Two arguments now entering the mainstream—that incarceration is an urgent public health crisis and that policing takes needed resources from communities—have long been argued by abolitionist organizers. 

“Abolition is about fighting the prison industrial complex as a whole, because these violent systems are interlocking and feed off each other,” explained Mohamed Shehk, national media and communications director for the abolitionist organization Critical Resistance. 

“What’s become clear,” Shehk said, “is that the prioritization of policing that led to the killing of George Floyd, and the ongoing prioritization of imprisonment in this country, are the same reasons that our healthcare systems and communities were under-equipped and underfunded to address the pandemic effectively.” 

The greater movement is keenly aware of what Shehk called a “vast opening in the political horizon.” Organizers have shifted tactics with once local campaigns—like No New Jails NYC, a group that led the movement last year to close Rikers Island jail complex, without opening new borough-based jails—morphing into coalitions that are increasingly engaging the broader public.