Justice Means Treating Everyone Like They’re Rich and White
Once, I was arrested with a poor man. They threw the poor man in a dank cell, and escorted me to my hotel to get a takeaway dinner and some sheets. Then the cops made me a bed out of their own desks. They let me charge my phone and call my parents, constantly, until I got out (we all got out).
That’s privilege. Rich/majority privilege where I am, but insert rich/white for the west.
Many people would look at that and say “you should have been thrown in the cell.” As if that would be justice. That’s just two people in a cell. It’s of no benefit to poor man.
Real justice, transformative justice, is not punishing everyone equally. It’s not punishing anyone at all. It’s treating everyone like they’re rich.
Justice is here, just unevenly distributed
The fact is, that we already have the criminal justice system we want. Police are effectively abolished in rich, white suburbs. Most ‘white collar’ crimes are simply not prosecuted. Rich/majority people rarely go to jail. Hence prison and police abolition activists are not calling for some radical new system of rights. They’re just calling for the rights that rich/majority people already have.
Like the future, justice is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.
Think of all those comparisons you see. The white rapist Brock Turner gets three months, an innocent black man gets five years. White celebrities get off for bribing colleges, a homeless black woman enrolls her child wrong and goes to jail.
Our instinctive answer is to bay for the blood of the white person, but then we are missing the injustice of it all. We are buying into the logic of a punitive system that we should be overturning, wholesale.
Just start from the perspective that the modern carceral (police and prison) system is as backwards as stockades and public executions were in the past. From a historical perspective this is undoubtedly true. We are not at the end of history and our descendants will be shocked that we kept human beings in cells and made rape jokes about them.
From this perspective, a transitional justice system looks a lot like the one rich people already have. Basically letting people go and solving the problems another way. Or just ignoring them, rather than adding more suffering on top. This is what we do for rich/majority people.
Most theft is wage theft, which is simply never investigated. Most fraud is tax fraud, which is ignored. Rich/majority people — if they are ever arrested — make bail, they get pleas, they get probation, they get every intervention short of jail, and they’re even sent to different jails.
This is a terrible corruption of the current justice system and I’m saying don’t change it. Just extend it to everyone else.
They say that justice is blind, but that’s a joke. Judges aren’t blind. Neither are legislators. Laws are written and interpreted by the powerful and favor them as well. Justice is not blind. We stand before her in our own skin, with our own poverty, and she judges us for it all.
How do you fix this? You could literally have judges never see the defendant. You could have a rich white boy stand in for every defendant. You could even have a paired justice system, where for every black man sentenced, a random white kid is pulled out of college as well.
This is all obviously impractical, which brings us back to police and prison abolition, just a different way of thinking of it. In this view, this abolition is nothing new, it’s simply the extension of privileges people already have.
Abolish Prisons, Abolish Police
In this sense, the prison abolition movement is like the slavery abolition movement. Slaves were not asking for a new category of rights, just the rights that rich whites already had.
The answer to slavery was not to make white people slaves, it was to set everyone free. In the same way, the answer to criminal injustice is not being harsher on rich white people. It’s being more lenient to everyone else.
Basically the Golden Rule. Treat others like you’d like to be treated.
This is the logic of the carceral abolition movement. It’s nothing radical. In fact, it’s already here. It’s the system we have for tax evaders, for celebrity drunk drivers, for people that can afford the best lawyers. Let them go. This is the simplest route to criminal justice reform. Just treat everyone like they’re majority and rich.
Prison abolition is really a no-brainer, once you use your brain a little. Read Angela Davis’s book.