“History Is The Most Compelling Evidence Police Cannot Be Reformed”: Third UHA Panel Imagines an Abolitionist Future

Last night concluded the Urban History Association’s trio of virtual panels in response to the recent wave of Black-led urban uprisings against racist police brutality and renewed conversation about defunding and abolishing police. The Metropole’s Disciplining the City editors Matthew Guariglia and Charlotte Rosen moderated a discussion with historians Johanna Fernández, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Marisol LeBrón, Dan Berger, Alex Vitale, and Stuart Schrader about “Imagining Alternatives to Modern Policing: Past, Present, and Future.”

If last week’s panel evoked the lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City” and “Higher Ground,” this week’s discussion hewed more closely to a third song on Wonder’s seminal Innervisions:

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last
Have we really gone this far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I’m not one who make believes
I know that leaves are green
They only turn to brown
When autumn comes around
I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I’d like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

Panelists reflected on who is “free” in a state where policing is historically rooted in the protection of capitalism and maintenance of white supremacy, the challenges of dismantling systems of exploitation and policing, and how “could a place like this exist so beautiful” in reality and not just as “a vision in our mind.”

Their discussion lit up Twitter.

Fear not if you missed it: the panel is archived and available on YouTube alongside the first panel from July 1, “Police Violence: How Did We Get Here?,” and the second panel from July 7, “Urban Uprisings Against Racist Police Terror in Historical Context.”

Please share the links with folks who might be interested in learning more about the history of policing, incarceration, uprising, and abolition — like moderator Charlotte Rosen’s mother.

The Urban History Association extends gratitude to Charlotte and Matt Guariglia for their dedication and hard work on this series, a hearty mazal tov for pulling it off so successfully. Our thanks also go out to the 14 historians who volunteered their time to share their scholarship and expertise with fellow UHA members and the public.

One thought on ““History Is The Most Compelling Evidence Police Cannot Be Reformed”: Third UHA Panel Imagines an Abolitionist Future

  1. If racial capitalism is at the root of the problem, then where can we find some models of equitable law enforcement especially in regard to race? Cuba has often seemed a model when it came to equitable health care and educational service delivery, but in the matter of racial equality and equitable law enforcement I am not so sure. What other countries might be helpful as we move forward?

    Jim Wunsch


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