Domestic Security and the Fight Against Terrorism. Since then there has been an alarming abuse of this extensive legal arsenal of emergency measures that has had the effect of pushing back public freedoms, notably the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly or demonstration, as well as trade union rights and even the right to physical integrity, all of which are now in serious jeopardy.

Those who have recently taken part in demonstrations in France have certainly witnessed what French and international human rights organizations have been decrying for the last few months: many of the actions of law enforcement agencies are disproportionate and excessively violent. They even resort at times to military weaponry. There is now systematic use of tear gas and water cannons on peaceful protesters and very frequent use of baton rounds (from riot guns, fired at head height, and other so-called less lethal weapons), stun grenades and dispersal grenades, the practice of “kettling” to prevent groups from joining up with other demonstrators, random and arbitrary arrest, verbal intimidation, gratuitous provocation, and even physical assault. The streets of Paris have seen the deployment of armored vehicles, mounted police, and K9 units. On numerous occasions, the police have inflicted degrading treatment on protesters, including minors. In many cases, people who had committed no crime whatsoeverhave been clubbed or locked up. Medical supplies have been confiscated from “street doctors”—the volunteer medics who follow the marches and treat the injured. All of these events have shocked the French, which is precisely the desired effect, with a view to halting the uprising. Such police violence is absolutely unacceptable and violates international human rights standards.

Phase 1: Suppression of Social Movements and Unions

Since the election as President of Emmanuel Macron—formerly a managing partner of the Rothschild investment bank, then Minister of Finance under President François Hollande and proponent of legislation aimed at increasing labor market flexibility—French trade unions have mobilized again. Demonstrations and strikes have spread, especially across such sectors as public transportation (SNCF, Air France), energy (gas and electricity), automobile industries (Peugeot, Renault), telecommunications (Orange), mass distribution (Carrefour), health services (public hospitals, retirement homes, social security), education (high schools, universities), culture (museums), justice (lawyers, judges), garbage collection, and even financial and company auditing. These diverse social movements, which attracted a large following, lasted throughout the spring of 2018. The response by the authorities has been to step up repression, with a particularly dramatic impact on students (evacuation of campuses), environmental activists occupying “defence zones” (ZAD) and, before that, people protesting against labor-market flexibilization laws.

This was clearly part of the same spiral of repression already unleashed against the unions for several years, in violation of existing labor laws. In this direction, the obstacles to trade union activities had multiplied: paydiscrimination against trade unionists, unfair dismissal of strikers, pressure in the form of threats or disciplinary sanctions, curtailment of unionization rights and the right to strike, and even criminalization of trade unions’ action (as has been the case at Goodyear, Continental, and Air France). In addition, recent government reforms to the Labor Code have further penalized social movements, through such measures as the provision of shorter time limits for appealing to industrial tribunals and the introduction of caps on compensation awards in cases of unfair dismissal; the imposition of restrictions to the role of staff representative bodies and to the legal remedies available to them; the devising of mechanisms for breaking collective agreements without regard for job-saving plans or staff turnover; the reversal of the hierarchy of norms so that company agreements prevail over sectoral agreements and the law; the establishment of nationwide workplace termination for economic reasons to facilitate the dismissal of employees in French subsidiaries, while the parent company makes profits on a global scale.

Phase 2: Suppression of the Yellow Vests

President Macron has decided “not to change course”. Without any regard for the suffering and expectations of working men and women, his government is tightening up its neoliberal policies and, moving ever further down the route of social violence and police repression. The record is horrific, unworthy of a country that claims to be democratic and tolerant. Since the start of the yellow vest movement, there have been 11 accidental deaths. More than 2,000 people have been injured, at least one hundred very seriously, with doctors reporting injuries they describe as “war wounds” (i.e., hands torn off, eyes put out, disfigurement, multiple fractures, and maiming), mainly resulting from baton rounds or shrapnel from grenades often fired against peaceful protesters. Several people are still in a coma. And what of the psychological shock to teenagers treated as terrorists by the police, forced onto their knees with their hands behind their heads, or bundled into vans or cells?

Where is this power heading, trampling as it does on its own people and unleashing such levels of violence? On December 1, for example, 7,940 tear gas grenades were fired, along with 800 dispersal grenades, 339 GLI-F4-type grenades (explosive ordnance), 776 baton rounds and 140,000 litres of water. According to preliminary and likely incomplete estimates, just between November 17, 2018, and January 7, 2019, 6,475 arrests were made and 5,339 people were taken into police custody. Nationwide, more than 1,000 convictions have been handed down by the courts. Although most of the sentences are subject to adjustment (such as community service), many result in prison terms: for example, 153 committal orders (involving incarceration) have been issued, while 519 summonses have been put out by the criminal investigation police and 372 by the criminal courts. In Paris, 249 people have been arraigned for immediate trial, 58 have received prison sentences and 63 suspended prison sentences. In the French department of La Réunion, the average prison term imposed on local yellow vests is 8 months. As of January 10, 2019, some 200 people involved in these events were still imprisoned in France.

Legitimacy of Popular Demands

In many respects the demands of the yellow vests intersect with those of labor movements. They demand immediate and tangible improvements to living standards, the restoration of purchasing power (wages, pensions, social benefits), the strengthening of public services, and citizens’ participation to decisions concerning their collective future. In other words, they demand the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, and peoples’ rightto self-determination. Insofar as they call for greater social justice, increased respect for human rights, and more economic and political democracy, these claims are legitimate and attract broad support among the population.

The mother of all violence, the one that has to be halted as a matter of urgency, the one from which people are forced to defend themselves—as suggested by the Declaration of Human and Citizens’ Rights in the preamble to the French Constitution—is the violence generated by the imposition of unjust, merciless, antisocial, and undemocratic neoliberal measures; the violence that, in the silence surrounding the price movements of capitalist markets, causes homeless people to die of cold, pushes indebted farmers to suicide, and destroys individuals and families by depriving them of jobs, cutting off their electricity and evicting them from their homes; the violence that forces pensioners to turn off the heating, or children to skip a meal, because they can’t afford it; the violence that breaks down all solidarity, that closes schools, maternity wards, and psychiatric hospitals, that plunges small tradesmen and craftsmen into despair as they buckle under their overheads, that wears out wage workers but does not let them make ends meet. The real violence is there, in this extraordinarily unjust and fundamentally untenable system. In that light, the smashing of bank or supermarket windows by a few isolated or confused individuals, while certainly reprehensible, is no justification for police violence.                                                                                  

Update: Until mid-March, 11 people lost their lives, including five “yellow vests”. Most deaths are related to road accidents, two are due to heart problems. An octogenarian also lost her life in Marseille after being hit in the face by a tear gas grenade as she was closing the shutters of her apartment. For four months (from November to March), there have been many injuries during the demonstrations. According to the figures given by the Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior, as of March 7, 2019 the injured were 2,200 on the side of the demonstrators and 1,500 on the side of the police. In front of the Senate, the president of the parliamentary group CRCE (Communist, Republican Citizen and Ecologist), Eliane Assassi, has provided the figures of “206 head injuries, including several dozens of LBD shots [defensive ball launchers]”, and “22 people ravaged by these shots” on the side of the protesters.

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* Rémy Herrera (https://www.workers.org/author/remy-herrera) is a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris. Article written by the author in January 2019 and used as the basis of a written statement submitted by the Centre Europe – Tiers Monde (CETIM, a non-governmental organization in general consultative status) to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for its fortieth session on 25 February–22 March 2019. Agenda item 4 ‘Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention’. Distribution on 15 February 2019 by the Secretary-General in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 [final report available on the UN website, ref.: A/HRC/40/NGO/56]. Translated by the Centre Europe–Tiers Monde, edited by SJ.

Passive Revolution and the Movement against Mass Incarceration: From Prison Abolition to Redemption Script

by William I. Robinson & Oscar Fabian Soto*


At a recent conference that brought together academics and activists from the movement against mass incarceration, one of the authors of this commentary, Oscar Soto, sat through several days of presentations on the current state of the prison reform movement and future directions for research and activism. Yet entirely and painstakingly absent from the proceedings was the prison abolition agenda. Without a single exception, participants failed to critique—or even mention—the system of global capitalism that has produced surplus humanity and mass incarceration. Instead, the majority of speakers focused on reform, and in particular on providing prisoners and the formerly incarcerated with the opportunity for higher education.

The passage late last year of a prison reform bill (the First Step Act) is indicative of the newfound interest among the dominant groups in prison reform. The bill, among its various provisions, boosts prison rehabilitation efforts, including educational and training programs that allow prisoners to “earn credit.” While Democrats and Republicans alike cheered the bill as a “breakthrough,” particularly revealing was its endorsement by conservative and far-right groups ranging from the Cato Institute to the Koch Brothers–backed Americans for Prosperity. Even the Fraternal Order of Police and the union representing federal prison guards backed the bill.

What accounts for this rather abrupt change of heart among the dominant groups, the corporate elite, and their political and police agents? The radical critique of mass incarceration and the movement for prison abolition have been around for half a century, if not longer. As the movement gained steam in the early twenty-first century, linking the call for abolition to a critique of global capitalism and empire, the mainstream took notice and began to embrace the call to reform mass incarceration.

The irony should not be lost here. The organizations and political agents of the corporate elite that have now embraced reform are the same ones that championed capitalist globalization and one of its byproducts, mass incarceration. The newfound concern for over-incarceration and criminal justice reform is shared by a broad array of both liberal and conservative corporate-funded think tanks and foundations, including The Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Koch Brothers as well as the Ford, MacArthur, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Mellon, Soros, and Carnegie foundations. These foundations, for instance, funded to the tune of $100 million the Art for Justice Fund in 2017 to dole grants out in strategic doses to criminal justice reform groups.

These think tanks and foundations, let us recall, promoted over the past four decades the neoliberal agenda of the corporate state, free markets, and globalization. The capitalist restructuring and class warfare from above that they promoted in the United States and worldwide resulted in the exponential expansion of a surplus humanity disproportionately drawn from racially oppressed populations and in the concomitant systems of mass social control and repression that produced mass incarceration in the first place.

As politicians, foundations, and the corporate media have taken up the matter of mass incarceration, the focus has shifted from radical critique (including abolition) to reform, and from a denunciation of the brutal injustices of neoliberal global capitalism to a redemption script. The theme of co-optation by capitalist philanthropy was first raised by Marx and Engels, who wrote in The Communist Manifesto that a sector of the capitalist class is “desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence” of its rule. The danger in the ruling group’s newfound interest in critiquing mass incarceration is that the radical critique that has gained traction in recent years—linking incarceration to capitalism, the oppression of marginalized communities, and a ruthless prison-industrial complex bent on turning mass social control into multiple sources of accumulation—will become eclipsed by the rise of the redemption script. As the headline in one article by the industry publication Inside Philanthropy proclaimed, “Redemption: An Accelerator Puts Former Inmates in the Driver’s Seat.” The redemption script is all about helping those incarcerated and released to absorb capitalist ideology and to integrate into the capitalist labor market as compliant workers and “social entrepreneurs.”

Italian communist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of passive revolution to refer to efforts by the dominant groups to bring about mild reform from above by absorbing intellectual, political, and cultural leaders of the subordinate majority into the ruling bloc in order to decapitate and undercut more radical movements from below. Gramsci also proposed the general concept of hegemony to refer to the attainment by ruling groups of stable forms of power through two distinct relations of domination: coercive domination and consensual domination. All social order is maintained through a combination of consensual and coercive dimensions: In Gramsci’s words, hegemony is “consensus protected by the armor of coercion.” For Gramsci, then, the state is not all about repression; it also plays an educative role, seeking consensus via the co-optation of intellectuals and activists through political, professional, and union organizations that are funded and organized by the private associations of capital and the ruling class.

As William I. Robinson has discussed in his works on global capitalism, in the wake of the 1960s worldwide rebellions and the 1970s crisis of world capitalism, emerging transnational elites launched capitalist globalization as a project to break resistance worldwide, regenerate global accumulation, and reconstitute their lost hegemony. Capitalist globalization brought to an unprecedented expansion of the ranks of surplus labor that, in the United States, has been drawn disproportionately from racially oppressed communities; this surplus humanity has come to constitute the raw material for mass caging and for the exercise of other forms of social control carried out by an expanding global police state.

In recent years, however, global capitalism has been once again facing a crisis of hegemony and confronting a renewed challenge by mass movements from below, including the movement critiquing the prison-industrial complex and calling for abolition. For passive revolution to succeed in reestablishing the hegemony of the ruling class, the mild reform from above must include efforts to disseminate the ideological and programmatic content of the reform itself and have it achieve hegemony over calls for more radical change. That is, legal reforms such as the First Step Act (and others undoubtedly to come) must involve the diffusion of a redemption script that can displace the radical critique of the prison-industrial complex and abolition and become the new hegemonic narrative.

There has been a symbiosis between corporate funders, institutions, and the state in the current campaign to co-opt the new movement against mass incarceration. The resurgent investment in prison educational funding and educational programs for the formerly incarcerated may be welcome in and of themselves. Yet they serve the larger purpose of ensuring the hegemony of the redemption script. Deprived of a radical critique of capitalism and its prison-industrial complex, the movement against mass incarceration runs the risk of being tamed before it has the chance to develop into a revolutionary movement for abolition as part of the struggle against the depredations of global capitalism.

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* This blog is extracted from a longer commentary that will be published in a forthcoming issue of Social Justice.
William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism (Haymarket, 2018). Oscar Fabian Soto is a Chicano activist-scholar, a teaching associate in the Department of Sociology at University of California-Santa Barbara, and a PhD candidate in sociology and Black studies. He works with formerly incarcerated and disenfranchised gang-involved youth and is recipient of a Hein Family Fellowship and a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholarship.