Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Review: We Do This 'til we FREE US

We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice

By Mariame Kaba
Edited by Tamara K. Knopper
Foreword by Naomi Murakawa
Haymarket Books: 206 pages

Book Review words by Charles Brooks

In the last year during the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the demand to defund the police pushed the discussion around policing in a way that just hasn’t been witnessed before. Police departments across the country were now under public pressure to review and cut spending priorities while reallocating dollars to community based interventions. The avalanche of poor reporting and misinformation caused confusion and misunderstanding around the defunding issue allowed the narrative to be redefined as well as coopted to conveniently fit within the liberal reformist narrative.  Then there’s the manufactured hysteria and heightened racial anxieties resulting from the backlash linking recent reports of rising violent crime to defunding the police.    

Is there a more perfect time for a book to step into this moment of confusion and crisis with a 
Mariame Kaba at an 2018 event. Credit madison365
blast of clarity?  Mariame Kaba does that with her book, We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice.  As an organizer and activist, Kaba began her work with political prisoner defense campaigns, “And, particularly the MOVE Nine, Ramona Africa, and all the women who were either killed or were imprisoned, some of whom are still in prison today, over a mass terroristic police attack against Black people in the United States. Something that does not get talked about as a form of police violence. But it’s the ultimate form of state violence throwing bombs on a bunch of people in their homes. That really was a radicalizing event for me. And it helped me to start to think about state violence in a different way.” 

In this collection of 31 essays and media interviews, We Do This ‘til we Free Us outlines Kaba’s analysis and views within an abolitionist framework.  She describes prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolition as a political vision with a structural analysis of oppression and as a practical organizing strategy: “PIC abolition is a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundational to our personal and community safety.” 

 Kaba’s analysis covers the school to prison pipeline, sexual violence, restorative justice practices, state surveillance, and transformative justice.  We Do This ‘til we Free Us also includes Kaba’s insight around the campaigns for Marissa Alexander, Rekia Boyd, Cyntoia Brown, and Bresha Meadows, to name a few.  She rejects the idea of relying on the Department of Justice for “justice”, that police reform works as well as the idea that prison addresses the systemic causes of violence. Her analysis is informative as well as instructive as she
clearly outlines the abolitionist principles, the steps to securing freedom for the incarcerated, and provides guidelines to drive and support organizing work in the community. 

With the years of political experience/knowledge Kaba has in activism and organizing, she understands the challenges that folks are facing as they process what they hear and read about “defunding the police” in real time. She readily admits not having all the answers but there’s still the pursuit in her work to grapple with the question(s) at hand. Kaba talks about being openly conflicted about civilian review and challenges herself in a way that provides a pathway and a model to transformational change: “None of us has all of the answers, or we would have ended oppression already.  But if we keep building the world we want, trying new things and learning from our mistakes, new possibilities emerge.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us not only highlights but informs the need for self-review to reframe our thinking.  This is a paradigm shift when she speaks about thinking about a transformative society, what that looks like and how do we get there. Kaba writes, “First, when we set about trying to transform society, we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform.  Our imagination of what a different world can be is limited. We are deeply entangled in the very systems we are organizing to change.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us is written in the abolitionist tradition that not only speaks to the compelling
Artist credit: Micah Bazant
need for a shift in thinking but the book is also grounded in self-determination. Throughout the book, Kaba discusses the transformative role the community has in determining accountability, transformative and restorative justice.  Here, Kaba writes about the essential role of community accountability and community work on a grassroots level -  collective organizing, participatory defense campaigns, mutual aid and community-based interventions.  As abolitionists, Kaba says the goal to dismantle and abolish the prison industrial complex is based on rendering the PIC obsolete by changing the conditions by which people live.  This is connected to a deeper premise based on the idea of building – building relationships, building community, and building a vision for the future. Kaba writes, “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all”? 

Related Posts: 

Further Reading:
Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

Project-NIA, is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.

Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action is an initiative led by researchers Woods Ervin, Mariame Kaba, and Andrea J. Ritchie. The project aims to interrupt and end the growing criminalization and incarceration of women and LGBTQ people of color for criminalized acts related to public order, poverty, child welfare, drug use, survival and self-defense, including criminalization and incarceration of survivors of violence.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Haiti Assassination Raises Red Flags Among Observers Fluent in History of US Intervention

It's quite striking that the arguments being made for a U.S. intervention in Haiti are so alike the ones that were used to justify the 1915-34 occupation."

July 8, 2021

In the wake of Wednesday's assassination of Jovenel Mo├»se, the unpopular, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian U.S.-backed Haitian president, observers fluent in the history of foreign interference in the hemisphere's first truly free republic sounded the alarm over the same sort of calls for intervention in the name of "stability" that preceded so many previous American invasions of Haiti.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Lost funding, lost history?

 FCN 1/26/99

    National News

    Lost funding, lost history?
    African Burial Ground Project may be cancelled by federal agency

    by Charles Brooks

      NEW YORK-When hundreds of artifacts and 427 skeletal remains of Africans brought to America were unearthed in May 1991, it threatened the construction of a 34-story, $276 million federal office building in lower Manhattan. In response to intense pressure from the Black community, the General Services Administration (GSA) made a commitment to preserve the historical legacy of this discovery.

      But the African Burial Ground Project, which has yielded important evidence about the 18th century slave presence in the north, may shut down by April 30, if additional funding from GSA isn't obtained. The project team, led by Dr. Michael L. Blakey, is locked in a heated dispute with the federal agency.

Saturday, May 22, 2021


words by Charles Brooks 

Police reform in America is difficult because police unions, elected officials – Democrat and Republican – along with their largely white constituents seeks to maintain a racial order disguised as “law and order”. Opposition to police reform is seen in the public and political support for blue lives matter, and proposed anti-protest legislation across the nation that will clearly pit police officers on the front line against protesters deemed rioters.  We saw this during the seventies when the activist demand for community control over the police was met with the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights or LEOBOR – such as the one passed by Maryland in 1974. Passed into law at a time when politicians and the police, together basked in the spectacle of “law and order” – which meant, get tough on Black folk.

Jonathan Hutto and Rodney Green outlines the activism against police brutality in Social Movements Against Racist Police Brutality and Department of Justice Intervention in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  They point to 2001 Washington Post data revealing between 1990 and 2000, Prince George’s police shot and killed more citizens per officer than any of the 50 largest city and county law enforcement agencies in the country - 84 % Black. Hutto and Green describes activism against police brutality in Prince Georges County, and the critical emergence of The People’s Coalition for Police Accountability (PCPA).  In 2001, PCPA pressured Maryland state legislators to introduce legislation to repeal LEOBOR in the General Assembly. But opposition from the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) eventually killed the proposed repeal measure in committee. The struggle for police reform in Maryland continued relentlessly in the twenty years afterward.

Throughout the Maryland General Assembly’s recent three-month state legislative session, the opposition became clear as several state legislators – Democrats and Republicans, along with the FOP had their own ideas about what police reform should look like. Throughout the combative session, opposing state legislators prioritized protecting police interests over the interests of the community.

Maryland became the latest state to enact extensive police reform measures only after state legislators successfully overrode Governor Hogan’s veto.  In fact, the most contentious measures during the legislative session were in fact, vetoed by the Republican Governor; repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), the new use of force standard and body cameras. He also vetoed measures to expand public access to records in police disciplinary cases and limit the use of no-knock warrants. 

The new police reform legislation creates a new unit in the attorney general's office to investigate police-involved deaths, prevents law enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment, and allows Baltimore City voters to self-determine whether Baltimore City or Maryland should have full control of the Baltimore City Police Department.

The new legislation also requires body cameras to be in use by July 2025; limits no-knock warrants to just between 8 am and 7 pm; a new statewide standard will now be in place outlining when officers can use force with criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison. The use of force must now be “necessary and proportional to prevent an imminent threat of physical injury" or achieve “a legitimate law enforcement objective.”  Police officers will now be required to intervene thus criminalizing those officers who don’t.

There’s also Anton’s Law - that provides the public to finally gain access to records previously fought to keep confidential under the guise of protecting the police. The public will be able to request disciplinary records and internal affairs complaints made against the police. And despite heavy opposition from Maryland’s FOP, complaints determined to be unsubstantiated, will now be available for public review as well.

The new police reform legislation ensures different policing but also brings into view the road ahead for police reform.  For one, legislation to remove police officers from schools and reallocate funding for needed school resources such as social workers failed. Furthermore, LEOBOR fell short on the question of community control.  It’s the Trial boards who are empowered with the final determination on disciplining acts of police misconduct while the boards’ lone public representative is relegated to a spectator – no say in determining an officer’s guilt.   “While the General Assembly repealed the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), it failed to implement the most important element of police accountability – community oversight. Community oversight means that there is a community-controlled and operated entity that is external to the police department or state-imposed processes that has power to investigate, adjudicate, and impose discipline,” reads in part, a statement from the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA). 

To truly transform policing in America, policing must include community control – where the community has a significant role in police matters, particularly around discipline.  Community control has been the demand made by Black activists since the sixties in response to the same police misconduct and brutality that often led to rebellious uprisings. The notion that the police can effectively investigate and discipline police defeats the very purpose of community control.  As the amplified voices of the community become more engaged with the entities of their communities – be it the police, education or healthcare - the path to self-determination, community control and a more inclusive participatory democracy becomes more visible and within reach.


Please support and visit The Brooks Blackboard's websiteour INTEL page of political resources, articles & analysis, and our video library, the OPEN MIND page,.  

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Related Reading:


Are mandatory minimums the answer in Baltimore City

What really happened to Freddy Gray?

Additional Reading:

List of articles on Black Community Control from The Black Agenda Report

Friday, May 21, 2021


words by Charles Brooks

The public display of Floyd’s gruesome death ignited massive protests across the country demanding reduced police budgets along with bans on tear gas, chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and limits on the police use of force. State and local legislators responded to the thousands of demonstrators on the streets with a barrage of their proposals attempting to address police reform.

Since last summer, state legislators in Maryland took notice and followed suit by convening a workgroup  to hammer out legislative proposals to address police reform in Maryland. On the ground, a coalition of 95 organizations – the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) began their grassroot campaign for police reform with demands grounded in racial justice and self-determination. Their demands seek to reverse unaccountable police misconduct with a process more transparent, more democratic and more aligned to the interests of the community, particularly those with Black working-class folk. In fact, three of their demands – if met – can fundamentally transform policing and the lives of Black folk in Maryland.

For one, there’s the demand to fully repeal the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBR); to

bring a “use of force” standard that doesn’t exist in Maryland; and create more transparency to the investigation process around police misconduct that right now, disables the release of vital information.  That’s because the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) blocks the release of information relating to police misconduct because they consider complaints part of the “personnel record,” not up for public release. As a result, family members, the community, advocates and activists are left in the dark regarding the progress or even the scope of any investigation.

The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights is problematic because of special entitled rights that are afforded to police officers when they’re investigated for misconduct allegations. This entitlement of rights are fundamental barriers to any semblance of transparency and accountability. Disciplinary records are expunged. Questioning occurs days after the misconduct occurred. Officers investigating officers. We see this time and time again when we learn about an officer’s history of misconduct with little or no disciplinary action taken.  These repeated episodes raise a simple question asked by many – why are they still employed as police officers? LEOBOR is what keeps them employed. The Coalition demands also include reversing control of the Baltimore City Police Department from the state of Maryland to Baltimore City; and removing police officers from public schools.

The data is stacked with evidence highlighting the need for real and meaningful police reform in Maryland. According to the ACLU-Maryland, Maryland now ranks among the least transparent states regarding police misconduct complaints where even conservative states such as Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have a more transparent disciplinary process than Maryland.  Maryland is one of only nine states in the country without a statewide standard around police “use of force”. And finally, Maryland is one of only three states in the country where the Governor approval is needed to parole those serving life and eligible for parole.

In addition, 109 people were killed by police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014, and 87 killed

since 2015.  Since 2014, statistics were no longer available for SWAT deployments. However, available statistics show between 2010 and 2014, police in Maryland conducted more than 8,000 raids. In the last year of data collection, in 2014 – statistics show 71% of SWAT deployments were considered “forcible entry”.  The statistics also disclose the largest number of SWAT teams were deployed in predominately Black populated counties; Baltimore City saw 230 deployments while Prince George’s County had 418.  

An ACLU-Maryland report on misconduct complaints reveals between 2015 and 2019, there were 13,392 complaints filed against 1,826 Baltimore City police officers and 22,884 use of force incidents in Baltimore.  There’s the mandated report on police settlements outlining the 269 claims paying out $2.6 million – that doesn't include the millions paid out in cases involving the Gun Force Task Force and, Freddie Gray. 

Maryland has the highest Black population in the country with more than 70% of Black prisoners. Once incarcerated, Division of Corrections (DOC) prison laborers earn .90 cents to $2.75 per day and between 17 cents and $1.16 an hour at the Maryland Correctional Enterprises earn  Bear in mind that Maryland spends nearly $8 million a year to pay for prisoner labor while their prisoner labor program earned $52 million from the sale of products made from prison labor, ranging from furniture and flags to stationery and license plates.

Back home, the families are left to deal with the lingering and continuing trauma resulting from police brutality. The stories of the families who suffered loss by the hands of the police provides deep insight into not just their trauma but the trauma felt by their friends and extended community as well.  Their story and testimony tells us their grief is real.  Their loss is real. And their trauma is just as real. Loss of sleep. Loss of appetite.  The up and down ride on the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the ups and downs of anxiety, stress and depression.  

This is the backdrop highlighting the need for community control and police reform when Maryland state legislators began their 2021 legislative session back in January. 


Related Reading:

Retreating from Police Reform in NYC

Are mandatory minimums the answer for Baltimore?

What really happened to Freddy Gray?

Please support and visit The Brooks Blackboard's websiteour INTEL page of political resources, articles & analysis, and our video library, the OPEN MIND page.

Please LIKE and FOLLOW our Facebook page.

Follow me on Twitter at @_CharlesBrooks