Abolition: A Doorway to Beloved Community?

As we close our six-month deep focus on defunding the police and the eight-week Praxis Circles to understand this call, we are publishing reflections from PPFers on what they’ve learned through this process. This one comes from Rev. Susan J. Quass, a minister member of the Presbytery of Santa Fe (on Pueblo land) who recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of her ordination. She is former Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches. 

What surprised me most was that, at the end of the eight-week Praxis Circle, our group members articulated a most robust and compelling vision of God’s intention for human community in the 21st century. We envisioned a society where restorative justice, resource and wealth equity, and mutual aid–not policing–were the bedrock of community wellbeing.

These visions made me wonder: when, in my 40 years of activism for social justice, had I lost sight of the vision of peace and justice for all: of God’s kin-dom? Why was I willing to settle for less? How did I miss seeing that Abolition was a doorway to beloved community? Participating in one of PPF’s Praxis Circles was challenging, inspiring and transformative!

We fifteen, from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, began to address abolition in January 2021 — but not without significant reservations. We made a rather tentative commitment to adopt the praxis curriculum offered by PPF’s Abolition Reader. Our original timid embrace came from our many (mis)understandings of the “Defund the Police” movement.

We were also shaped by our varied personal experiences and opinions on policing and incarceration. Among us were some whose family members were officers; some who experienced policing as racialized violence and control; some who experienced policing as violence intervention in their families and homes; some who knew intimately the devastation to individuals and families of a punitive incarceration system; and some had only experienced policing during a grade-school introduction of “Officer Friendly.” 

We also brought to the Circle significant anti-racism experience and knowledge. Among us were those who were Civil Rights activists in the 1960’s; those who are community and labor organizers; those who have significant cross-cultural experience; and those who have training in non-violence and antiracism.

Yet, our imaginations were stunted when it came to envisioning something other than the current U.S. system of militarized policing and a retributive prison-industrial complex.

The Abolition Reader’s early step of defining and illuminating the culture of white supremacy framed our praxis. This allowed us to acknowledge the unconscious bias that all in our multi-racial group were bringing to the study. While this is serious business, the group found humor, too, as we recognized the inconsistencies, contradictions, false pride, and oversights inherent in white culture. 

The Abolition Praxis Circle was enlivened by a trinitarian process involving mind, body and soul. Our minds were challenged by print and video resources that gave witness to experiences and analysis of policing and incarceration. These resources took us beyond what many of us had known (even as degreed and educated as we all considered ourselves to be). Our bodies engaged both in breath prayer and in small actions based on our new understandings. Each week we were invited to act: to have specific new conversations about race; to research our city’s policing budget; to contact city representatives; and more. Carrying us through the unfamiliar-to-most-of us terrain was the soul of the group: weekly mutual reflection and discussion of our experiences, our learning, and our actions.

We learned to listen deeply to one another and to believe what we heard. We used a process of mutual invitation to practice calling in each voice for the wisdom and questions it had to share. It was impossible to maintain our prior notions of policing and incarceration when we heard and accepted the lived experiences of our group members and the witnesses provided by the PPF Abolition Reader resources.

After eight weeks of study and action, we ended with enhanced relationships, greater trust, and new-to-us insights into the injustices of policing and incarceration in the United States. Some of us committed to abolition. All are continuing to deepen our understanding of the ways white supremacy intentionally and systemically divides humanity, forcing Black, Indigenous, and people of color to pay the price for white privilege.

One member (a white man) put it this way:

I began this study believing “in some nebulous way that policing doesn’t do harm.  I now know that its express purpose is to preserve and exert the use of force by the state to protect white wealth and power.  In this light, if we have more and more police, instead of having more public safety, we will have more and more police killings …”

We had come a long way in just eight weeks. 

We learned again what we had known before. The kin-dom of God is continually breaking into the world through every crack and every broken place. The U.S. system of militarized policing and retributive incarceration are broken places ripping gaping holes in the fabric of human community. These holes are doorways for the church to enter and welcome the kin-dom of God. Do we dare, with God’s help, to walk though?