Angela Davis, Gina Dent discuss abolition as ‘a politic and a practice’

Political activist and scholar Angela Davis and UC Santa Cruz associate professor of feminist studies Gina Dent discussed abolition “as a politic and a practice” at a virtual event held by the Center for Race and Gender, or CRG, Thursday.

The CRG Fall 2020 Distinguished Guest Lecture was moderated by CRG faculty director Leti Volpp and livestreamed on the CRG Facebook page and UC Berkeley YouTube channel. Davis and Dent answered questions regarding abolition feminism and the erasure of queer, indigenous, anti-capitalist and women of color’s history within the movement.

“Abolitionists were the first to call attention to the fact that we could not simply call for the prosecution of particular police officers who have engaged in racist violence and assume that the whole question of racist state violence could be addressed in that way,” Davis said during the event.

The first section focused on the relationship between prison and police abolition, with Davis and Dent both emphasizing the interconnection between the two.

Davis addressed the historic role of global capitalism in “retooling” police departments, saying it led to a rapid increase in prison population and construction in the 1990s.

“Police abolition was always an implicit aspect of prison abolition,” said Davis at the event. “As parts of the criminal justice system, it is virtually impossible to imagine the abolition of one without the abolition of the other.”

Dent added that “disarticulating” crime and punishment is key to explaining the prison industrial complex, or the increased spending and privatization of imprisonment.

On the topic of abolition feminism, Davis said feminism is the foundation of abolitionist thinking and can be used to understand gendered violence. Dent agreed, adding abolition feminism recognizes the role of settler colonialism in the U.S. criminal justice system.

“Abolition feminism requires us always to see from below, always to see intersectionality,” Dent said during the event. “That means we have to be thinking about settler colonialism operating with the idea that it is saving certain people. For example, we see protecting women as a reason for extending criminality in our current justice system.”

After, Volpp turned the discussion to what strategies abolition feminists would use to address gendered violence.

Davis said abolition feminists consider the criminalization of gendered violence ineffective, because it strengthens structural racism and presumes gendered violence will always be there rather than stopping it.

Dent added there is also a need to recognize internal criminalization in regard to gendered violence.

“It is important not to rely on the criminalization that extends not just from the criminal justice system outside of universities, but even the individual internalization of those ways of thinking and relating that are part of the way we treat other kinds of violations,” Dent said at the event.

Contact Annika Kim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaKimC.

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