Copaganda is tired and played. Far too often journalists rely on police, sheriffs, prison officials, and prosecutors as credible sources without scrutiny or even a basic fact-check. These uncritical and unprofessional behaviors lead to an overwhelming amount of traditional news that simply spreads biased police propaganda and stirs up unfounded fears, stifling the public imagination to see beyond the blue.
We need more popular media—news, television, movies, podcasts, music, fiction, and poetry alike—that does the opposite, that not only questions the logic behind our overreliance on police but outright rejects the need for their existence altogether.
Good news, content like that already exists.
Below we've compiled a list of books, music, articles, and media clips that clearly present the harms of the carceral system and are already dreaming of creative alternatives. If some of our recommendations seem surprising to you, try engaging them through an abolitionist lens: How is this artist imagining a future where our collective needs can be met? How might the language or images they're using advocate for increased liberation?
As always we want to hear from you. Tag us on social media with your favorite abolitionist recommendations.
⮕ "The Uvalde shooting is just the latest example of why we need abolition" by Mon M in Prism
⮕ "Ruth Wilson Gilmore Talks About Abolition Geography and Liberation" by Lexi McMenamin in Teen Vogue
⮕ "Say it Again: Abolish the Police" by Jack Mirkinson in Discourse Blog
"You can come up with a million academic arguments about why police are such a worthless part of American life, but none of them would be nearly as compelling as the scandal that has unfolded in Uvalde in the past couple of days. The police response to this week's school massacre has been so pathetic, so callous, so cruel, so selfish and arrogant and stupid, and so undeniably inhumane that it has proven beyond a doubt that this is not an institution worth protecting."
⮕ Abolition Week 2022: If you haven't read the stories from Day 1: Law & Disorder or Day 2: Reality TV, check them out now.
⮕ Becoming Abolitionists by Derecka Purnell
"Initially, the notion of 'police abolition' repulsed me. The idea seemed like it was created by white activists who did not know the violence that I knew, that I have felt. At the time, I considered abolition to be, pejoratively, 'utopic.' I'd seen too much sexual violence and had buried too many friends to consider getting rid of the police in St. Louis, let alone across the nation…"
"But over time, I came to realize that, in reality, the police were a placebo. Calling them felt like something, as the legal scholar Michelle Alexander explains, and something feels like everything when your other option is nothing. Police couldn't do what we really needed. They could not heal relationships or provide jobs. They did not interrupt violence; they escalated it."
⮕ Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
⮕ Abolition Geography: Essays Toward Liberation by Ruth Gilmore Wilson
⮕ Diaries of a Terrorist by Christopher Soto
⮕ A.B.O. Comix, by a collective of creators and activists who work to amplify the voices of LGBTQ prisoners through art.
⮕ Formation, music by Beyoncé, directed by Melina Matsoukas
Just this week, Beyoncé dropped new music with "Break My Soul," a song that has all of us asking: "Does the queen want us to quit our jobs?" When "Formation" was released in 2016, imagery of a cop cruiser sinking in a flooded New Orleans neighborhood and a young Black boy dancing in front of police in riot gear somehow had abolitionists and police alike thinking Beyoncé was calling them to formation. She set the record straight in an interview with Elle: "I am against police brutality and injustice." Still, she said she wasn't (yet) anti-cop. Bey did, however, launch "Boycott Beyoncé" merch to troll law-enforcement entities that vowed not to do security for her stadium tour after she performed Formation at the SuperBowl.
⮕ Industry Baby, music by Lil Nas X, directed by Christian Breslauer
Watch for the burning prison at the end. What world is Lil Nas asking us to imagine?
⮕ Press, music by Cardi B, directed by Jora Frantzis and Cardi B
This video debuted around the time Cardi faced felony charges for assault, stemming from a fight at a strip club. It's both about Cardi fighting the press and the pressure of the criminal-legal system as she testifies in court, and ultimately lands in an orange jumpsuit after angry white witnesses end up with bullet wounds, lying in a pool of their own blood when the lights flicker during Cardi's music-video trial.
⮕ San Quentin, by Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin Prison in 1969
Most people don't associate country artists as being anything other than overly patriotic cop lovers, but in this recording, Johnny Cash was making the second of three albums he recorded live—in prisons. As someone who felt like he'd been given a lot of second chances for his mistakes, Cash said he felt compassion for people who were incarcerated for their mistakes. From these lyrics, he didn't see the value of prison, either:
San Quentin, I hate every inch of you
You've cut me and have scarred me through and through
And I'll walk out a wiser weaker man
Mister Congressman, you can't understand
San Quentin, what good do you think you do?
Do you think I'll be different when you're through?
You bent my heart and mind and you warp my soul
And your stone walls turn my blood a little cold
⮕ Dirty Computer: an emotion picture by Janelle Monáe
When it comes to Black queer folks, the surveillance and policing of identity happens both at the hands of the state and of broader society. Here, Janelle Monae uses Afro-futurist motifs throughout the 48-minute film to visualize more liberated futures.
TV shows & films:
Quietly abolitionist? Queen Latifah has this line: "I'm who you call when you can't call 911."
⮕ Spiderhead, directed by Joseph Kosinski
See if you can spot the use of police as a plot device and a means of projecting prisons into the future.
⮕ Time, directed by Garret Bradley
⮕ 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay
Clips & performances:
⮕ Angela Davis' first television appearance in 1972
⮕ Derecka Purnell making the case for abolition on The Daily Show
⮕ Alysia Nicole Harris performing her poem "Baby Boy" with musician Tina Colón Williams
Podcasts & discussions:
⮕ Abolition X on Spotify
Hosts Vic Mensa, Indigo Mateo, and Richie Reseda discuss how abolition isn't just about dismantling the prison industrial complex, but also about imagining a world based on community, accountability, and healing.
⮕ pop justice Live! A 6/16 Scalawag Twitter space with Da'Shaun Harrison, Jewel Wicker, Ko Bragg, and Tre'vell Anderson
⮕ Outer Space by Big KRIT
All the stars and the planets, and I'm worried 'bout a cop
That might shoot down the drop 'cause I took off in the lot…
I remember all I ever wanted was a jetpack
So I could go farther in the hood that I would live at
'Stead of playing cops and robbers, probably should've astronauted
⮕ Anybody by Young Thug, the song being used in the RICO case against him and his rap group, YSL.
I never killed anybody
But I got something to do with that body
I got the streets on my back
Carry it like I'm moving a body
I told them to shoot a hundred rounds
Like he trying to movie the body
It was, like, 11 in the morning
Skipping school—that's a truancy body.
I made me some racks in the morning.
⮕ Die Jim Crow record label: The first record label in the U.S. for systems-impacted musicians.
⮕ Orignal rap by Lil Mobb:
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