Against For a World Without Prisons or Police Amendment

Bill S.

By way of introduction, I was politically active in the sixties and in the 70s, and I joined New American Movement and helped start one of its campus chapters in Ohio. During the 70s I moved from the Midwest to Berkeley, and I taught at the East Bay Socialist School. Later, NAM merged with DSOC (Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee), later to rename itself Democratic Socialists of America, and I became a DSA member. I have been a teacher, occasionally teaching courses on the history of the 60s, and a writer. For the past nine years I have taught college courses at San Quentin Prison. I also maintain ties with people from my home town in a state that went heavily for Trump. Like everyone in DSA, I think a lot about what kind of better society is possible and how that better society can be achieved. 

The platform plank “For a World Without Prisons or Police,” to be completely honest, exemplifies why I am thinking of dropping out of DSA. Some of the ideas are good, but some strike me as really crazy. I certainly believe we need radical reforms to policing, but they need to be well thought-out and based in reality—reality in all of its messy complexity. This platform plank seems to me divorced from reality. Crime is a huge problem, falling most heavily on the underserved. People with very little lose their possessions to theft, people are violently assaulted on the streets and in their homes, and mass shootings plague elementary schools, churches, outdoor concerts, and parks. And how are the disarmed police to response to mass shootings in progress—with paint balls? 

To do effective politics, we have to immerse ourselves in the whole truth, not just parts of it. We have to confront to horrible acts of police brutality that happen daily while acknowledging the great job being done by some working class men and women working in law enforcement. We have to work for deep reform in the criminal justice system while acknowledging that there are people so dangerous they need to be confined. We need to a platform by people who have spent time in the prisons, and riding along in police cars, and reading police reports, and having hard, honest conversations with cops and with people who have done lots of terrible things to other people. I can tell you that there are convicted violent felons who think disarming the police is the craziest thing they’ve ever heard of. 

I would hate to image how far I would get with working class Trump voters in my home town using language like this: For all of the working class to achieve collective liberation we must constrain, diminish, and abolish the carceral forces of the state—from prisons and police themselves, to their manifestations in all forms throughout society. We are committed to the horizon of abolition… If I were a secret agent working for the Trump forces, I would encourage socialists to write and speak just like this. 

So much of this platform seems to speak exclusively to existing socialists, and its success will be recruiting a handful of people like us.