Questions with Derecka Purnell


Civil rights lawyer and organizer, Purnell’s first book, “Becoming Abolitionists”, is a memoir. But it’s more than that. She uses history, politics, and the radical Black imagination coupled with her very personal history of growing up in St. Louis to illustrate how the relationship between the Black community and the police reflects the injustices of our justice system. It deepens the truths about our America and helps open a necessary dialogue about what it means to become an abolitionist.

She is constantly fighting for a better us, a better now, a better future.

Even though COVID has exacerbated all inequalities and isolated us, the Harvard Law School graduate co-created the COVID19 Policing Project at the Community Resource Hub for Safety Accountability to track police arrests, harassment, and other actions. ‘enforcement through public health orders related to the pandemic.

My life is a great resistance because:

Resistance means the refusal to accept or conform to something, and I refuse to accept the unnecessary suffering that occurs in the world and I try to live a life that makes this possible for others as well.

What inspired your book?

So much. At first, I would have said police violence, but it is more correct to say that resistance to police violence helped inspire this book. During the 2020 uprisings in response to George Floyd – the busiest protests in US history – I was surprised and grateful that “funding the police” became a central political demand. Although there was so much criticism or support in response to the request, I saw many people become curious about what “defund” and “abolition” meant. I was hoping to write a book for those curious about abolition that would complement the incredible abolitionist texts that had been published or were coming out, from “Are Prisons Obsolete” by Angela Davis to “We Do This’ Til” by Mariame. Kaba We are freeing ourselves.

What does it mean to be an abolitionist?

Rather than thinking of abolition as the elimination of police and prisons, I see it as an invitation to create and support many different responses to the problem of harm in society and, most excitingly, as a opportunity to reduce and eliminate damage. in the first place. To be an abolitionist is to be someone who possesses the imagination, the courage and the will to obsolete oppressive institutions, to remember and to create just relations among themselves, in our communities and with the planet. Some of what we’re going to build will be immediate because people need to be safe today, but most of what we’re going to build to start reducing our reliance on the police and to reduce the police will take years, decades to accomplish.

Joy is:

Reading, dancing, great horror movies, spending quality time with my family and friends, especially my two children. Before the pandemic, traveling was such a source of joy – meeting and learning from people from other countries has always made me a much better thinker, writer, organizer and human.

Learn more about Derecka Purnell.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.


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