In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, abolitionists were repeatedly asked to explain what they meant by “abolish the police”—the idea so seemingly foreign that its literal meaning evaded interviewers. The narrative rapidly turned to the abolitionists’ secondary proposals, as interviewers quickly jettisoned the idea of literally abolishing the police. What the incredulous journalists failed to see was that abolishing police and prisons is not aimed merely at eliminating the collateral consequences of other social ills. Abolitionists seek to build a society in which policing and incarceration are unnecessary. Rather than a society without a means of protecting public safety, abolitionists desire a society where the entire public is safe. That safety requires security in all our material needs, not merely protection from private violence.
Abolition democracy challenges us to envision a society where all people have the respect, education, economic resources, civil rights, and franchise necessary to participate fully in all significant aspects of public life—a society in which we are both safe and free. This challenge to our worldview is further compounded by the prevalence of inequality and a culture of violence in American society. In this Article, I meet that challenge with a groundbreaking look at how such a vision requires us to look at public safety not as a zero-sum game between liberty and security, but as a collaborative promotion of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all.