An Abolitionist Critique of Violence
In popular and legal discourse, gun violence is most often conceptualized exclusively in terms of intentional attacks that result in harm. But these popular conceptions of violence are too narrow in that they do not recognize the larger context that precipitates and sustains violence. Meanwhile, this myopic, decontextualized focus produces inadequate, unjust approaches in response, all of which tend to center on criminal law enforcement. An abolitionist critique of violence, by contrast, offers a more accurate and expansive account of the material realities of violence—its causes and consequences—and enables more meaningful ways of reducing violence. Contemporary abolitionists focus on the racialized political, economic, militarist, and environmental roots and manifestations of violence. These root causes of violence include longstanding, historically entrenched practices that have created and maintained racialized poverty, economic inequality, and gun violence; contemporary legal and economic arrangements from urban planning to tax policy; militarism and its widespread deadly consequences; and a closely related disregard for the earth, our natural environment, and the well-being of all those who inhabit our planet. This article proceeds by engaging the critical reflections, writing, organizing, and imaginative visions of contemporary abolitionists who are confronting the sources of violence by building solidaristic and equitable economic alternatives, proliferating peaceful and constructive approaches to violence that do not rely on militarized criminal law enforcement, working to reallocate resources from militarism toward human flourishing, and to commence a just transition to more environmentally sustainable forms of organizing human life on earth.