As DSA grows and takes up more ambitious campaigns, we will confront state repression in entirely new ways. Prisons, the police, and a growing army of semi-private security contractors are all repressive forces. They are clear existential threats to any movement for socialism and justice. Therefore, the abolition of police and prisons must be an explicit and institutionalized goal for DSA.
It is a core responsibility of the NPC to plan for issues which will impede the organization and threaten our members. Violent state repression in the form of the police and prison system is an issue the new NPC must take seriously. If we are to continue moving for universal healthcare, or pushing for democratic and militant worker activity, then the growing movement to outlaw dissent is a major barrier to organizing and a threat to any further political action. The new NPC will have to grapple with this challenge.
Within days of taking office, Donald Trump declared “this will be a law and order administration.” In the same statement, President Trump made a direct threat against Black Lives Matter, saying, “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.” In addition to street protest, Black Lives Matter has called for “divestment from exploitative forces including prisons… police.” Black Youth Project 100 has called for a similar divestment approach to police and prisons.
Democratic socialism will be impossible so long as investments are funneled into the police and prison system. DSA must explicitly support the divestment and reinvestment initiatives laid out by Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100, while also incorporating these demands into our campaigns and struggles. As they are targeted by Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump, and police officials across the country, DSA must stand firm in our anti-racist commitment to solidarity with their struggles.
After his statement threatening BLM and emboldening police and prosecutorial abuse, Donald Trump wasted no time in ratcheting up the repression. He quickly ensured inauguration protesters — and some members of the press — were charged with felonies carrying ten year prison sentences. By February, a mere month into Trump’s presidency, Republicans in 18 states introduced legislation aggressively criminalizing protest.
Many of our members organize in this hostile climate, such as DSA Praxis candidate Leslie Driskill of Oklahoma. In May, the Governor of Oklahoma signed a bill which makes it a felony and a minimum $10,000 fine for a protester to trespass on property containing pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.” The law also penalizes any organization “found to be a conspirator” in this type of trespass with a fine up to $1 million dollars. This law is a direct response to the Standing Rock struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. If DSA is to live up to our potential, we will face similar repressive backlash. The abolition of police and prisons is a material necessity for socialism, and thus the very future of DSA and the left more broadly.
We already have members of DSA taking on police and prison. In Chicago, where the largest portion of the operating budget is spent on police, the anti-racist working group is moving in coalition with local racial justice groups to push for a Civilian Police Accountability Council. In New York, members are working for police accountability and to close Rikers Island jail — the infamous prison where Kalief Browder was held and brutalized over three years for allegedly stealing a backpack. Kalief committed suicide two years after his release. DSA Praxis supports these and other efforts already occurring within our organization. Though policing and prisons are local matters, effectively opposing them requires national effort. We can and must do more.
It is the police who will break up our protests and picket lines. It is the police who evict us from our homes. It is the police who deport undocumented people and terrorize immigrant communities. It is the police who brutalize and kill with impunity — particularly victimizing Black people, natives, queer people, people with mental disabilities, and the poor.
It is the prison system which holds our political forebears like Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement, unjustly imprisoned since 1977. It is the prison system that uses a cash bail system which preys on those who cannot pay, especially people of color, forcing them to remain in prison for months on end while awaiting trial. It is the U.S. prison system which incarcerates over two million people, more than 20% of the world’s total prison population. It is the prison system which super-exploits the incarcerated, allowing corporations to pay them pennies per hour without any possibility of unionization.
We are resolute in our conviction that the police and the prison system have no place in a socialist world.
Strong, well-resourced communities don’t require repression to keep order. There is nothing democratic, nor socialist about police and prisons. The abolition of the police and prison system may seem impossible, but if abolition is unworkable, then so too is socialism. We believe very much that socialism is possible, probable even, and we know many of you are with us.
In the DSA priorities straw poll, criminal justice was the third most common response. We believe that abolition is the best socialist answer to police and prison repression. In order to get there, we must begin by using the base-building model to develop strong community engagement and committed long-term organizing relationships that carry from campaign to campaign. As our campaigns escalate on our path to victory, state repression is assured. We will need trust — and a national organization that takes opposition to police and prison seriously — to see our mission to completion.
DSA Praxis makes the following commitments as part of the Campaign for the Abolition of Police and Prisons:
- If we as an organization are to take BDS seriously, then DSA Praxis calls for us to join Students for Justice in Palestine, Black Lives Matter, and Jewish Voices for Peace to campaign for an immediate end to all police training exchange programs with Israel. As we mentioned in our platform, one of the police chiefs overseeing the police response to the Ferguson uprising had himself travelled to Israel for tactical training. It must stop.
- Convene a commission on the Campaign for the Abolition of Police and Prisons, serving as a vehicle for tracking anti-protest laws, coordinating jail support for chapters who take direct action, and providing national assistance to local campaigns against repression
- Contact Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project national and local leaders to explore ways in which we could collaborate on particular elements of their police and prison divestment strategy
Additionally, we must connect to anti-racist groups both internally and beyond DSA to explore nationally-backed local campaigns for:
- Unarmed mediation and intervention training for street harassment, partner violence, gang violence, and mental health crises — potentially modeled after groups like Cure Violence and Ceasefire
- Decriminalization of most nonviolent crime. It is often petty offenses, such as traffic violations or other low risk infractions that pull poor people into the orbit of the prison system. Criminalizing these types of petty offenses is also a significant source of revenue for some cities, particularly those with strong Black populations such as Ferguson. Decriminalization is the only surefire way to stop this exploitation and racism.
- Restorative justice models rather than prison sentences
- Community patrol and copwatch trainings
Ravi Ahmad (New York)
Michael Patterson (Anchorage, AK)
Allie Cohn (Knoxville, TN)
Zac Echola (Red River Valley, ND & MN)
Celeste Earley (Anchorage, AK)
Leslie Driskill (Oklahoma City, OK)
R.L. Stephens (Chicago)
**BDS refers to the boycott, divest, sanction model from the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa that is now being applied to Israel as international solidarity with Palestinians.