by Derecka Purnell
Now in paperback and with new material, a 2021 Kirkus Best Book of the year in both Nonfiction and Current Events, the book Naomi Klein called: "a triumph of political imagination and a tremendous gift to all movements struggling towards liberation."
For more than a century, activists in the United States have tried to reform the police. Millions of people continue to protest police violence because these solutions do not match the problem: the police cannot be reformed.
In her critically acclaimed first book Becoming Abolitionists, Purnell draws from her experiences as a lawyer, writer, and organizer initially skeptical about police abolition. She saw too much sexual violence and buried too many friends to consider getting rid of police in her hometown of St. Louis, let alone the nation. But the police were a placebo. Calling them felt like something, and something feels like everything when the other option seems like nothing.
Purnell details how multi-racial social movements rooted in rebellion, risk-taking, and revolutionary love pushed her and a generation of activists toward abolition. The book travels across geography and time, and offers lessons that activists have learned from Ferguson to South Africa, from Reconstruction to contemporary protests against police shootings.
Here, Purnell invites readers to envision new systems that work to address the root causes of violence. Becoming Abolitionists shows that abolition is not solely about getting rid of police, but a commitment to create and support different answers to the problem of harm in society, and, most excitingly, an opportunity to reduce and eliminate harm in the first place.
"With deep insight and moral clarity, Purnell shares her compelling journey of political education and personal transformation, inviting us not only to imagine a world without police, but to muster the courage to fight for the more just world we know is possible. Becoming Abolitionists is essential reading for our times." -- Michelle Alexander, bestselling author of The New Jim Crow
"Becoming Abolitionists is part memoir & part manifesto for our times. Beautifully written, the book takes the reader on a personal journey from the Midwest to South Africa with a pit stop in New England. As a member of the 'Trayvon Generation, ' Derecka offers us invaluable insights into how young activists are navigating and challenging current injustices. If you've been curious about the modern abolitionist movement, this book is a must read!" -- Mariame Kaba, bestselling author of We Do This Til We Free Us
"Derecka Purnell has one of the most exciting minds of a generation, and Becoming Abolitionists gives us all an excuse to praise her. This book is an explosion of deep intellect matched with great love, showing a journey toward radical politics that embraces the messiness. Derecka does not expect we all wake up and become abolitionists immediately -- it didn't happen that way for her -- but by showing both her intellectual and emotional path toward abolitionist thinking, she provides a roadmap that is also compassionate to those moving in a slower lane. But with an argument rooted in history, criticism guided by deep care, and writing that pulses with urgency, Becoming Abolitionists will convince you that is exactly what we all need to do before you even put the book down." -- Mychal Denzel Smith, bestselling author of Stakes Is High
"Becoming Abolitionists is a vital resource for anyone committed to the struggle for social justice, written by one of the sharpest and most inspiring voices to emerge in a generation. Taking readers on a journey from her childhood in St. Louis to the protests in Ferguson, the halls of Harvard, the streets of Soweto and beyond, Derecka Purnell's heart-rendering analysis gives us the tools to envision a new society with endless possibilities. Even more, Purnell's extraordinary blend of personal memoir, history, and critical theory provides a roadmap to build a safer and more just world. Like the Autobiography of Angela Davis, Becoming Abolitionists is sure to remain an essential text for decades to come." -- Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire and From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime
About the Author:
Derecka Purnell is a human rights lawyer, writer, and organizer. She received her JD from Harvard Law School, and works to end police and prison violence by providing legal assistance, research, and training to community-based organizations through an abolitionist framework. Her work and writing has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, The Appeal, Truthout, Slate, and many other publications. Derecka is currently a columnist at the Guardian.