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This essay is a part of pop justice, Scalawag's newsletter exploring the intersection of popular culture and justice—namely through abolition. Sign up here.
On December 23, 2022, social media was set ablaze after a Los Angeles jury found recording artist Tory Lanez guilty of three charges related to the 2020 shooting of hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion. Megan's fans, as well as survivors and victims of gender(ed) and intimate partner violence (IPV), took to social media to celebrate what they understood to be a victory. And so did apparent abolitionists.
Many jokingly sent tweets like "abolition can wait" and other iterations of this phrase to celebrate what was purported as a win for Megan, but nothing Megan endured was worth celebrating. In fact, everything about this case is an argument in favor of abolition—not against. Megan was harmed the moment she was shot, and has been abused—by the public, by the media, by her peers and colleagues, and by the judicial system—ever since. It is because of penal systems that we don't have the proper structures, or the means to build these structures, where we can prevent harm and abuse, or respond to it in a way that does not punish.
Over the course of the two-week trial, and the two years between the shooting and the legal proceedings, there had been an inundating amount of mis- and disinformation about what happened that summer night in 2020—and how everyone's memory and rememory of that night was being depicted in the courtroom. Gossip blogs, eminent rappers like Drake and 50 Cent, and men revered as pillars of hip-hop commentary—such as DJ Akademiks and Joe Budden (who is, himself, a former rapper, though his prominence is more directly related to his being a media personality)—leveraged attacks at Megan throughout the last two years. (It's worth noting that every man listed above has been accused of some form of IPV, sexual abuse, and/or physical violence).
When a decision had been made, and in Megan's favor, the celebration acted as a collective sigh of relief. However, what this verdict also enkindled was a conversation about abolition, and what an abolitionist response to carcerality as an answer to violence can and should be.
The carcerality of gender and the antiblack nature of misogynoir and patriarchy are what allowed for Megan to experience being shot by a man she had been intimate with simply because she bruised his ego, and then have to leave her story in the hands of strangers to determine whether or not her trauma is legitimate. This is what court does: it requires victims to share and reshare their stories, to relive the trauma of the events that led to a trial, in hopes that a jury (or a judge) will decide they were emotional enough, polished enough, thoughtful enough, kind enough, compelling enough to believe. In many ways, this is an expression of the politics of desire. Victims are required to formulate their words perfectly, to recall every aspect of their experience into their rememory for the sake of selling their story. In other words, they have to make themselves and their story something that the deciding party desires; something, and some thing, that is palatable.
But abolition contends with preventing harm, not merely reacting to it. By this, I mean that abolition functions as a starting point for us to build communities and environments wherein we make collective decisions on safety and the maintenance of the spaces we inhabit. As I discuss in my book, Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness, abolition is not an end goal; it is where we must begin. Our ongoing commitment to abolition is grounded and rooted in the understanding that no one is the sum total of their experiences; that none of us are completely bad just as none of us are wholly good. And, rather, that none of the violence or harm we commit exists in a vacuum; it has a story.
The violence and structures that must be abolished are not just the prisons we recognize as part of the prison industrial complex—it's patriarchy and misogynoir, the judicial system, and prioritizing punishment over accountability.
Punitive measures and carcerality push people into a cyclical experience of violence, in that it forces them to be placed in poor living conditions, with limited access to people they love and no direct access to the world outside of those four walls; they have limited access to food; they are forced to be on edge for the sake of their survival; they're incapable of finding work, or have to work for little-to-nothing; their education options are stunted or rendered impossible.
In many ways, this is true, too, of black life—carcerality as antiblackness. And as such, it's doubly true for black victims/survivors of IPV, domestic, physical, or verbal abuse. Survivors know intimately what it's like for our abuse to force everything else in our lives to take a backseat: grades drop, willingness to leave one's room or communicate with one's community diminishes; careers become derailed. We got a glimpse of this when Megan took the stand. "I don't wanna be on this Earth," she said. "I wish he woulda shot and killed me if I knew I would go through this torture."
My support is with Megan and all other victims of domestic and intimate partner violence. Black people experience IPV at disproportionately high rates, and according to the 2010-2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, over 40 percent of black women experience IPV—physical, sexual, and stalking—and more than 50 percent of all homicides of black women were related to IPV. With this, in a world ruled and defined by patriarchal, carceral violence, Tory's conviction is the only way Megan's trauma can ever be seen as valid (and even that is tentative and provisional for black folks—black women, in this case). As such, the abolitionist must be clear about the forced and inevitable contradictions and nuances of supporting victims of abuse in a world wherein there are no resources for care, accountability, and genuine support. Jokes about abolition's evitability only assist in the destabilization of our movement through detailing a clear lack of understanding of what it means to be an abolitionist in an antiblack world.
The violence of carcerality is two-fold, though, and this is why convictions are not "wins" so much as they are sometimes understood by some as means to an end. Megan must still live with the trauma of being shot, and Tory is not encouraged at all to be accountable for his abuse—not even after being found guilty by the very system many of his supporters were anticipating would corroborate his innocence. That is not a win. Megan deserves to have never experienced this at all. This is true for all black women.
So while I recognize these contradictions to be inevitable under antiblackness, and therefore don't care to condemn folks who celebrate Tory's conviction, I do care about abolition being misrepresented in an attempt to hold these contradictions. It's unnecessary and unhelpful. What we can (and should) do, instead, is be with ourselves about what we feel. In our group chats, on our platforms, in our writings, we should be honest about the contradictions we're holding in our body. We can acknowledge how sad, angry, frustrated, upset we feel that carceral and/as state violence continue to disrupt our ability to build widespread "alternatives" (quotes because I struggle with the use of this word as, to me, it suggests that the current structure is a viable one). We can tap in with more abolitionist organizations, teachings, readings and writings to ground ourselves in what our commitments are.
This is all to say that abolition truly can't wait. And this case should be such a clear and fresh example for why that's true. We need to remember that abolition extends far beyond the four walls. Figurative (and open air) prisons are all around us, and they must be abolished, too. Abolition is a practice and a commitment. It's not reducible to slogans like "defund the police" and liberal talking points. Total abolition requires revolution.