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Amid Widespread Calls for Abolition, Mariame Kaba Sheds Light With Latest Book

Restorative justice models emphasize repairing past harm, as well as preventing it from occurring in the future. Importantly, this is accomplished without policing or punitive solutions. It views justice as a community process in the pursuit of healing and reconciliation, rather than a means of retribution or deterrence. Restorative justice doesn’t ignore harms—on the contrary, it seeks to address them at their root, and foster real prevention.

To Kaba, PIC abolition—and, by extension, restorative justice—is a “vision of a restructured society and world…It’s trying to bring into being a world where we have everything that we need to survive and thrive.”

Expanding on this, she added, “That includes food and shelter and education and health and art and beauty and all the things. That’s what PIC abolition is as a framework and a practice.” Kaba therefore believes that incarceration, policing, and other forms of surveillance and punishment are acts of violence, and should not exist in a healthy society or community.

Because of this, she works primarily on abolitionist campaigns, such as Reparations Now, The Chicago Freedom School, and Survived and Punished New York. She is also the founder of Project NIA, an organization whose aim is to end youth incarceration. This work takes many forms—such as promoting and engaging in restorative justice processes, leading release campaigns, conducting research, and publishing educational tools, to name only a few. She is active in racial, gender, and transformative justice movements alike.

Ever conscious of de-centering herself in the movement, Kaba emphasizes that this is a collective process. “I’m very conscientious about not being the main person anywhere,” Kaba said. “I don’t want that. I want to work with other people. I very carefully and deliberately choose how I’m going to show up in the world. I always want to make sure I’m always opening the door for other people. That, to me, is really important. We always need more people.”

So last summer, when her phone was ringing off the hook with speaking opportunities and questions about calls to “defund the police” and “abolish the prison-industrial complex,” Kaba turned them down. Instead, she wrote a book.

Organized into seven sections, We Do This ‘Till We Free Us is a collection of interviews, essays, and other writings—primarily by Mariame Kaba, with the perspectives of others interspersed through interviews and collective conversations. Generally speaking, part one acts as an introduction to abolitionist thought; part two explores the ways we, as a society, view victims; part three covers transformative justice; part four discusses the uses and limitations of reform; part five introduces abolitionist organizing and theory; part six reimagines classic ideas of punishment; and finally, part seven closes the book with an emphasis on the importance of collective action.

Published by Haymarket Books, a Chicago-based radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher, the book is described as an accessible introduction to abolition—making it a timely, unacademic resource for anyone unfamiliar with the concept. Additionally though, and as Kaba explained, it also acts as a guide for current abolitionists, “So you don’t have to be somebody who knows nothing, and you don’t have to be somebody who knows everything.”

Interestingly, the spike in abolition discourse that energized Kaba to write this book didn’t come as a major surprise to her. She said, “It was my belief that more people would want to engage an abolitionist vision and practice. I’ve always believed that.” Kaba emphasizes, though, that the work is far from over. “I still think PIC abolition is an unpopular view … and we have a lot of work to do to bring more people in.” 


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