“The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell”: Reflections Toward Abolition

By: Katrina Phidd

I struggle between a place of hopelessness, rage, and the paradox of exhaustion while also feeling that I am not doing enough. Black people have been arguing our right to be alive, to receive the same resources and opportunities as white people, the same benefit of the doubt, and pleading with those in power to take our pain seriously for years on end. However, an awareness that the system is sustained when its pervasiveness leads to our inaction has forced reflection on my own ability to contribute to the legacy of work to dismantle structures of oppression. 

The goal is abolition. To dismantle “the system” through various tools.  As a community, knowing how to work the system, who holds what power, and who holds them accountable, challenges the sustainability of systemic racism, putting power into our hands. Our knowledge and ability to use tools of the system is a direct threat to its continuance. While voting has never been the end-all-be-all solution, there is a reason people continue to fight for the right to vote and run for office, while others simultaneously boldy fight to disenfranchise and silence our communities. 

Dismantling, not reforming, systems of oppression must happen and must happen now. When Black people continue to be murdered by police, it becomes overwhelmingly difficult to believe this time, this death, will be the last one. I simply do not believe it. The summer of 2016, Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer, not far from my home in Minnesota. We marched, we chanted, and we cried, but the officer who killed him was acquitted of all charges. Now, in Minnesota and all over the world, people are taking to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd. Justice to some is charging and convicting all officers involved in his murder with actual sentences. Justice can also be ending our violent system of policing through abolition.

I do not believe reforming the police will end the reckless murder of Black people. Minneapolis implemented reforms, provided training on implicit bias and de-escalation, diversified their police force, and required the activation of body cameras while traveling to calls. George Floyd was still killed. If we sit back patiently, justice will NOT eventually be served.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell. 

The word ‘system,’ itself, can make change seem incredibly daunting. A system is a set of components working together to produce certain outcomes. If the whole system is the problem, a system that is built to continually harm and oppress Black bodies and lives, envisioning any immediate way to make lasting change can seem unattainable. However, an understanding of the system in this way suggests it is faceless–but that is not the case at all. Even while many people work within this structure governed by laws, historical precedent, and a culture of status quo, an understanding of the system as faceless and unknown perpetuates the system. Voting is a tool we use to achieve abolition. It is a strategy to move us forward in a moral direction, identifying which candidates hold abolitionist values, allowing us to have a weighted voice as police budgets are built and approved by Alderman and the Mayor in city hall.

Electing people like Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Alderwoman Maria Hadden who will unapologetically directly quote young people living in their communities, taking stances to remove officers from Chicago Public Schools, terminating a 33 million dollar contract with CPD, move us toward abolition. These are the leaders who have proven to us our voices can make it to City Hall. These leaders are choosing to invest money into preventative versus reactive services, ultimately choosing a path of abolition and transformative values. We have the ability to vote for or against the State’s Attorney and Judges. The State’s Attorney’s and Judges have the power to decide when to stop prosecuting and convicting crimes of survival, how to hold officers accountable and can bring to light past and current cases of police torture. 

We cannot rely on the systems in place to bring justice for our communities, but we can take time out of our day to encourage our people to run for office, vote, and dismantle the system from the inside while also hitting the streets to advocate for vital policy changes and making our voices heard at forums. While we protest in the streets, holding those in power accountable by voting strengthens our voices.

From trying to process collective trauma, imagining what a truly transformed society would look like, to feeling anger over and over again, the world feels really loud right now. Knowing where you are needed is in constant flux as protests and organizing evolve and knowing where you are at in your own head can be a challenge. But, when our confusion and exhaustion allow those in power to perpetuate the system, our vote is disruption. The fight to dismantle systems of oppression is continuous and layered, we must use EVERY tool we have to win.