Becoming Abolitionists: NLG Reading Group Guide

Open the original list from Derecka Purnell and publisher by clicking here.

As your chapters and committees get started on reading and engaging with Derecka Purnell’s Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom, please feel free to use these discussion questions to guide your conversations.

  1. In Becoming Abolitionists, Derecka Purnell shares her own initial skepticism about police abolition. Did you have doubts when you first thought about abolishing prisons and police? Have your beliefs changed since then?
  2. Purnell gives a brief synopsis of the development and function of policing, from the wake of slavery to the present. What are some of the purposes police have served in the midst of struggles such as the movement to abolish slavery, the civil rights movement, and the Ferguson uprisings? What role did you see police play during the 2020 uprisings?
  3. In sharing some of the conversations she had while organizing, Purnell shows how important it is to unpack the root causes of harm. Think about the harms that most worry or frighten you in your community. What might their root causes be, and what might be some ways to address them? Are there ways you already see your community addressing the sources of harm or harmful behaviors without the police?
  4. In times of protest and uprisings, government leaders often turn to the same scripts. What is this script? Have you seen leaders use such a script? How did this script reemerge during the 2020 uprisings? How was the response to the 2020 uprisings different from uprisings in the past?
  5. What are some of the problems with popular police reforms in the wake of protests, such as body cameras, “community policing,” and increasing diversity and training of police forces? Why are these responses inadequate? How do they affirm, rather than challenge, police power?
  6. What are some of the ways Purnell responds to and reframes common questions from those who are skeptical of abolition, such as “What about the murderers?” or “What about the rapists?” What might you say if someone asked you the same questions? 
  7. What was the Harriet Tubman Collective’s critique of the first version of the Movement for Black Lives platform? Why must disability justice be a central framework for abolitionists? How does policing not only target disabled people but also create disability?
  8. What are the features of Purnell’s vision for neighborhoods? Which of these does your neighborhood have? What would you add?
  9. How did you think about abolition when you began reading Becoming Abolitionists? How was that understanding changed, challenged, or reinforced? What are you taking away from this book?
  10. As a member of the NLG, how do you think the organization can best apply its resolutions to abolish police and prisons? What efforts are your Guild chapter or Committee making toward this end? What more can be done?
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