Derecka Purnell on Living (and Loving) Outside the Police State

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey all, it’s Brittany. So we’ve been talking a lot about abolition lately on the show, about police violence, and what it will take to get rid of it. Of course, there are so many things for us to tackle and trust me, we will; but this one, this one is personal for me. A few weeks ago I shared with all of you a bit about my own journey because as someone who always understood police violence to be a systemic issue, it has still taken me time to let go of fantasies of reform that are just not changing the game.

Despite some well-intentioned efforts, people are still at the hands of the state and Black and brown and indigenous and poor and disabled people are still dying disproportionately. And it would be easy, comfortable for me to just sit on this mic every week and act like I was born, woke, and like I just emerged as a public figure with a perfectly enlightened philosophy and politic.

But that would be a lie, a bold face lie. And that lie doesn’t serve anybody or anything, but my own ego. Now I’ve come a mighty long way. On everything from queer and trans identity to disability and just like on those issues, I’m still in my own continued evolution on police violence. I always say I’m learning in public and learning in public means letting all my own shit hang out and inviting you into the very same work I’m doing. 

So, this ain’t no do as I say, not as I do kind of show. Justice don’t work that way. So, we’re gonna wrestle with the hard stuff and struggle with the possibilities, and we’re going to do it together. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, my friend Derecka Purnell debunks some of the myths about abolishing the police and breaks down why the reforms just don’t work. 

Derecka: We’ve had so many reforms, at least since 2014. We got more funding, more consent decres, more body cameras, more police convictions, more diversity, more Black cops, more gay cops, more women cops and guess what.

Police are on track to kill more people this year than they did in that year. 

Brittany: That’s coming up first. It’s the news.

So first off, I want to talk about the situation in Iran right now. This is a place where I had to do a lot of my own learning. People in Iran are waging the largest protests against the government in over a decade, stemming from the death of a young woman in custody of the quote, morality police Mahsa Amani was supposedly improperly dressed as she was exiting a teran subway this month.

Now in Iran, that can mean something as small as having a strand of hair untucked from your hija. Amani was detained by the police and sent for quote, reeducation about how to dress appropriately. Three days later, she was dead. Her death has not only sparked one of the biggest uprisings in Iranian history, but also one of the most diverse. 

Rich, poor men, women, Turks and Kurds have taken to the streets and one of the most potent symbols of protest has become women cutting their hair or removing their hijabs, even burning them as crowds around them cheer.

These protests are about more than a piece of clothing, they’re about agency. And if you’re amplifying the voices of Iranians, keep that in mind whether or not to wear a hijab is a personal choice, and the west is far from innocent when it comes to policing what people, especially women, can and cannot wear.

So, let’s mind ourselves here. In 2016, French police confronted a Muslim woman on the beach for wearing a bikini. The modest swimwear has been banned after terrorist attacks in Paris. In 2021, a teacher in New Jersey allegedly yanked a hijab off of a second grader’s head. And more broadly, if we’re talking about policing people’s bodies, especially women, well, you know, our country is having a field day with that right now in general, correct?

The protests in Iran are not anti-hijab, they are about the freedom to exist as one pleases and the freedom to choose what, if any, form of religious expression one wants, and that’s a cause that people of any faith or no faith at all can get behind.

Let’s travel to a different part of the world where the rights of women and marginalized people are being challenged in a different way. This one’s a complicated one because in other circumstances we’d be celebrating Italy’s election of its first female prime minister. Like the U.S., no Italian woman has smashed the highest glass ceiling of them all. Until Sunday.

Italy has elected Georgia Maloney to office. But as you may have heard, Maloney’s win is no cause for celebration. For one, she is the leader of the Brothers of Italy party, which has its roots in fascism. Can’t make this up, people. She opposes migrants and the European Union, she has openly announced what she refers to as the quote LGBT lobby.

She is the most right-wing Prime Minister Italy has had since World War II, when Mussolini had the job. Yeah, that guy. Maloney’s victory also coincides with an uptick in open white nationalism in Europe. Earlier this month, a hard-right group founded by neo-Nazis helped topple Sweden’s social Democratic Prime Minister in Spain.

The far right nationalist party Vox has rocketed to prominence in less than five years. Even the social welfare utopia that is Denmark is moving to the right. They now have one of these strictest refugee policies in the world. This is a reminder that not all symbolic victories are a good thing.

Maloney’s win might be a win for this superficial girl boss brand of feminism, but is no win for women. And y’all, this is happening all over the world because let’s remember, whenever marginalized people make progress, there is a guaranteed backlash. 

And while we’re on the subject of regressive politics, Arizona has resurrected a law that dates back to 1860. That bans all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. There previously been an injunction stopping the ban, but that was lifted last week by a woman judge. By the way, this was a very big week for backwards ass progressive ladies in power. Additionally, Arizona’s modern ban on abortion after 15 weeks went into effect last week. So this pile of bans has made practicing abortion care legally nearly impossible for Arizona providers. 

NEWS: All people deserve good, high quality care and should not fear that speaking about abortion with their healthcare providers will lend either them or their physician in jail. 

Brittany: One of the most infuriating aspects of this whole wack situation was that this musty asshole ban was enacted by the state’s territorial legislature back in the 19th century, like before Arizona was even a state .Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has said that the 15-week ban would take precedence over the near total ban, but it’s not clear that that’s actually the case.

But y’all, the point isn’t, oh, let’s have a 15-week band instead of a total band. The point is that all of these bands, the old ones, the new ones, they’re all shitty. They all stem from a time when the state controlled people’s bodies and they’re trying to do it again. We should be done with that time completely.

No bands ever. Got it?

Coming up, I’ll be talking to abolitionist author, human rights lawyer, and organizer Derecka Purnell about the practical steps we can take in our lives to end the violence of policing and prisons, right after this short break.

Brittany: And we are back. So last week, the House of Representatives, the one with the Democratic majority, voted to approve nearly $2 billion for steps, they say, will address crime while still quote, respecting civil rights. Now, the bill isn’t likely to get a vote in the Senate before the midterm elections, but it allows Democrats to say we’re doing something about crime, and this bill would fund training for a deescalation and domestic violence response, but it would also give some police departments cash to recruit and retain new cops.

It is an excellent example of what we talked about with Andrea Ritchie just a few weeks back. A reformist reform, reforms that presume the continued existence of cops, reforms that allow police to keep the power they have and to use violence against citizens. Reforms that invest more into systems that we know are consistently hurting people, but we can see the funding for what is.

Because we are looking at the world through an abolitionist lens. One of the people who helped me develop that muscle is my guest today, Derecka Purnell, is my friend from the lou, a lawyer and the author of the incredible Becoming Abolitionists.

We’ve been having a couple of conversations on the podcast as of late about abolition, but we really wanted to keep this thing going because it reflects my own journey.

In learning, in the evolution of my own politic, and I know it reflects the journey of a lot of our community, as well. And so that’s why I wanted to talk to you because you are so good and transparent about your own journey. You’re so good at helping to bring people along. So, I actually wanna start with, with an anecdote.

Our other executive producer, Cindi Leive, recently saw you speak and you told a great story about your child and what they see.

Derecka: Oh yeah. 

Brittany: On TV. It had to do with “Stranger Things”. Do you, do you wanna share that one with us? 

Derecka: Oh yeah, of course, of course. So, my eight-year-old Juice, we love “Stranger Things” cuz it’s such a good TV show.

It’s like it’s really precious. And one day he asks, you know, why did they make Hopper a police officer? Hopper is like the beloved local police chief in this small town Indiana. I struggle with like trying to answer this question because I know that there’s this broader Hollywood trope of white, masculine, small town heroes who fight any sort of outside force that threatens them, whether it’s an alien species or Russia, or a federal government. 

Hopper, is one of these tropes. And so, you know, I told him, I said, Well, I think that they wanted to tell a story where he could be the hero and Juice goes Well, isn’t the mom the hero?

And if you watch “Stranger Things”, you know that Joyce Byers is committed to finding her child, right? She’s a poor white woman who works at a convenience store part-time, has to buy things on credit. It’s interesting how they tell the story of class because Will, her son, he has to ride the longest way.

Away from his other friends who live in the more middle class suburban neighborhoods. And reflecting, you know about this storyline is that Hopper is, would have been much more likely to have arrested Joyce Byers than befriend her and trying to find her son, right? She probably would’ve been contacted by Child Protective Services, you know, she could have lost custody of her other child.

What actually happens in real life when exploited people lose their children or children go missing, it’s a very different set of affairs. She probably would’ve been committed to an institution, right? So in fact, Hopper becomes a hero. He adopts 11, you know, he becomes like this great father. You miss him.

You wonder if he’s gonna die. And so I told Juice, so I was like, Yeah, you know, it’s unfortunate. And we still have to abolish Hopper.

Brittany: Right. I mean, this is a really important moment. Right? This is an important conversation because we’ve grown up in a culture that teaches us that the police are heroes, unequivocally and unquestionably.

Derecka: Exactly. 

Brittany: How hard can it be to unlearn that? 

Derecka: It’s so hard to unlearn that, especially if you have experienced police as sources of protection. You know, so there’s also, you know, lots of class differences in how people would experience police. And so, for example, growing up, police were a source of friendship from my mom.

She had a couple of friends who were cops and the reason they were cops, because it was the job that was always hiring. And so that’s where they could go after high school if they didn’t know where to go and get like a well-paying job, okay? But cops also, you know, took us from my family. They put us in foster care.

You know, they were violent, physically violent towards me and towards people in my family. And so there are all these different relationships that you experience with policing. But again, for my kid who’s eight, you know, he’s sort of a canvas and he’s taking on different worldviews based on what I share with him.

And then what he’s also absorbing at school was he absorbing through television. But as an adult, it’s also very difficult. Another analogy. I think a lot about gender. So my kids go to school and every morning they hear, Good morning, boys and girls. Good morning, boys and girls. Good morning, boys and girls.

So, if you hear boys and girls every day from pre-K to 12th grade, and then you meet people who are not binary, right? Or people who don’t have any subscription to gender, you’re gonna be like, Oh, wait, no, there’s boys and girls. I’ve been hearing boys and girls. There’s two genders. And so then that level of social conditioning can actually lead to forms of violence, emotional violence, physical violence against people who identify as non-binary, or both genders, or two genders or multiple gender.

And so that it can be really hard to unlearn because our institutions condition us for so long, but we have to be committed to trying, cuz if we hold onto these ideas, we’re gonna suffer and ultimately other people are gonna suffer. 

Brittany: We’re going to suffer and ultimately other people are going to suffer.

I think that the guarantee of that outcome is what’s lost on some folks. You talk about how our social conditioning has been right, and you and I are both subject to that social conditioning. Absolutely. I’m curious how you felt about police. Before you really clarified for yourself that you were an abolitionist.

Derecka: I had known them to be overall kind of bad, right? I know I knew that people were afraid when they came around. I knew that people in my neighborhood constantly ran from the police. Constantly ran from the police, and you never tell where someone’s running when they’re running from the police because we know what happens, you know, to people who get caught, you know, they disappear.

They go to the workhouse in St. Louis or they get killed. And so I had always known that the police are not on our side as an institution, despite the one or two friends that my mom had. And then as I continued to age, you know, I would learn about Rodney King. I knew that the police were responsible for beating this Black man into oblivion.

I had known about different instances of racial violence, but I hadn’t known that police killed about three people a day. And at that point, no one kept track of it. There wasn’t any requirement to keep track of. And then by the time I got to college, I was really challenged politically by students who were organizing in metro around border policing, especially in Arizona with SB 1020, the DU illegal bill.

And so that was like, Oh wow, police are not only disantagonistic to poor people and to Black people, but also antagonistic to people who speak Spanish, brown people, people who perceive as immigrants. And so that really helped me understand policing structurally. As an institution that was created to protect borders and private property and white supremacy. 

And so continually being around organizers, activists who are more critical, more curious, more informed than I was, helped to really shape my analysis. Where it’s like, well, the problem just isn’t racial profiling, right? Like the police were created to do this.

It’s not a feature of policing, it’s constitutive of policing. 

Brittany: Yeah. You know, my own story does not include as much personal violence in engaging with the police until I decided to start protesting the police. Right? I very much grew up believing the trope of there are bad cops and there are good cops.

Derecka: Yes. 

Brittany: Right? 

Derecka: Yes. 

Brittany: And I remember distinctly on West Florissant Avenue with you during the Ferguson uprising watching the police on mass engage in the kind of war tactics that were not supposed to exist on residential streets, right? Against elderly people, against pregnant people, against children, against people who are armed with absolutely nothing, but like cell phones and signs.

Right? And this is when the gears start to turn for me, and I still am getting to the point where I recognize that it’s systemic. But I still believe that the system can be fixed. Which honestly runs antithetical to most of my beliefs in other spaces. There are so many other systems that I can much more easily look at and was working on that I knew needed to be uprooted completely and replaced with something different entirely. 

But policing was so hard for me to get there because to your point, culturally, socially, it had been ingrained over at this point, almost 30 years of life. I know it’s not linear, but if there are some kind of phases that you recognize in people as they, as they make that journey, what would those phases be?

Derecka: I love when Dylan Rodriguez says that there’s no such thing as an individual abolitionist. It doesn’t matter that I espouse abolition is politics if I’m doing that alone. Right. It does very, very, very little, very little in the world. You know, what’s much more important and much more exciting is that we take on these politics, like any set of radical politics that we struggle through them with other people.

And so that to me, like, it’s not like you show up, you like I’m an abolitionist and you get a handbook. Hopefully, it’s gonna be a lifelong process, right? That the kind of feminist that I was three years ago is not the kind of feminist I am today. Right? And hopefully it’s not gonna be the kind of feminist I am in 50 years, right?

Like, I hope that’s true for all of the spaces that we occupy, and I think the best way to think about these stages or phases is not like, okay, I’m a reformer. And now I’m abolitionist adjacent. And now I’m abolitionist. But actually, okay, who are you struggling with like who are you reading with?

Who are you asking questions with? Who’s pushing you? Who’s who? Like who are you pushing? Like, to me that is the work of developing sets of politics and deciding the kind of human you wanna be in the world. And that’s more important than thinking of like a ladder. To like get to some place where you’re like, Okay, I’m an abolitionist now.

Well, that has no meaning if it’s not with other people. And it has very little meaning if it doesn’t show up in the world in a tangible way. Right? Because people since 2020 have, you know, I’m an abolitionist. I’m an abolitionist, I’m an abolitionist all online, and then don’t have any critiques of capitalism, right?

Don’t have any critiques phobia don’t have any critiques of all of these other systems that not only inform policing and prisons in state, but reify it. And so it’s how we learn it and struggling around different ideas about ourselves, about our relationships, about the world, and how are we doing it with other people.

And that is why I try to encourage people to do, and that’s why I try to do to the best of my ability. 

Brittany: Well, you do it so well. You’ve done it with me personally, both from afar and up close. And I am grateful. I also recognize. That there are different places where people struggle with this question. 

Right. And sometimes to your point, they continue to struggle with it because they’re doing it in isolation. And I think that for people who have experienced sexual violence, intimate partner  violence, domestic violence, which I have the argument for abolishing. The sound of the word can just be terrifying in and of itself.

I think it can be difficult for some folks to imagine doing away with the police when you’ve been witnessed to senseless tragedy in your community, or you’ve experienced it in your own personal life. 

Derecka: Yeah. 

Brittany: How do you have this conversation with folks who have dealt with the unimaginable and have had to turn to the police as what they see as a resource?

Derecka: Yeah. Well, it depends on the context, so lots of different ways. Right? So the first thing I’ll say is that don’t assume that people who are fighting for abolitionist presence and futures are not also survivors of harm. 

Brittany: That’s right. 

Derecka: Because there’s this unfortunate dichotomy that’s like, you know, you are an abolitionist.

What about survivors? Oh, I survived all kinds of like interpersonal violence, structural violence, communal violence. I talk about a lot of that in chapter five and chapter six. Because a lot of the Black feminists who have been fighting for abolition, literally for decades before those of George Floyd uprising, before Trayvon Martin was killed, before Rodney King had been struggling around abolition have been survivors of intimate partner violence, police violence, communal violence, violence from their bosses, violence from their neighbors, from strangers. 

Like these are the people whose experience have informed their abolitionists organizing work. And what they have concluded is that police and prisons are additional sources of violence.

Right? So, what about all of the victims of police violence who’s been sexually assaulted? Because after police brutality, sexual misconduct is the second most reported complaint against police. You know, what about prison? What about sexual violence that happens in prison? Are those people not survivors, too?

And so it’s so unfortunate when people separate the abolitionists from the survivors, except if there’s not like an important, significant overlap between those two categories. So, that’s like the first sets of like ideas. The other thing that I’ll say for people who hear abolish and they’re just like, I feel afraid.

Like what are we gonna do? What’s gonna happen? And Mariame Kaba really has pushed me to like to distill this language, which is look, we’re responsible for doing something right now. Like this generation is not going to lead us to 18,000 law enforcement agencies being abolished, one million cops being fired, 2,300 jails and prisons closing.

That’s not gonna happen in my lifetime. That’s probably not gonna happen in my baby’s lifetime. That’s just not gonna be the case. What this generation, this is now pulling from for known, what this generation is responsible for is figuring out what’s our way to stop caral violence in our present lives right now.

Right? How do we make sure that the people who are fighting for the total abolition beyond us have a head start and that they’re not behind? That’s why I think defund the police is important. That’s why I think jail closure campaigns are important. That’s why I think these narrow reform reforms, they either freeze or stop the caral state from growing.

Has shift resources from prisons, police, prosecutors, and so life affirming institutions, people who decide to invest in street violence, interrupter programs. This is what our generation is tasked with doing right now. Right? We don’t have to be responsible for the whole thing. We have to be responsible for what’s right now.

And that takes will, and that takes courage and that takes experimentation. So that’s like another way I think through like what do we have to do right now? And that’s something that all of us can ask. 

Brittany: There are multiple precedents for abolition in this country. Of course, the most recognized being, the abolition of enslavement, and it’s always fascinating to me that that conversation so closely trails along with the creation of U.S. police forces, right? When we understand the connection to quote unquote slave catching and those kinds of forces that served as the bedrock of what we know policing to be now. And the understanding and the treatment of Black people as property, Right.

Indigenous land to be stolen. And so I think even despite my own conditioning, I grew up like a lot of other Black people, as you’ve written, who know to trust the police to be exactly who they’ve always been. We trust the police to be corrupt. We trust the police to be racist. We trust the police to be violence because that has been sadly and tragically predictable. 

To your point about what we are responsible to do right now, how do we begin to break that cycle knowing, to your point, that 18,000 police departments won’t be closed by the time I take my last breath, but there is action to take now. How do we interrupt that? 

Derecka: Yes, yes. So yes. So that quote  that you just read, I wrote that in response to this large narrative that we need to rebuild trust between Black people and the police. As if there was ever a point in history or Black people, like as an entire race, have trusted the police. It’s so ahistorical and it’s just so wrong, and it’s just so, so frustrating because as you said, police are among the remaining institutions coming out of slavery.

So, even when we say enslavement was abolished, not all parts of it. 

Brittany: That’s right. 

Derecka: Like not all parts of it. And oftentimes when we say that people invoke, you know, they, the constitution, the exception to permit slavery in prisons. But police are still here. Police are still here and we know that they came, like you said, outta slave patrols.

We think about cuffs, handcuffs, shackling. We think about the development of our gun laws and what empowered slave patrols to literally do raids into slave captains to look for weapons. And we think about the history. In the current practice of no knock warrants that lead to raids into our communities.

And so what happened to people like Aiyana Stanley Jones and Breonna Taylor? The history of kicking down doors looking for a dangerous person, that has a long history. That starts when Black people decided to arm themselves and start practicing revolts against white supremacist institutions and their.

And so we have to understand that police are a part of that institution that has yet to be abolished. The second part of what you said about. What is it that we should do? I think one, find your people. I would highly encourage people to ask Who’s doing that in your neighborhood, in your school, in your city?

There’s so many campaigns happening all across the country to, like I said, close jails, to shift resources away from police departments, away from other institutions and into schools, into education. You know, there’s so many ways to think about like your particular relationship to the carco system, even inside of our families.

So having important conversations about violence in our families, because we also do have to become better people, and I believe that’s possible. And I highly encourage everyone to read Rachel Hersing because she has different pieces of literature out that’s like Here’s some steps you can take that can help us build a police-free future.

This is how you can start small. This is how you can make sure that you build a small network, you know, for protection, for prevention, and for accountability. Then this is how you can move out of that and start doing stuff in your local community. It takes abolition from being this huge, abstract, overwhelming idea to practical things that all of us can do right now.


Brittany: So I wanna do something a little different than we normally do. I wanna do kind of like a rapid round here Okay. Of some of the myths and questions that we hear about abolition. Right. And just hear what you would offer, what seeds you would plant if, if you heard these things. And I’m sure that there are things that you have heard before or read before, responded to before.

So here’s one. Abolition might be a great goal, but we will lose political races if we talk about it. The old defund, the police cost us seats conversation.

Derecka: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. Maybe funding the police is costing you seats because we have to ask a question about, well, what’s our political strategy right now to make sure that people are safe?

Sorry, I get so frustrated with this question. One of the reasons is that, because here’s the thing, when election season comes around, it’s like, go vote. Your ancestors fall undo you to vote. You know, vote for the people and ideas that represent you, and then you say, Okay, these people and these ideas don’t represent me.

And it’s like you’re costing us seats. And so politicians are not genuine when they say, you know, go vote, go do this thing. Actually, what you want us is just to have complete deference to what you do. That’s not democratic. That’s not democratic at all. So I’ve been much more excited about the races where people who are explicit about abolition, people are explicit about socialism, internationalism, They’ve also have been winning seats.

There was a huge win in Florida, huge win in California in LA, I just met this sister Eunisses who won, she ran as an abolitionist defund candidate, you know, and like now she’s on the city council. And so I think there are also lots of examples where people are running on progressive slates and winning.

And so if the larger Democratic party is unwilling to shift and to change, then they should lose those seats. Right? And we should think about who can much better represent people with who are fighting for the future that we want instead of the status quo. 

Brittany: Yeah. Sometimes it’s about voting and sometimes it’s about running. 

Derecka: Yes, yes. 

Brittany: Okay. So here’s another one. Abolition might be a great goal, but it’ll never happen. So let’s just focus on the smaller things that we can actually accomplish right now.

Derecka: Yeah. I think that’s interesting too. I think that, I don’t know if it’ll never happen. It’s not up to me to decide whether this thing will actually happen or not.

What it is up to me is to do the right thing, right? And so there are lots of people who said all of our progressive struggles would never happen, that women would never be able to vote. You know how many people, how many women in particular who fought for that, right? Never lived to see it. Or people would, you know, Black people would never be free.

You know, how many people like fought, died? Not knowing whether that would be the case. But if we don’t do things because we’ve already made an arrogant decision that it would never happen, knowing what people have endured to make the impossible possible. I think that’s also in his ahistorical position, and I think it pushes us to not have the will curse I was talking about earlier, to do what is right, right now.

So let’s say that our North Star is abolition. Well, how do we get us closer to that goal? Because here’s the thing, reforming the police, we’ve had so many reforms at least since 2014. We got more funding, more consent, decre, more body cameras, more police convictions, more diversity, more Black cops, more gay cops, more women, cops.

And guess what? Police are on track to kill more people this year than they did in that. More people. So, all these reforms and more people are gonna die of Han Police. Right. And so if, if you decide that that’s a worthwhile project to continue to fight, to reform the police, knowing that more people are dying with the record number of reforms that’s been in circulation.

Then you’re signing up to kill people and I can’t risk that.

Brittany: Here’s one more. Creating new systems that would respond to emergencies and crime in a more caring and compassionate fashion. It’s just too huge, like it’s gonna take us a hundred years, and who am I supposed to call if something happens to me?

Derecka: Again, it just depends on the context. S,o one thing I’ll say is that for the violence that happens where police are called less than 4% of calls for police or for quote violent harms, and that’s just a cause. That doesn’t mean that anything is actually happened. Ninety-six percent of those other calls are for so many other things that people just call because they just dunno what to do, right? 

They, they’re just literally calling 911 because it’s what they think, conditioned to do. And what I can say about abolition is that even though we’ve been talking about prison industrial complex abolition, at least the tradition of abolition that I’m interested in, is not completely concerned with just abolishing police and prisons.

That is absolutely a goal. We’re also committed to abolishing the reasons why people can call the police, why people need prisons because the police can’t stop people from being poor. If someone is stealing because they’re hungry or stealing because they need something, the police can’t stop that.

And so police arrest that person, they’re gonna put them in jail, the person’s gonna get a record, and they’re gonna be in a worse position than when they get out. Right? And so police perpetuate the economic exploitative inequality that we have in our society. They can’t eliminate it.

So, that is actually leading us to further despair, more expectation, more violence. It doesn’t get to the root causes of why people are stealing or harming each other in the first place. And the last thing I’ll say about this is, the overwhelming majority of who police put in jails and prison are not just bad people.

They’re poor people. Literally. Like they’re people. They’re disabled people. They’re people who have incomes are less than $10,000 a year. $10,000. Right? These are the people who make up the 10 million arrests that happen. And so we have to be honest saying that, you know, police lock up bad guys.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, because Trump is in Florida. Hello? Like, no, the police just do not lock up bad guys. The police lock up disabled people, Black people, poor people, immigrants, and we have to name that as often as we can. 

Brittany: We’ve talked a lot about how awful a lot of things are , but I wanna wrap the conversation by envisioning what this looks like, right?

I mean, Mariame Kaba says all the time, the abolitionist is creative, right? It calls on us to go and create and design and build the better. What are some of your favorite things that are in creation in this moment?

Derecka: Oh my gosh, I have so many. My favorite right now is what the Dream Defenders are doing in Florida.

So, I have had a movement crush on Dream Defenders since 2012 because it’s just kind of incredible to have, you know, organization who’s obviously not perfect, but who are constantly trying to ask questions about what kinds of people, activists, organizers, they want to be in a place like Florida. Right under DeSantis, right?

They do policy work in Florida trying to figure out how to cut mass incarceration in the state. They also have something called a Healing and Justice Center. It’s a healing space. You know, if people are victims of harm, if they wanna come there and try to figure out how to get resources like they can come there and do that.

They also have a mobile response unit. And so if you or someone’s in a crisis, you literally can call Dream Defenders and a medical doctor. A deescalator and a, like a crisis counselor will show up to try to deescalate the situation and offer resources. They have a, like a fly van, they have nice uniforms.

They like drive around Liberty City in Florida to try to figure out how to be an actual resource in that community. They have a community health clinic. You know, a lot of this sounds like Black Panthers, right? They have a free community health clinic for people who need to be able to go to the doctors or take their kids to get a checkup.

Like you can go to a Dream Defender’s office and get that done. And so I love when I know, hear about experience stories like that because it’s exactly what’s happening. People are in community, deeply rooted, you know, door knocking, being in conversation, engaging in a long term conversation and commitment to being responsible to what that community says that it needs.

So, I highly encourage people to check out the work that they’re doing. 

Brittany: I love that that is the perfect way to end because it is both a reminder of what is possible and it’s a reminder that we can go and make it ourselves. Yes, we don’t have to wait on anybody or ask for permission to do. You’re so freaking smart, and I just love every time I get to talk to you or you read me what you’ve written. And I’m so grateful that you’ve continued to share that brilliance with the world and that you shared it with us here at UNDISTRACTED. Thank you.

Derecka: Oh yeah, of course. Brittany, I’ve been watching you since I was like 14 years-old, and so it’s so great to literally be able to do this as both adults and so thank you so much for having me.

Brittany: Derecka Purnell is a columnist at The Guardian and a scholar in residence at Columbia Law School. She’s the author of Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and The Pursuit of Freedom. Justice is forever work, and not just because it’s gonna take many generations to get to the world we deserve, but because each of us, each of us, is a forever work in progress.

Derecka doesn’t wanna be the same kind of feminist or abolitionist in three days, three months, or three years, and neither do I, neither do you. So take some time this week, figure out who your teachers are, who helps you ask better questions, Who helps you answer them? With whom can you have those principled loving arguments that make everyone in them better?

Who holds you accountable, not just for where you went wrong, but for how you grow. And who do you hold accountable in the same way? Because those folks, my friends, those folks are the ones who make up your community and it is not and never will be freedom without them.

So, that’s it for today, but never, ever for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producer is Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, Raj Makhija, and Davy Sumner.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts.

Thanks for listening, thanks for being, and always thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.